Remember when you had that Spanish learning spike that made you sign up for your first course?
No doubt, motivation was high when you began to learn a language.
In reality, it's easy to lose that spike when you get lost in grammar, textbooks, conjugations, tests, or even vocabulary memorization.
Is there another way to learn languages, though?
Can you really put your textbook aside and learn Italian or Japanese differently?
Short and easy answer: yes!
So instead of losing yourself in the old academic language-learning methods, today I want to share 7 reasons to learn a language using stories instead of lessons with you.
Doing so will not only guarantee you’ll have more fun as you learn. You’ll also learn more effectively than if you stick to the school way.
But what are these stories? Let’s discuss that first, and then we’ll dive into why you should learn by using them.
What Are These Stories?
I learned English at the end of my teen years (my first language is Spanish, by the way); I was not a bright student, nor was I gifted at learning languages.
In fact, throughout my life, and until I was 16, I had been through many different English courses.
Here's a quick summary of my time learning English through school methods:
● From kindergarten until I was 8 years old, I took English lessons because it was required in the country where I grew up.
● When I was 8, my parents paid a private tutor to give my cousin and me English lessons.
● When I was in 6th grade, my dad bought a textbook with some old cassettes so that we could learn English together.
● When I got to my last year of high school, I transferred to a school that emphasized English as a second language.
● Because this school required a certain amount of hours in English training, I had to take 6 months of extra coursework to graduate.
If we were to think logically, anyone could look at the “curriculum” above and say:
“That’s a lifetime of English training. This guy certainly knows something about this language.”
But was I able to have fluent English conversations with native speakers?
Could I watch an entire English movie and understand everything in it?
It wasn’t until I began to learn with stories that I actually started to feel progress, and when I say ‘stories,’ I mean content like:
● TV shows
That was the core of what actually gave me fluency in English.
Yes, other activities in the process brought me to a high proficiency level in this new language, but stories were the foundation of my progress.
Basically, I’m talking about content that tells you an account of real or fictional events or characters.
● Something interesting to you
● An engaging short or long narrative that provides enjoyment
Here are 7 reasons why using stories to learn a language worked for me, while the academic methods didn’t do much:
1. Stories Stick in Your Memory for a Long Time
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
How many times have you seen these words on a screen since they were released in the first Star Wars movie back in 1977?
No matter where you read those words, you’ll at least remember Lord Darth Vader’s breathing as soon as you see them.
But why do we remember it so easily?
Well, because stories are loaded with emotions, and hence, they stick in human minds. We have used them throughout history to teach lessons to others.
When you hear or watch a story, you are naturally drawn to support the hero when he’s about to fail his mission and cheer when he defeats his enemy.
In other words, stories actually get you involved. Heck, they may even make you cry or laugh!
For instance, do you want to teach a kid a lesson about lying? Tell him the story of the Shepherd Boy and the Wolf; I can bet you one hundred dollars that he’ll remember what a lie is after that.
On the other hand, traditional language lessons are mostly analytical and academic. You really need to make an effort to remember all the theories.
But what if you could use the power of stories to boost your language learning?
2. Stories Are More Fun Than Lessons
The second reason to start using stories to learn languages instead of lessons is simple.
Stories are fun!
If you watch a movie that you really like or read a book that you love in your target language, at some point, you will experience what scientists call the “Flow State of Mind.”
This is when you get immersed in an activity that makes you lose track of time and distractions, like when you’re reading an interesting book.
Experts agree that our brains learn best during a period like this, but how often do we lose track of time during a grammar lesson?
If you’re a grammar nerd and you have a good teacher, then you’re probably thinking:
“Well, I do enjoy my grammar lessons.”
But if you’re like me, and like most people who don’t enjoy grammar that much, then you know that you can barely focus for about 15 minutes before looking at your watch for the first time.
But learning as you have fun is effective, powerful, and the most optimal way to learn a language.
It is so good that, in my case, I can even remember some lines of the TV shows and movies that I saw during my English learning journey.
Like Jessie Pinkman’s answering machine in breaking bad… you know:
“Yo yo yo. 148-3 to the 3 to the 6 to the 9, representing the ABQ, what up, b..#$?”
No, that’s not proper English, but that’s how Jessie talked in Breaking Bad!
Now, ask me about a grammar point, and I’ll need some more time to prepare a good explanation.
3. Stories Teach You the Real Vocabulary
One of the biggest problems I find with learning a language using a textbook is the kind of vocabulary they teach. Usually, in these resources, you’ll find perfectly pronounced words and impeccable, well-structured sentences.
What’s the problem, then?
Well, in real life, nobody ever uses language this way, and this is why many committed and disciplined students can’t understand native speakers when they visit countries that speak the language they’re studying.
This is also why I had to turn on the subtitles and repeat the scene of Jessie Pinkman’s answering machine back when I was watching Breaking Bad.
The thing is that in real life, people:
● Shorten words
● Use idioms and slang
● And even mispronounce the words!
And you can find exactly that in movies or TV shows because actors try to be as natural as possiblein these kinds of stories.
4. Stories Give You Correct Grammar
Stories are a great source of exposure to the language you’re learning because they’ll present you with correct grammar.
Yes, you’ll see natural grammar mistakes that speakers make, but mostly, all you’ll see is the grammar that natives understand and use.
That’s what you need to learn if you want to communicate with real human beings in the language you’re studying.
Now, every time you hear a phrase correctly structured, it’ll be reinforced in your brain. This means that the more stories you hear in your target language, the more your brain will identify what’s correct and what’s not.
The bottom line here is that using stories to learn a language will provide exposure to grammar in context, not grammar lessons.
5. Stories Show You the Correct Context to Use Idioms and Slang
There’s nothing better than seeing idioms and slang used naturally in stories.
Why? Because you’ll see the circumstances, emotions, tone, and intentions the characters experience when they use these expressions.
For example, in one of my English listening stories, the narrator talked about a guy who wanted to “have his cake and eat it too.” It meant that he wanted to be a famous football player and a famous movie star at the same time, but he could only be one thing.
Today, every time I hear this idiom in real life, I know how to use it because I remember this particular character from the story I heard back then.
This experience illustrates that since stories are mostly using a very spontaneous vocabulary, they’ll expose you to:
● Real bad pronunciation native speakers use
● Shortened words
Not to mention, this is something you will rarely find in textbooks or even lessons with teachers.
6. Lessons Are Stressful
One of the worst parts of lessons was forcing myself to do things I didn’t want to do.
I once had to stand up in front of the whole class back in school and explain how to make a chocolate cake in English. I’m an introvert, and doing that was a stressful challenge.
Looking back, what I remember the most about it was all the stress, embarrassment, and terrible pronunciation coming out of me.
Tests might also be really stressful for students who get anxious when they are evaluated.
And as humans, our worst time to learn is when our stress takes over.
That’s not going to happen if you immerse yourself in good stories from your target language because, as we saw in point number 2, stories are fun resources to learn languages.
So, if you want to learn a language effectively, then make sure you have fun, you’re relaxed, and you enjoy your learning time.
7. The Best Language Learners Love Using Stories
If there’s one trait that all successful language learners have in common, it’s that they all enjoy learning through stories in their target language in some way.
I don’t know a single person who has learned a language by just taking traditional lessons in school.
As a Spanish and English teacher, I have seen that the students with the best results proactively involve themselves in learning more of the language using stories.
If you google for the most popular online polyglots and read their stories, you’ll find that all of them enjoy stuff like:
● Reading books or newspapers in foreign languages
● Watching TV shows or movies
● Listening to podcasts or YouTube channels
Even kids listen to stories from TV, their parents, or even teachers when they’re just acquiring their first language.
And if all the best learners use stories, then you should use them too.
Here at Lingopie, you have plenty of stories to learn languages from. Just pick a movie or a TV show you like, and you’ll get started with a good story.
During this blog post, I showed you how stories could be game changers in your language-learning journey, and I know that if they help both me and other people, they can also help you.
Remember that stories:
● Stick in your memory
● Are fun
● Teach you real-life vocabulary
● Expose you to correct grammar
● Show you accurate context to use idioms and slang
● Are stress-free
● Are used by the most successful language learners all the time
These reasons make stories one of the most powerful tools for learning a language.
Now, I’m not saying that you’re going to get all the benefits of these resources by watching movies passively, without doing anything else.
You could watch a TV show using subtitles with the help of LingoPie’s features, learn new expressions and then track your progress.
You have to be proactive about it!
Back in my English learning days, I took advantage of many different shows like Breaking Bad, Drake & Josh, and The Fast and the Furious. I read books like the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Alchemist, The Little Prince, and so many others.
But what about you? Is there a book, a movie, or a specific story you’d like to use as a language-learning resource?
Let me know in the comments below.