My son was less than two years old when our family moved to Japan. Now, there are many things to be concerned about with a child that age, but we were particularly eager that he learn to speak Japanese. After all, this wasn’t an extended holiday. We intended to settle down.
Fast forward a year and we found ourselves worrying that our son might not be able to speak English, the language we’d assumed would be native to him. We did our best to talk and read to him in English, but we sometimes worried that we weren’t doing enough. We didn’t want to turn our home into a cram school, but thankfully we discovered an activity that could entertain us all and provide our son with some much needed English input, watching movies.
I like documentaries and my wife is partial to romantic comedies, but we were pretty sure that neither of these would go down well with a three-year-old. Thankfully, the school where I was working at the time had a great selection of English animation movies. We probably watched 50 or more of these over the next few years. Some had a greater effect on my son’s language development than others.
Here’s a list of what I think are the 10 best animated movies for learning English.
- Toy Story – Anyone who’s watched it will tell you that it’s a classic, but it also has some memorable lines that young ones enjoy repeating again and again (and again). “You are a TOY!”
- WALL-E – There are large chunks of the movie that have very little or no speaking, but the parts that do convey a great message that’s easy to understand (even in a foreign language).
- Remember Me – It’s not a coincidence that we often use songs to teach language to young learners. The music in this movie features lyrics that are easy to follow and fun to repeat. Both the melodies and the story are uniquely memorable.
- The Incredibles – Who doesn’t like a movie with superheroes? It’s even more appealing when the heroes come in all different shapes and sizes (and ages).
- Watership Down – You might be scratching your head a bit over the decision to include this one, but something about it really captivated my son’s interest. It was his first exposure to British accents, and he became quite curious about why the words sounded different from those he’d been accustomed to hearing. Learning to make sense of different accents is good practice for any language learner.
- Spirited Away – Although this is a Japanese movie, you’ll have no difficulty finding a version dubbed in English. It doesn’t come from Dreamworks or Pixar, but it’s wildly popular with viewers young and old. There are lots of pauses in the dialogue, and speech is delivered at a pace that is comfortable for language learners.
- Kung Fu Panda – The best kind of learning happens when you don’t realize you’re learning. This can easily happen when watching a movie as funny as Kung Fu Panda. The main character is hilarious, and there are lots of one-liners that are fun to repeat.
- Ice Age – Many great stories revolve around a journey, and this movie is a great example. It’s a great companion to take along on your language learning journey.
- Finding Nemo – This movie stands out for a lot of reasons, but there is one scene in particular that I keep coming back to. One of the characters, Dory, has to struggle to read something important. It reminds me of standing in front of a bank machine in Tokyo, trying to figure out which of the indecipherable buttons would allow me to withdraw money for our dinner.
- The Good Dinosaur – What better movie for a language learner than a story about two characters who struggle to understand each other. It’s a good reminder how much communication is non-verbal and that, while we are learning, it’s okay to rely on some other skills to help us get our point across.
Well, that’s my list of the best animated films for learning English. I could have easily added another 10 (or 20). Many assume that watching movies is only good for listening practice. Although listening is the primary skill involved, you can also practice shadowing with short sections of the movie or attempt to hone your pronunciation by repeating a particular line of dialogue. Students of mine have made flashcards of words they learned from watching movies. Others have developed their writing skills by making summaries. While it would be difficult to learn a language only through watching movies, it’s good to remember that textbooks aren’t the only tool available. Any input, provided it’s comprehensible, can contribute to your development in learning a language.