Reading is one of the best methods for improving your vocabulary.
The same is true for watching TV.
But…like with anything, there’s a right way and a wrong way.
Here’s one lesson I learned from a student.
The Wrong Way
“I bought the DVD box set of ‘Friends'”
My student and I were talking about what TV shows he could watch to increase his English input.
“Great,” I said. “How many have you watched?”
“Just one episode,” he said.
“Why just one?”
“Because I don’t like ‘Friends’.”
“Well, what do you like?”
“‘Sex and the City’.”
“So why did you buy the “Friends” box set?”
“Because my last teacher told me “Friends” was a good show for improving your English.”
Oof! Can you see his mistake?
The Difference Between Interesting And Compelling
For my student, “Friends” was interesting.
But “Sex and the City” was compelling.
Interesting is a clever advertisement on the side of the highway you glance at for a second.
Compelling is car accident that you slow down to stare at because you have to look at it, even though you know you shouldn’t.
Interesting you’ll look at once.
Compelling you have to watch every day.
The articles in text books are interesting.
The news story about the actress whose dress fell off while she was walking onto the stage at the Oscars is compelling.
For me, it was the TV show “Lost.”
I would put on an episode an hour before my bed time, then at the end of the episode I would convince myself that it wasn’t that late and I could watch just one more.
And then at the end of the second episode, I convinced myself that I could sleep later in the morning.
And pretty soon it way past my bedtime and the next day I was exhausted, but I did it again the next night, and the next (until I got so lost in the story I stopped caring).
It was like I was addicted.
Addicted To English?
When I meet someone who’s fluent in English, I often ask them how they learned. Very rarely do they tell me about the CAE exam or a business English text book or how many vocab words they memorized.
Usually they tell me about something compelling they found, which also happened to be in English.
My Puerto Rican friend Leslie told me she started reading the “Sweet Valley High” books when she was a teenager.
My Dutch friend Niki told me she found some comic books that were only in English.
My Turkish friend Cenk told me he started watching “The Simpsons.”
What if you found something compelling in English?
What if it was so compelling it was like a drug and you had to watch it or read it or listen to it?
What if you became addicted to it?
How fast do you think your English would improve?