Many of Hollywood’s finest non-native speaking actors have had to learn English fast after realising that they were destined for movie stardom stateside. With this need to master fluent English to seize the opportunities of fame and fortune that Hollywood offers, it is no surprise that they have the inside scoop on some of the most efficient tricks to mastering English quickly.
Before Charlize Theron was in the movies herself, she would watch hundreds of them, and used this method to learn English the fast way. Charlize, who is originally from South Africa, spoke mostly in her native language of Afrikaans until the age of 19 when she learnt fluent English and headed for Hollywood. She became fluent in English at around 19 years old and has stated that watching American TV shows and movies was vital. Watching films and TV is an extremely good way to learn English, for a number of reasons.
Foreign language films are often accompanied by subtitles. This is very useful as it is easier to read a new language than it is to understand it in free flowing speech. By listening to the spoken version and associating it with the subtitles, it is easier to create a link between the sound of the word and its written form. TV shows and movies also help people to learn current terms and slang, as this is not taught in classrooms. This is particularly helpful for actors, who must often play characters with a rough street background.
French actress, Melanie Laurent said in a recent interview that she had to watch Gossip Girl on repeat in order to pick up English quickly as she had lied on her CV stating she was fluent in English. After landing roles alongside the likes of Brad Pitt (Inglorious Basterds) one would have to say it proved effective!
Language tandem is often used when people must learn a language rapidly and is a tactic that Mexican actress Salma Hayek utilized when she moved to Hollywood early in her career. Language tandem is when two people meet up regularly so as they can each practice the language they wish to learn. For example, a French person who has just started to learn English could meet with an English person who has just begun to talk French. This will usually involve half of the conversation being in French and the other half in English so as both parties are given a chance to practice their non-native language.
The technique proved effective for Hayek as she went on to secure English speaking roles in blockbusters such as From Dusk ‘til Dawn, Wild Wild West and many others.
‘Method acting’ and surrounding yourself with native speakers
By far the fastest way to learn a new language is to go to the country and surround yourself with native speakers. Many people, including Hollywood’s elite, have found this to be the best method. For actors in particular, the need to use authentic sounding slang means that immersing themselves in the language is the only way. Actors have often talked about spending days in character, perhaps speaking and moving the same way they expect their characters to. This practical approach is far more effective than any other method.
‘Method acting’ is the label for a group of techniques widely used by Hollywood actors in order to better immerse themselves in a character role they are working on. Typically, when using ‘method acting’ techniques, an actor will continue to portray their character role outside of actual filming. Quite simply, they become their character 24 hours a day, thinking and behaving like them.
This technique can be utilized for English language learning also. By imagining yourself as a native speaker and going about your day using only English and not your native tongue you can rapidly increase your progression.
Mastering a native accent or dialect
Adopting the native accent or dialect in which you are using your English skills in most often can be beneficial for many reasons. It is very common to see actors portraying specific roles in which they must adopt a regional dialect that is different from their own. For example, we regularly see Hollywood actors from the United States playing roles as British characters and vice versa.
Many actors in Hollywood hire accent consultants who work with them to help them master the correct diction for the role they are playing. Whilst that is not an option for most of us, we can benefit by watching films, interviews and listening to radio that is representative of the accent we are trying to adopt. Youtube can be a great resource for this.
Speaking is an integral part of the role of an actor and we can find a lot of useful ideas and inspiration from the language methods adopted by Hollywood. Try adopting some of these tactics to your everyday use of English and you could see a measured improvement in your command of the language.