Tips on how to learn a foreign language with Netflix to improve your language listening skills passively (while having fun).
It’s fun watching a movie or TV series in a foreign language to help you study. But unless you’re already fluent in the language, it can be really exhausting, too. Or you just end up watching the English subtitles.
But there are a few fun ways to make the most of Netflix! We’re sharing here three things that we do (on top of just watching foreign TV shows/movies, and on top of using foreign language subtitles).
Sometimes I hear about people learning English “just by watching Friends”. Let me tell you: it takes a lot more effort than that!
But it can still be fun to learn a foreign language with Netflix — you just have to have the right tools and learn a little more actively than you otherwise would have.
In this guide…
- How to watch TV shows and read subtitles from other countries using a VPN
- How to show English and foreign language subtitles simultaneously
- How to translate foreign language Netflix subtitles instantly
- How to download subtitles from Netflix so you can study them in detail (a bit technical, but super cool!)
This article contains affiliate links which may earn us a commission. It does not affect our unbiased recommendation.
Preliminary: Use a VPN to get subtitles in your target language.
Often you can only see subtitles in a certain language if you’re in the country where that’s spoken. Many VPNs don’t work well with Netflix (we’ve tried a few), but we found that NordVPN does. NordVPN themselves claim that you can watch Netflix securely through most of their servers.
Sign up to NordVPN
They’re currently running a limited-time deal on annual plans.
There are many other reasons we like NordVPN. NordVPN lets you block ads, it supports up to 6 devices per membership, it works in China, and it’s based in a secure country where the government can’t get at your data. We talk about all this here.)
To use a VPN to learn a foreign language with Netflix, take the following example.
- Right now we’re learning Swahili. We’re in Tanzania, where Swahili is the national language.
- If I leave my VPN and load Netflix as it’s presented to Tanzanian users, the TV shows I watch have Swahili or English subtitles.
- But if I load Netflix with my VPN connected to a US server, I get subtitle options in Spanish, Portuguese and a couple of other languages (depends on the movie/show).
The subtitle options I’m presented change depending on the country I’m in. But usually, English is an option.
Show Two Subtitle Languages Simultaneously (Chrome only)
Showing subtitles for two languages (like subtitles for both English and the language you’re learning) on Netflix is a great way to speed things up. You can hear people speak a foreign language, see it in written form, and get a full translation in subtitles.
The best way is through an extension that is Chrome-only (no Firefox, no Safari etc.). It’s called Language Learning with Netflix. Unfortunately there’s no option other than Chrome in the works.
What’s really nice about “Language Learning with Netflix” is in addition to showing two subtitle languages at once (which is already cool), it lets you
- Auto pause the video on each new sentence
- Slow down the video/audio to help you learn
- Look up words with a pop-up dictionary (works best with non-Asian languages)
Basically, a really well put-together extension!
If you have Firefox or Safari, you can’t use Language Learning with Netflix (the extension). There’s another project that used to work on Firefox, called NflxMultiSubs, that lets you see subtitles in two languages at once. But it also only works in Chrome now.
Translate Netflix Subtitles Words and Phrases with Mate
The plug-in Mate offers a subset of what NflxMultiSubs offers — but adds a tool to store words you’ve looked up! And best of all it’s available on Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Edge. (But not Safari!)
Sometimes you can be quite happy watching Netflix just in a target language. Spanish soap, Spanish subtitles.
But it can be a drag to look up every word you don’t know in a separate window. That’s where Mate comes in: it helps you look up every word, plus it stores those words for you in a convenient list. Use the “Save” button and check them later.
The great thing is that Mate is actually a tool for looking up words on any web page. If you double click on a foreign language word, Mate will help you translate it. The Netflix utility, as great as it is, is just a bonus.
Download Subtitles from Netflix for Any Language [Firefox, Chrome, Others]
Warning: This is a bit technical. But not hard. At worst, it involves downloading and editing an
xml file and adding
html markup. Sorry, this is the only way I know!
I really love downloading and looking over a foreign language subtitle set to learn slangy colloquial phrases. I might watch an episode of BoJack Horseman with Swahili subtitles, learn a few cool phrases, but miss many, and then later, go back and want to learn them in detail.
Here are the steps. This works for Chrome and Firefox.
1. First, open Netflix. Start playing a TV show you want without the subtitle of your choice. (If the subtitle is on, turn it off and reload.)
What this will show is a live stream of every request and response the browser sends. You want this, because you’re about to request the subtitle file.
This will look like this:
It looks kind of chaotic. Don’t panic!
3. To hone in on the kind of file we want, filter on “?o=”. You’ll still get a lot of results (there’s a pic below to show you want it looks like). This will help you find your subtitle in a second.
4. On your Netflix interface, select the subtitle you want. This will make your browser load the subtitle file from Netflix.
5. Now, the last result with a “?o=” will be your subtitle file. Right click on it and choose “open in new tab”.
6. Your browser will ask you if you want to save the file, or open it in something. Save it. Now rename it to HTML. Yes, it’ll give you a warning, but that’s OK.
7. Don’t double click on it yet (no harm, but it’ll just be blank). Right-click open it to make sure the content looks right (that it’s your subtitle). You can use any code editor, but for this example I’ll show you how to do it in TextEdit.
8. Delete all that stuff at the top before the
body tag. (Everything up to
9. Replace what you deleted with just a brief declaration:
<!DOCTYPE html>. This tells any browser that it’s a normal web page file. Save your file.
Your file is now HTML that can be opened by any browser! You can double click on it to open it. (Technically the HTML is basic and has errors, but browsers can read it.)
The best part about viewing it in a browser is it’s super easy to use hover-over dictionaries and syntax highlighters for bits you don’t understand.
Let me know if any of the above is unclear. Leave a comment, I’ll answer, and clarify the post.