Improve your English with TV commercials

There are many different ways to improve your English language skills. One popular recommendation is that students watch English-language TV shows and movies while reading the English subtitles at the bottom. I wholeheartedly agree with this method. However, most TV shows are 30 to 60 minutes long, and most movies are approximately two hours long, which is quite an investment of your time and, therefore, any learning that takes place is likely to be on the passive side. That is, unless you’re prepared to jot down any new words or expressions that you’ll either look up during or after the telecast. If it’s during, you risk interrupting the flow of what you’re watching. If it’s after, the relevance of what you thought was important might have faded. 

I have another recommendation. Many businesses, in order to get you to buy their products or take advantage of their services, pay professional ad agencies a lot of money to cram as much information as possible into a 30-second commercial. They're usually able to encapsulate the beginning, the middle, and the end of a story in 30 seconds (sometimes 60 seconds). During these spots, advertisers use a wide variety of words, images and sounds. Ordinarily, I hate commercials, not because of their content, but because they interrupt what I'm trying to watch. In this case, though, I encourage you to watch commercials as a way to improve your English. Here's how.

Go to YouTube and type in “TV commercials”. Random commercials will appear, so just go ahead and pick one, but do yourself a favor and start off with an old commercial from the '70s, the '80, or the '90s. They're slower.

Now that you have selected your commercial, in order for this to be effective, be prepared to watch the same commercial over and over again. But that's ok since the commercials are so short.

Here's what you should do: 

A.) As you're watching, answer each of the following questions with brief notes. 

B.) When you are finished, write a paragraph based on the notes you took.

That's it! After doing all this, you will have improved your vocabulary, your listening, your reading, your writing, and your understanding of English-language advertising.

 

  1. 1. What product or service is the commercial trying to sell? Write down the company name and the product or service they're offering.
  2. 2. Where does the commercial take place? Describe the location. Is it indoors like in an office or a supermarket or in someone's kitchen? Is it at the beach or on a mountain or at a public park? etc.?
  3. 3. Who is in the commercial? Describe the people. How many are there? What do they look like?  What are their ages? What is the relationship between them?
  4. 4. What objects are in the commercial? What do you see in the background? Are there paintings, trees, cars?
  5. 5. What is happening in the commercial? Write about the action. What are the people doing? 
  6. 6. Who is the target audience of the commercial? Who do you think the company wants as their customers? Parents with babies? Children who want toys? Seniors who need life insurance? Twenty-somethings who drink beer? The general population?
  7. 7. Is there a voiceover? Is someone talking and providing information while the commercial is going on?
  8. 8. Describe the music or sounds in the commercial. Is it a popular song, or is it a jingle written especially for the company?
  9. 9. Is there a slogan, or a catchphrase in the commercial? If so, what is it?
  10. 10. Are there any celebrities in the commercial? If so, who are they?
  11. 11. What new words or phrases did you learn? Write down any new vocabulary.
  12. 12. After seeing the commercial, are you more interested in the company's product or service now?
  13. 13. On a scale of 1-5 (1 = lowest, 5 = highest), how would you rate this commercial?

 

Here's an example (notes):

  1. Sun Country Wine Cooler
  2. in an empty room
  3. man in polar bear costume
  4. table, bottle of wine cooler, wine glass of ice
  5. Polar bear is sitting at table describing product.
  6. adults
  7. Polar bear is talking.
  8. scary organ music from horror movies, thunder
  9. "Gimme the real juice cooler."
  10. Vincent Price
  11. wine cooler
  12. No. 
  13. 2

 

This is a commercial for Sun Country Wine Cooler. It takes place in an empty room with a man in a polar bear costume sitting at a table that has a bottle of the product and a wine glass full of ice on it. Since the product contains alcohol, the target audience is adults. The polar bear describes how wonderful Sun Country Wine Cooler is and, at the end of the commercial, the polar bear takes off his fake head, and we see that it is the famous, old, horror-movie actor Vincent Price, which, I guess, is why they're playing scary organ music. He also does the voiceover. I don't see any connection between the scary music and the wine, though. The slogan is "Gimme the real juice cooler", which, in my opinion, is kind of lame. I am not interested in purchasing this product and, on a scale of one to five, I give it a 2. "Wine Cooler" is a drink made with wine and fruit juice. Sometimes it's carbonated.

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