by Christina Markoulaki
Watching films when learning a foreign language might be one of the oldest and most popular classroom tech tools since various forms of media began to be integrated into traditional teaching techniques. This activity never fails to excite students’ curiosity and facilitates the consolidation of new information. It can even inspire the production of a more diverse output. So let’s take advantage of all this potential and remind ourselves of some of the advantages of using film in the language classroom.
The language focus when using films can be on:
In many films, language is produced in a real or seemingly real context which helps the viewers to identify the circumstances under which the dialogues take place: Is it a formal, semi-formal or informal context? What is the relationship or social status of the speakers and how does that affect their choice of vocabulary? The answers to these questions will aid students to not only notice language patterns, but also deeply understand when each word should be utilised.
Especially when English subtitles are combined, learners can identify unknown words and verify the use of the already known ones. The new phrases can enter students’ passive vocabulary (i.e. words they are able to recognise, but not produce themselves) and gradually infiltrate their active one. What is more, the film can be topic-related and thus serve as an excellent way to introduce a specific word group, such as Christmas vocabulary.
Hearing their favourite actors speak is a fantastic way for learners to record the pronunciation of even the most complicated vocabulary items in their long-term memory. New utterances coupled with their written form in the subtitles underneath can also make an indelible impression, which can lead to learning.
All dialogues in any film, no matter how minimalistic they might be, include a subject-verb-object word order in the very least. Learners whose native language involves more flexible structures, get used to the English language patterns, being exposed to both their written and oral version.
Language level and film activities
Activities on films can be modified for any language level, even the lowest ones. However, if demanding tasks are involved, such as using applications, surfing the Net or making videos, all being done only in English, then learners of B1 level or higher can make the most of such an experience. As for the following suggested activities, teachers are strongly advised to implement them in an upper-intermediate or advanced class.
Having watched and studied a film, learners should be able to:
- Notice the use of all kinds of vocabulary, especially the more authentic, idiomatic language which may not be sufficiently covered in course books.
- Identify and understand the grammatical structure of more complex sentences.
- Feel inspired to discuss notions, concepts and ideas stemming from the film.
- Produce a written or oral text based on the film in the form of a review or adaptation.
- Apply competent speakers’ strategies of coping with new language by focusing on the main ideas and using the visual context to aid their understanding.
- The teacher could skilfully introduce the class to the main film characters and story in such a way that students will be eagerly waiting to find out how the protagonists interact and how the plot thickens. This, by definition, constitutes a useful listening or reading activity. A sample of ‘spiced-up’ character descriptions can be found in this article by Noelle Buffam.
- Introducing film vocabulary to adult or advanced classes would be a means of generating interest as well as enriching general knowledge. This glossary is taken from David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s, Film Art: An Introduction.
- The creation of a trailer on iMovie is a much easier task than it seems. This could be made by the teacher, students in pairs / groups or the collaboration of both parties. If the film must be kept a surprise, the teacher can give hints to the plot to arouse curiosity and the students, in turn, can make a video suiting those clues. There is no doubt that students get excited when using such applications, which also encourage creativity and language production.
- Voice Thread is another useful application which facilitates the recording of sound and its combination with visual images and written messages. Therefore, it could be used to record the students’ predictions about the anticipated story and characters, which will be eventually proven correct or not after the end of the film. A case in point is a Voice Thread I created before showing a surprise Christmas film to my teenage B1-level students this year. It contained images to urge them to make predictions as well as their own voices, which can be heard after the final image of the presentation appears.
- Note keeping, employing all different kinds of note-taking applications on students’ own tablets or smartphones. Evernote is an example of an effective free note-taking app.
- Use of the dictionary.com app (or other free online dictionaries) to discover the meaning of unknown words on the spot.
- Filling in a chart with information about the characters / setting / problem / solution to the problem.
- Discovering related information on IMDb, especially on the trivia and reviews section, attracts attention back to the main scenes and direction techniques. The quotes section, on the other hand, may lead to intriguing discussions as to how each character perceives reality and the basic messages of the film. Quotes are my students’ personal favourite, which is why I invariably post some on the class blog after the film.
- A variety of writing and vocabulary activities can be performed on a class or teacher’s blog: summaries, favourite scene description, discussions / debates, to name but a few. Since all my classes maintain their own group blog, virtually all after-viewing activities in our school involve blogging.
- Bitstrips are another means of students’ visualising the scenes they choose in their own unique way.
Having read the above, here is some food for thought: What do you think is the most easily applied tip concerning films in the foreign language classroom? Which application or activity are you going to incorporate in your teaching? Is there another method you have implemented in your class that boosted students’ understanding of the film in any way? All views are welcome in the comments section below.
So what are we all waiting for? It’s film time!
Bio: Christina Markoulaki is an Athens university graduate and an EFL teacher in Maria Markaki Language School in Heraklion (Greece), where she was born, as well. She is fortunate enough to have been trusted with students of all ages and levels within her working years, their ages ranging from 5 to 50 years old! Using all types of modern technology along with traditional books to create new learning experiences is what fascinates her. In her free time, she relishes in blogging and cycling, also trying to read as many books as possible.
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