Using film to inspire foreign language learning

24 Aug 2016 BY Gil Pocas in Using Film to Teach...

5 mins
The Motorcycle Diaries
The Motorcycle Diaries

In our global world, studying foreign languages has value far beyond the need to pass exams. It expands cultural horizons, breaks down barriers and increases opportunities for young people interested in living or working abroad. In addition, studies have shown that studying a foreign language can improve memory, brain power and use of English. And yet many young people are deterred by the challenges of language learning and we, as educators, must use all available tools to make the subject as interesting and accessible as possible. One such tool is film.

I first set up a film club five years ago, and have since had at my disposal a much more diverse and vast selection of films, most of which my students wouldn't otherwise have access to. Watching a film is a perfect way to learn a foreign language in context, and be exposed to real life conversations and new day-to-day phrases and vocabulary; the films are a great listening tool that can increase students' ability to cope with different accents and help them prepare for exams. For instance, we have used the Mexican film Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) in preparation for an A2 Spanish exam. A film can be shown in its entirety - as I do in the weekly film club - or as a few selected scenes in lessons to help stimulate discussion, which in turn gets pupils to develop their thinking and critical skills.

Foreign language films also provide a diverse cultural experience, as they often focus on different social and political aspects. My students often refer to a scene of a film to illustrate either a cultural reference or the use of specific language when presenting their work, both orally and in written form.  

Watching Spanish films helped me not only to develop my understanding of the language, but also feel a part of the culture itself.

Student, Langley School for Girls

You don't need prior knowledge of a film to use it effectively in class. Simple activities include choosing ten words in a film and asking pupils to find synonyms, asking them to describe a character or place, or writing a review in the language of the film. More specifically, in El Espirito de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) they could analyse how the political and cultural mood in Spain towards the end of Franco's fascist regime is conveyed; discuss what we learn about Saudi language and culture from Wadjda; or reflect on the choices made by the main character in Girlhood.

Film is also a useful tool to support the teaching of foreign texts, and help pupils achieve a level where they can digest, appreciate and investigate literature in another language. In any language, watching a film that's adapted from or inspired by a book can help better bring the story, themes and characters to life.

Some suggested titles to suit different ages and abilities can include La Belle Et La Béte (a classic live action version of the much-loved fairytale Beauty and the Beast), and for older students, Diarios De Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries), based on revolutionary figure Che Guevara's diary. Post-screening discussions could range from the suitability of actors that portray the novel's characters, to comparisons between the book and film, to the interpretation of the author's work by the director. Alternatively the book could be used as supplementary material, for reading afterwards, or as background insight into the film.

Above all, film is a wonderful way of providing enjoyment whilst learning a foreign language, and a great vehicle to show young people that learning languages - as well as being useful - can also be fun.

Are you involved in language teaching? If so why not learn how to enrich your lessons with short film by taking part in a new online training course created by the BFI, Into Film and leading social learning platform, FutureLearn? The course - Short Film in Language Teaching - is open now and there's still time to register, here.

Explore great films to teach languages with in our Into Film Recommends podcasts below, or log in to SoundCloud to download the podcast and listen on the go.

The Into Film Recommends Podcast Series is also available on iTunes.

Gil Pocas (Temp)

Gil Pocas, Head of Spanish at Langley Park School for Girls

Gil, originally from Porto, Portugal, is Head of Spanish at Langley Park School for Girls, and has been teaching Spanish there for 17 years.

This Article is part of: Using Film to Teach...

A series of articles that highlight how the medium of film can be used to teach a wide variety of subjects and themes.

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