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Why use short film in languages classrooms?

Let's hear from the experts about how using short film in language classrooms can enhance the teaching and learning of languages.
It’s not something that’s disembodied or just stuck onto the page of a textbook. It’s language, and culture, actually, in it’s living, breathing form. But within that, stories. The language text book takes language out of lived experience. It takes out of life. It’s not authentic, and what film does quite a lot is it puts language back into a real experience, into an authentic experience, into an authentic context. It inspires curiosity in young people, and I want to talk about it, and I think yes, authenticity, but not in a mundane sense. In languages, we often talk about authentic materials, and it being– but they can be just as boring as anything else.
The point about film is that if you’ve got some creative ideas about exploring a film, then it becomes something absolutely distinctive and special, I think. When film has a set of stories, compelling narratives, interesting characters, engaging situations, then it scaffolds anybody’s engagement with the language. So you’re given a reason to learn and understand what two people are saying because the situation is interesting, because the drama is compelling. So at the BFI, we find that incorporating film into language learning really makes language come to life. In the classroom, you’re often offered a very like toned down version of the language, and if you watch a film, it’s very fast paced.
So it gets you used to authentic French speaking, and it’s a challenge because often, if you’re looking at a text book, you can take your time with it. Whereas if you’re watching a film, it’s very quick, and you need to be on it. Choose a film that you like either because it makes you laugh or it because it makes you think. So choose something that reflects your own interests, I suppose, because I think that helps you to engage your learners as well. Do some quite simple activities, and get your pupils as well to tell you what they liked or didn’t like about it because they’re often very insightful.
It’s always frustrating for learners if you show a feature film over two hours or two lessons because it just takes up so much time. If you find a very concise, and condensed, and beautiful, and engaging short film, then you can show that once or twice or three times, even, in the lesson.
And if you do interesting things with the film, if you play the sound, but not the picture, or if you just show some of the images, or if you tease your audience with 15 seconds or 20 seconds of material, then it really stimulates the learners curiosity, and makes them want to– They want to learn, they want to understand more, they want to get to the end of the film, they want to talk about what they’ve seen, they want to discuss, they want to argue, they want to speculate, they want to guess. And so short film offers that added benefit over long form feature films. Choose something I think that is a wee bit wacky.
Unpredictable in terms of how the film pans out, and that’s true of a lot of short films. They’re not like a Blockbuster feature film. So choose something that has a slight twist because that will be something that captures the imagination of young people.
And I think most importantly, think about what it is that is specific, and distinctive, and if you like, even unique about film as a medium.
How do we explore the visual along with the dialogue, along with the settings, all those things, and how do you break that down. Now that sounds challenging, but actually, it can be quite simple. And so I guess my last piece of advice is give it a go.

The video at the start of this step gathers together some insights from students, teachers and other professionals on the value of short film for supporting language learning. The key idea is that film is both engaging and authentic; it offers experiences close to real life, and real use of living language.

We value short film because it is more manageable in a classroom, and in lesson time, than a feature film, and because very often short films have something a little special – a quirky story, an unusual setting, a distinctive visual style. That said, our contributors remind us that film in itself won’t transform learning – it needs to be thoughtfully brought into learning situations, using the kinds of approaches we will introduce you to on this course.


Please tell everyone something about your experience of working with film in the classroom – is it a feature of your teaching? Have you used it as part of your language learning? What benefits has it offered you, as either a teacher or learner of languages? If you haven’t used film before, why have you decided to give it a go? Post your thoughts in the comments section.

The core materials for this course consist of a collection of short films which we use to inspire and encourage both teachers and learners in language classrooms. These films have been shown and used many times, in different countries, by a wide range of teachers. We have collected the films in a private Vimeo playlist, accessible only by participants on this course. Please use the following password to access the films on the Vimeo playlist: SFLT. Please note that this password is case sensitive. They can each be downloaded for you to watch offline, and to use in classrooms as well.

The only thing we ask is that you don’t rush to watch the films straightaway. Lots of the activities in the steps of the course use parts of the films – sound without images, or just short clips – and so if you had already seen the complete film, then the surprise and the learning points would be lost!

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Short Film in Language Teaching

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