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To DVD or not to DVD - Is that the Question?
by Deniz Dündar & Adam Simpson
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2.2 Insights into Culture and Appropriacy

Learners can increase their cultural competence with regard to the language. As Peterson & Coltrane (2003) note:

'Using authentic sources from the native speech community helps to engage students in authentic cultural experiences... Teachers can adapt their use of authentic materials to suit the age and language proficiency level of the students. For example, even beginning language students can watch and listen to video clips taken from a television show in the target language and focus on such cultural conventions as greetings.'

Kortner (1999) reiterates this by suggesting that film communication offers a link between classrooms and society.

2.3 Authenticity - How can we assess a film's relevance?

So, what issues do we need to consider when choosing an authentic film for language learning purposes? Having conducted a formal study regarding this question, Canning-Wilson (2000) suggests that the length of dialogues, in direct relation to the amount of on-screen action, will affect the ability of the students to derive meaning from what they watch:

'Scenes where utterances were backed up by an action and/or body language and that were relatively shorter, were considered easier to understand by students. Less lively scenes, which involved relatively long stretches of conversation, were labeled as more difficult.'

Canning-Wilson also states that students like using films in language learning, and that generally students prefer action/entertainment films. This should obviously influence the type of film chosen, i.e. films high on artistic merit may not be as useful as those from the 'fast paced, shoot-em-up' action genre. This issue will be raised again in section 4, when we discuss opur approach to using films.

King reaffirms the importance of comprehensibility, suggesting that films that need to contain a lot of action:

'It is important to choose (films) that balance dialogue with a high degree of visual support.'

The appropriateness of content and the comfort level of students also need to be taken into account in the selection process. For example, films with explicit sex, gratuitous violence and excessive profanity should probably not be used. Furthermore, a certain level of language competence is necessary. This is an issue that will be discussed in further detail in sections 4 and 5.

3. The Benefits of Modern Formats

3.1 DVD and DivX

DVD has undoubtedly replaced VHS video as the medium of the modern era. DVD is vastly superior to videotape because its durability, compactness, audio-visual quality, availability and other interactive features. Furthermore, Chun (1996) notes that in educational settings, many classrooms and CALL Centres have been upgraded from VHS to DVD. DivX is a similar format to DVD, and holds many of the same advantages.

King (2002) notes that one of the most beneficial features of DVDs is scene access, i.e. specific scenes can be accessed without having to watch the whole film. There is no rewinding or fast forwarding. Another distinct advantage of these formats is the availability of sub-titles. If we think back to the example of Yoder in section 1.3, we suggested that there is some pedagogical value in showing sub-titles to accompany the spoken dialogue. Kikuchi (1997) suggests that captioned movies are more effective than non-captioned videos in terms of improving overall listening comprehension and helping EFL students' comprehension ability.

3.2 The Internet

The internet contains a wealth of information and resources that can aid in the use of movies in language learning. Many examples of the websites that we often use are listed in the appendix at the end of this paper. Some of the things that we use the internet for are:

  • Pre-viewing materials - movie trailers.
  • Background information - facts related to the plot and the stars of a film.
  • Webquests - assigning task to learners which require research on the net.
  • Movie Scripts - learners can find entire scripts for such activities as role-plays.
  • Sub-titles - sub-titles for all movies are available on the internet, by using the DivX format, viewers can see sub-titles in different fonts, colours, etc.

These things will be discussed in more detail in section 4 of this paper, when we discuss how we can use films in a preparatory school program.

4. What can we Do?

Firstly, we should describe the context in which films can be used in a university preparatory program.

Pre-viewing activities

  • Focus questions and a Q&A session: The purpose of these activities is to get the learners thinking about the genre of film, the kind of vocabulary they associate with this genre, and the kind of action they will expect to take place.
  • Trailers: These aim to activate learner schemata in a way that we would if we were preparing learners to do a reading or listening activity in class. They give learners an entry point into the movie, provide contextual clues as to the content, and provide motivation to watch.
  • Power Point summaries: These build on what is achieved by watching the trailer, i.e. they can introduce the main characters and provide a brief synopsis of the plot.


  • Reading / Listening questions: A set of questions prepared by the teacher help us check listening and reading comprehension of learners while watching the film and reading the subtitles.
  • Manipulated sub-titles: Some of the scripts are deliberately changed and learners are asked to find the mistakes and correct them. We can also omit some words, phrases or sentences and ask learners to complete the blanks.


  • Role-play: Scripts of different scenes are given to different groups of learners and guided to act out the scenes.
  • Discussions: Some questions are prepeared asking learners to reflect on certain aspects of the film. For example 'Would you have behaved in a similar way to character X in this situation?', or 'Were you satisfied with the end of the film? If not, how would you change the ending?'.
  • Movie reviews: As an extension activity, learners can write a film review. This can be a very fulfilling activity, as there are ample opportunities for learners to have their writing published on the internet. is a popular site for this, and one we've used with our learners.

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