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Educational Studies Vol. 34, No.

1, February 2008, 1–9

Using feature films in language classes
˘ Gölge Seferoglu*
v e g ] b r [

Faculty of Education, Middle East Technical University, 06531 Ankara, Turkey
GölgeSefero[gbreve]lu 0 100000February 34 2008 & Francis Original Article 2008 0305-5698 Studies EducationalFrancis Ltd 10.1080/03055690701785202 CEDS_A_278546.sgm Taylor and (print)/1465-4300 (online) golge@metu.edu.tr

This study aimed at finding students’ perspectives on integrating feature films on digital versatile discs (DVDs) in oral communication classes of advanced English as foreign language (EFL) learners. A total of 29 students being trained as teachers of English participated in the study. Data were collected through a survey questionnaire. All participants unanimously agreed that through films they had the opportunity to learn about how people initiate and sustain a conversational exchange, and how they negotiate meaning; types of exclamation and filling expressions; colloquial English in real-life contexts, and non-verbal communication. Participants also acknowledged that viewing feature films exposed them not only to a wide range of native speakers, each with their own slang, accents and dialects, but also to a wealth of contextualised vocabulary expressions and authentic cross-cultural information. The study suggests that it is possible to exploit feature films in foreign language classes with a wide array of pedagogical options. Keywords: educational technology; digital versatile discs; language learning; feature films; classroom research

Introduction One of the greatest challenges a teacher of English in an English as a foreign language (EFL) context faces is that English is not used authentically in the settings in which students live. Thus, learners do not have many natural opportunities to be exposed to the language or use it in authentic interaction. It may be easier for learners to have access to authentic materials in printed form, but the situation is worse when it comes to developing oral comprehension and production skills. There may be several suggestions to combat this drawback that EFL learners experience. One suggestion may be to have learners listen to authentic materials on cassettes or video tapes (Stempleski 1992, 2002). Feature films, along with other authentic materials, are contextually rich sources of authentic material which can be exploited in the language classroom. Through films learners see how people communicate in real life in different conversational contexts since films “help bring the outside world into the classroom” (Tomalin 1986, 9). A review of literature on the use of feature films in English language teaching reveals that films are highly useful resources in the English classroom for a number of ends. It has been suggested that films can be used to increase students’ critical thinking skills (Eken 2003), their awareness of pragmatic usage (King 2002) and their motivation (Ryan 1998), and to promote comprehension-based learning (Swaffar and Vlatten 1997), fluency, etc. Development of new digital technologies, such as the digital versatile disc (DVD), allows for much greater versatility in the way feature films can be exploited. Some special features offered on DVD videos include theatrical trailers, closed captions or subtitles in different languages, added video material such
*Email: golge@metu.edu.tr
ISSN 0305-5698 print/ISSN 1465-4300 online © 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/03055690701785202 http://www.informaworld.com

Research questions The following research questions guided the research process: (1) To what extent do the students think integrating feature films in the oral communication class helped them improve their various language competencies. for instance. some may criticise the use of feature films in the classroom because the dense. Although feature films present intrinsically motivating linguistic and extra-linguistic input through a dynamic medium. Views on how to make the best use of feature films in language classes vary as well. Feature films are valuable teaching resources in language classes. appreciation of life/arts.2 ˘ G. An examination of the use of feature films in language classes reveals that learning English through film viewing is a fairly new idea. As King (2002. A selection of feature films was integrated into the instruction of a freshmen oral communication course. Katchen (2003) found no improvements in students’ listening comprehension. cultural awareness. and other versions of the film with voice-over comments by the director. Some researchers argue that there is scant empirical proof to verify effectiveness of using feature films in language classes. idiomatic language of the films may not provide students with much useful language that can be readily used outside the classroom. skills. documentaries about making of the film. Seferog lu as interviews with the director or the actors. The students were being trained to be teachers of English. It is a refreshing learning experience for students who need to take a break from rote learning of long lists of English vocabulary and sporific drill practices. others do not advocate this idea on the ground that showing chunks or sequences presents a danger of diverting the focus from meaning and fluency and losing the wholeness of the film. Their encounters with realistic situations and exposure to the living language provide a dimension that is missing in textbook-oriented teaching. In another study. Lin (2002. 510) points out: Learning English through films compensates for many of the shortcomings in the EFL learning experience by bringing language to life. cited in Katchen 2003). again using DVD films. short sequences should be shown and they may be followed by activities which practice and recycle the target language (Canning-Wilson 2000). While some teachers and researchers suggest that rather than the whole film. especially when there are few opportunities for exposure to English as used in real-life contexts. Method This study aimed at finding students’ reflections on integrating feature films in oral communication classes of advanced EFL learners at the university level with regard to some specific issues. conducted a study and found that the experimental group who used DVD films as a teaching material showed significant improvement over the control group in speaking. A total of 29 students enrolled in the course participated in the study. but indicated no significant difference in listening comprehension. and critical and creative thinking skills? (2) Do the students find using feature films in English helpful in reaching the objectives of the oral communication course they took? (3) In what ways do the students think watching movies and dealing with different aspects of films (linguistic and extralinguistic) in the classes helped them develop their English? (4) How much of the content of the vocabulary and pronunciation notebook students have kept throughout the semester has come from the movies they have watched. as perceived by the students themselves? .

and critical and creative thinking skills. Viewing sheets. After the previewing activities the students watched the whole films with English subtitles without taking any break. This aimed to explore the extent to which the students think integrating feature films in their oral communication class helped them improve their various language competencies. it consisted of two sections. Vocabulary and pronunciation notebooks Throughout the whole semester. cultural awareness. Viewing the whole film. The second section consisted of 12 items to which students needed to respond based on a five-point Likerttype scale (from strongly agree to strongly disagree). Viewing sheets Students were given viewing sheets that drew their attention to specific scenes and required them to answer very short questions at certain times while watching the movie. The first section included nine open-ended questions that aimed to tap the research questions 2 through 7. The scale also included a comment section where students were asked to explain their responses to each of the 12 items in this section. Viewing the whole film The whole film as opposed to the short sequence approach was adopted. Film response journals.Educational Studies 3 (5) What was the most beneficial/best part of integrating feature films in the classes? (6) What was the worst part of integrating feature films in the classes? (7) What would the students suggest for more effective use of feature films in oral communication classes? Instrument A questionnaire was used to collect data. including guessing what the film was about from its title or keywords. Collaborative group work. Previewing Before they started watching the film. the students were asked to keep a vocabulary and pronunciation notebook in which they noted down all newly met words in one section and newly learnt . Role-play. Procedure Integration of feature films in this oral communication class involved the following components: ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Previewing activities. skills. The students watched the films in a multimedia language lab which had a computer with a DVD drive and a data projector. Vocabularly and pronunciation notebooks. the students engaged in some previewing activities. appreciation of life/arts. and questions to activate students’ background knowledge and schemata. Students were also provided with some key expressions and potentially troublesome words and phrases in order to enhance their comprehension of the movie.

they selected and studied a segment of the film to role-play in the class. students were responsible for preparing a film presentation. The responsibilities of the groups included preparing previewing activities. the characters and the audio and visual imagery in the film. “agree” 2. and then the students in groups of four to six prepared and presented six films throughout the semester. Students’ responses to the second section of the questionnaire were entered into SPSS for computation of descriptive statistics. their reactions to the theme. Which sequences didn’t seem to match reality? Why? What did you like best about the movie? What did you like least about the movie? Why? Collaborative group work Working with a group of four to six members. Some 10% of the students’ course grade came from the instructor’s evaluation of this notebook. “disagree” 4 and “strongly disagree” as 5. Seferog lu pronunciations in a separate section. Did all of the events portrayed in the film ring true? Describe the scenes that you found especially accurate. The groups consulted the instructor and showed him/her their activities. Data analysis The questionnaire data from the first section were subjected to content analysis (Miles and Huberman 1994) based on the framework established through the research questions. . Some 15% of students’ course grade came from this work.4 ˘ G. frequencies and percentages were calculated for each item in this section. discussion outline and questions one week in advance. Some specific questions they needed to answer included: ● ● ● Did you learn anything from the movie? Did anything touch you emotionally? What was it? Write a few sentences about what you thought of the film and what you took away from viewing it. In this role-play. and how they were emotionally touched by the movie. Role-play As part of the group work that students were required to complete. leading the post-viewing discussion and also performing a role-play of a short segment of the film. Dead Poets Society. watching task sheets. Each entry students wrote included a brief summary of the film. Means. “neutral” 3. The data were coded before its entry into the statistical package where “strongly agree” was coded as 1. The researcher presented the first feature film. Film response journals The students were required to write one journal entry for each film they watched in the course. The groups chose the feature film they would be preparing in consultation with the course instructor. The students were provided with guidelines outlining what they should include in their film response journals. with the above-mentioned components in order to model the process. The students’ task was to filter through all the language input they were exposed to during the course of the semester in various formats and write down any newly heard/learnt words. specifying where they came across the word. it was important that group members worked collaboratively and that each had an equal share.

and critical and creative thinking skills? Descriptive statistics displaying means. then students’ responses to the open-ended items will be discussed. speaking skills and pronunciation. SD: strongly disagree.4 2.2 3.6 2. skills. frequencies and percentages with regard to the extent to which students believed watching movies in English increased their awareness and helped them improve various competencies and skills are given in Table 1. a majority of students “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that watching movies in English helped them to improve their ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● awareness about cultural issues and cross-cultural comparisons. Table 1. understanding and the appreciation of the arts.2 2. findings obtained from the second section of the questionnaire are given. listening skills. understanding and the appreciation of life. The extent to which students believed watching movies in English increased their awareness and helped them improve various competencies and skills.1 N 9 17 20 14 9 2 6 2 1 4 3 9 % 31 59 70 48 31 7 21 7 3 14 10 31 N 18 11 7 12 10 4 18 1 8 17 15 11 A % 62 38 24 42 34 14 62 3 28 58 52 38 N 2 1 1 3 8 14 5 15 5 6 8 5 N % 7 3 3 10 28 48 17 52 17 21 28 17 N – – 1 – 2 8 – 9 11 2 3 3 D % – – 3 – 7 28 – 31 38 7 10 10 SD N – – – – – 1 – 2 4 – – 1 % – – – – – 3 – 7 14 – – 3 Key: SA: strongly agree.9 3.1 3.1 1.Educational Studies 5 Results Results are presented within the framework established by the research questions. ● To what extent did the students think integrating feature films in the oral communication class helped them improve their various language competencies. cultural awareness.7 1. SA Watching movies in English helped me to improve my: Awareness about cultural issues and cross-cultural comparisons Knowledge of how language is used in different contexts Speaking skills and pronunciation Listening skills Fluency Grammar Vocabulary Writing Understanding of the teaching profession Understanding and appreciation of life Understanding and appreciation of the arts Critical and creative thinking skills Mean 1.4 1. D: disagree. fluency. appreciation of life and arts. A: agree. knowledge of how language is used in different contexts. . As displayed in the table. First.3 2. N: neutral. vocabulary. critical and creative thinking skills.4 1.

One of the movies they watched. a wealth of contextualised vocabulary expressions. Also. Seferog lu However. by watching films. prepared materials and delivered their presentation.6 ˘ G. understanding of the teaching profession. Also. and the one presented by the course instructor for modelling the presentation process. Dead Poets Society. non-verbal communication. Probably because the theme of only one film was linked to the teaching profession and maybe also as freshmen students who had not yet taken teaching-related courses. it seems students believed that using feature films was not particularly helpful in improving their ● ● ● grammar. The students also had a chance to practise taking the role of the teacher through the film presentation process in which they chose films to bring to class. You learn about culture. writing. By the help of them. and by listening we can improve our speaking skills. different accents. types of exclamation and filling expressions. About half of the students were “neutral” about films’ positive effect on their grammar and writing in English. writing or understanding of the teaching profession. Some of their answers were as follows: If an objective of this course is to teach spoken features of English. you get used to colloquial English. Yes. 38% and 52% respectively) believed that watching films did not help them improve their grammar. reduced speech. I improved my pronunciation. they are very helpful. students will learn about: ● ● ● ● ● how people initiate and sustain a conversational exchange. of course. we hear English speakers’ speech and pronunciation. more than half of the students did not think integrating feature films in the classes helped them improve their understanding of the teaching profession. how people negotiate meaning. . was very much related to the teaching profession. colloquial English in real-life contexts. ● Did the students find viewing feature films helpful in reaching the objectives of the English oral communication course they took? All of the students agreed that viewing feature films was helpful in reaching the objectives of the English oral communication course they took. You hear from native speakers. they make the course really attractive. Thus. Specific objectives of the oral communication course included the following. and dialects). and a considerable number of students (31%. stress. they failed to see a direct link between what they were doing while preparing/delivering presentations and the teaching profession itself. because the aim of the course is to help us speak fluently. Yes. authentic cross-cultural information. Students will be exposed to: ● ● ● a wide range of native speakers (slang. I think it is really helpful to watch films in this course. The reason for the students’ opinion regarding whether integrating feature films in the classes helped them improve their understanding of the teaching profession sought in the questionnaire was twofold.

accents and dialects. and I learnt the correct pronunciations. reduced speech. negotiate meaning. Some 17 students mentioned that watching films helped them learn new words. and authentic cross-cultural information. I realised that I pronounce a lot of words incorrectly. pronunciation. students unanimously agreed that through films they had the opportunity to learn about how people initiate and sustain a conversational exchange. these students suggested that no tasks be required. and we became familiar with these. colloquial English in real-life contexts and non-verbal communication. They suggested that those students should not join the movie viewing sessions. they had tried to acquire the words without conscious attention and effort. Out of 29 students. the following areas emerged in relation to this research question: listening. Yet others stated that not a great deal of the content had come from the films because they concentrated on viewing the films and did not want to interrupt the viewing process by stopping and noting down the words they had noticed.Educational Studies 7 In terms of meeting specific course objectives through watching feature films. all the students seemed to agree that watching movies helped their exposure to a wide range of native speakers. as perceived by the students themselves? Students’ responses varied to the question of how much of the content of the vocabulary and pronunciation notebooks they had kept throughout the semester had come from the movies they watched. Students believed it most beneficial in improving their listening and speaking skills. rather. speaking. ● What was the most beneficial/best part of integrating feature films in the classes? Agreement was reached in almost all responses regarding the best aspects of using feature films in the classes. some students complained that they were disturbed by some of their classmates who turned on their mobile phones or fell asleep while watching movies. vocabulary and grammar. One of them said: You learn words that are used with different connotations. ● How much of the content of the vocabulary and pronunciation notebooks students kept throughout the semester came from the movies they had watched. each with their own slang. Furthermore. . 26 mentioned that watching films helped them develop their English pronunciation. Two sample answers are given below: We improved our pronunciation. Native speakers sometimes speak fast and don’t pronounce words fully or they pronounce them differently. together with a wealth of contextualised vocabulary expressions. some students argued that the response journal entry that they needed to write after viewing each movie took away the fun from the viewing process. For instance. ● In what ways did the students think watching movies and dealing with different aspects of films (linguistic and extralinguistic) in the classes helped them develop their English? When the questionnaire data were subjected to content analysis. Thus. Moreover. others said that at most half of the words in their notebooks were derived from the films. While some students mentioned that almost all of this content came from the feature films they watched. together with types of exclamation and filling expressions. stress. One student also mentioned that watching films developed her self-esteem and her trust in using English because she was able to understand what actors said. While watching movies.

It is also important that the teacher does not let students associate films only with leisure and entertainment. they provide authentic language input and a stimulating framework for classroom discussion. Finally. For instance. care should be taken in the selection of the feature films. stimulating language use. but also of non-verbal communication and of cultural issues. However.8 ˘ G. in particular regarding content. Students who participated in this study stated that using films in the English oral communication class was a very enjoyable and rewarding learning experience for them. the findings of this study suggest that feature films may provide valuable exposure and learning opportunities for language learners if used purposefully. While preparing materials and activities that integrate feature films into language classes. as Stempleski (2002. rather than the whole film uninterruptedly. there was not much conscious analysis of linguistic items. and heightening students’ awareness of particular language points or other aspects of communication can be improved or destroyed by the way in which the teacher introduces the video and the activities which the students carry out in conjunction with viewing. and integrates the video with other areas of the language curriculum. especially if short chunks or sections of movies are viewed. Eken. the responsibility for making the film-based lesson a rewarding language learning experience for the students lies with the teacher. the films they watched provided a fertile source not only for language. so that students watch with a purpose. who were prospective teachers. but also learnt many things which may not be related to language per se. ELT Journal 57. no. If nothing else. the tasks and classroom procedures should “lead students to an appreciation of video as a valuable tool for language learning” (Stempleski 2002. “We do not normally concentrate on such things as the gestures or other nonverbal signals used by the people on the screen. 365) has pointed out. promotes active viewing. Therefore. the focus was on meaning and absorbing the living language. Seferog lu Some students stated that they would like to spend more time on each movie after watching it. then. providing realistic listening practice. To make the best use of feature films for achieving whatever purpose. In this study. 11: November. and felt the movies could be exploited further. It is the teacher who selects the video. “You’ve got mail”: A film workshop. C. for instance. Students may not otherwise be able to cope with the material. . and watch the films passively as they might watch television. also developed a better understanding of the teaching profession through the theme of one of the films. They believed they not only improved their language competencies and skills. Practical aspects of using video in the foreign language classroom. or listen carefully for the intonation in their voices”. 365) and promote active viewing. N. relates the video to students’ needs. 2000. a principled approach should be taken and the main purpose of using this authentic material and the objectives of the particular lesson should always be kept in mind. Conclusion It is possible to exploit feature films in English language classes with a wide array of pedagogical options. Internet TESL Journal 6. In this study students. 2003. no. A. Therefore. Any video’s chances of achieving the important goals of motivating students’ interest. and thus. it is essential to set clear tasks. Stempleski (2002. the needs and proficiency levels of the students should be taken into account. 364) highlights: The teacher plays a key role in the success or failure of any video used in the language classroom. Therefore. References Canning-Wilson. 1: 51–9. focused analysis of specific vocabulary items or grammatical structures will be possible.

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