French film Indochine and other thoughts and tips on the use of film in the language classroom.

By Martha Hayden posted 01-29-2011 11:49


I am a high school Spanish teacher and I teach and advanced level Spanish Cinema class. The students have a choice of either taking the AP Spanish class or "El Cine Hispanohablante". Both classes take the AP exam with wonderful results. El Cine class students also score 4's and 5's in the AP exam without preparing for the exam because I think that probably everything we do in the class prepares them for it.

I have taught workshops on how to use film to teach language.  I believe that film is a wonderful way not only to learn culture and history but also to have the opportunity to express your thoughts, opinions, reactions orally and in writing and to connect with other areas of study. That all equates to lots and lots of conversation and oral practice.

It can be done at all levels. However, showing a film doesn't mean just putting the dvd on and having students watch it until the end and then do some activities later. If you are doing it this way you are losing a wonderful opportunity to "sacarle el jugo a la pelicula" (squeeze the juice out of the orange in this case the film.). You have to have pre-viewing, while-viewing and post viewing activities.

Pre-viewing activities:

First teach the vocabulary you want them to learn in historical context. In other words teach them the vocabulary that will allow them to talk and understand about the historical, political and social  events in the film so they will not have to ask you "how do you say?". So in the case of Indochine you can teach why Indochina was french territory, how long the french stayed there, when they got their independence you can even take it to the Vietnam war if you want to.

Giving the students background information will allow them a deeper understanding of the film and they will get so much more out of it. As homework besides doing the vocab work have them research on the internet and come up with a historical timeline.  I personally don't care if they do their outside research in English but the have to share it in the target language. I don't allow my students to speak an iota of English in class. Teaching the vocabulary will take a  little over a week. Once finished with the vocab I test them orally in groups and they have to talk about all the historical events in context using all the vocab words taught. So basically you killed two birds  in one shot: you taught the vocab and the history at the same time. Now they are ready to see the film!

While-viewing activities:

Everyday for homework you have them write about what they saw the day before. While you set up the movie and check the homework they have to turn to the person next to them and  talk about what they saw the day before. They are doing oral work every single day while watching the movie. Then we talk as a class. I ask them about all the details they saw in the film using open ended questions, looking for cultural and historical cues, simbolisms, etc.  They all have to participate! (35% of their grade is class participation). Then we continue watching the film. By doing this they are getting lots and lots of oral practice and they are also writing everyday minimum a half page. It will take you about a week and a half to watch a film. I also give them articles that relate to the topic and they might be in English but all the commentary  before either written or oral has to be in Spanish and it always relates to topics presented or issues that will come up in the movies we see.

Post-viewing activities:

As soon as the film is over I have them sit in silence and write their immediate reaction to the film. These immediate reactions are powerful and they will become the opening for the essay they have to write on the film. In their essays I don't want them to relate the whole film to me but their personal reaction. Besides the written essay they always have an oral presentation after the film. Gone are the PP which took so much time. Now I use those huge  Post-it's and I put them in groups of 3 or 4 around the room and I give them some topics to discuss about the film and and the characters, maybe how the film relates to the historical events. parallels between characters, how social and economic circumstances affect the characters, etc, etc, etc. 
They discuss them in groups, write their thoughts about them or represent them graphically  and then they do group presentations. They always have much to say and questions and discussion always ensue. They are fabulous. Always coming up with things I never thought about so I feel like the eternal learner. I just love it! 

You will probably be thinking when does she do the grammar? Well I also have a day when we do "errores que son horrores" (I wish I could give credit to who came up with it but I don't know). I take mistakes from their essays and I make up sheet that has a column with the mistakes and on the other side they have room to correct them. They have to fix them in groups of 2 and then we go over it as a class.  They always come up with the answers and when more explanation is needed I chime in.  I am basically a moderator for the whole course.

So in a nutshell: films are powerful motivators, use them as you would a novel, a story, a book! Don't just show them to pass the time away. They are wonderful learning tools and a springboard for conversation. Don't show Disney movies doubled into spanish, french, etc use authentic films otherwise you are wasting a wonderful opportunity to teach the richness of the culture of the language you are teaching. Make your students love the language because of the culture. Let your students travel through films, let them see the universality of life, express their inner feelings and thoughts, give opinions. They will love it and so will you!

Marty Hayden