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Engaging students in foreign language classrooms

Muriel Huet, Education Consultant and lead educator of ‘Short Film in Language Teaching’ on the FutureLearn platform, talks about how educators can keep students of all abilities engaged in language learning through the medium of film.


Motivating and engaging students in language lessons are challenges that educators face every day. How can we keep students engaged in their learning, when young people live in a world with such easy access to the media? 


The challenge for language educators today

The constant challenge faced by teachers is being able to accommodate the needs of a wide range of students’ abilities whilst maintaining a stimulating learning environment. Students work at different paces, have various learning needs and need to be challenged and supported. Having spoken with many educators around the world, teachers are feeling more and more concerned about their students’ behaviour; perhaps we should question why behaviour among students is changing. Societies are evolving as much as children are. We need to adapt to their new needs and not the contrary, and to do so, educators need to look for new ways of keeping students motivated and engaged. The development of existing media forms has helped teachers to overcome some of these challenges, with the internet providing reference to traditional textbook teaching methods. 


Another difficulty that teachers face is stressing the importance of learning a language to students. Students need to realise that languages are crucial for them to live in the world of today. Using authentic material, such as short films, enables educators to help students access this world and make foreign languages real to them. By seeing the language used in real contexts, while learning about new cultures, students can see the importance of learning one.lsef


The benefits of using short films

I have been working with short films and cinema for many years, yet I am still discovering new teaching strategies and new ways of using them in my teaching. All our research projects with the BFI (British Film Institute), working with a variety of teachers, have confirmed that short films help students to gain enjoyment from language learning and develop confidence to express themselves in a foreign tongue, whilst learning more about culture. In doing so, these interactive teaching methods help to develop a more creative approach to learning with the ultimate aim of a wider interest in modern foreign languages within the classroom.

Beyond language

Recently, I have used the French short film ‘Quai de Seine’ from ‘Paris je t’aime’ with a Year 9 class. Through this short film, I have been able to introduce students to certain grammar and linguistic topics linked to the curriculum, but above all, I have introduced my students to another level of thinking. I have raised society issues, looked at multiculturalism in France, and introduced them to some French slang. By giving them the correct support, I was incredibly proud of how much my Year 9 students were able to say about the short film and link it to their own opinions. It demonstrates that motivation can make a huge difference. Students are so engaged that they don’t realise how challenging the exercise can be, and want to explore the language further in order to express some more complex ideas. As they were also exposed to young French people in Paris, they could more easily relate to them and see the importance of learning a language. Short films offer many possibilities when planning linguistic and cultural activities.


Innovation in teaching

As language teachers, we can no longer separate the conventional disciplines of reading, writing, speaking and listening from what is offered through other media – including sound and visual literacy. Short films allow us to broaden the linguistic and cultural spectrum within each of these areas of study, allowing the students to be more creative and confident in the language they use, while achieving teaching objectives and learning outcomes.  


The BFI and Into Film’s course: ‘Short Film in Language Teaching’ on the FutureLearn platform, will help teachers around the world to investigate, try out and discuss new and different approaches towards short films. Creativity and innovation in teaching has to evolve alongside societal trends, and short films have the incredible potential to keep promoting language teaching and engage students in their learning.



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