Using Authentic Video Materials in Teaching English

                                                Komila Tangirova

Abstract

Among all the rich variety of authentic materials, video medium has the advantage of being a highly motivating and engaging resource for teaching a foreign language and, therefore, have caught the attention of many language teachers and researchers so far. AVM is an effective tool in promoting authentic learning of English and exposing learners to real life dialogues with all its richness in culture and natural use of the language. In this paper, the educational potentials of authentic video materials (AVM) and English language feature films (ELFF), in particular, will be investigated. First, the description of  description of my teaching context will be provided, followed by a critical review of studies on the usage of AVM in the light of comparison with other EFL materials, motivational strength, cultural input, and usage methodology as well as skill development. Finally, some conclusions will be drawn in regard to the applicability of AVM to teaching English in Uzbekistan.

Key words: Authentic Video Materials, EFL, films, four skills, motivation

Introduction

The use of authentic materials has been highlighted in many studies (e.g. King 2002; Sherman, 2003; Herrington, 2006; Chen, 2012; Donaghy, 2014; Yaseen & Shakir, 2015) as a facilitator of effective demonstration of how language is used in real life. They have proved to be a useful source in EFL classroom. According to Sherman, “authenticity itself is an inducement – there is a special thrill in being able to understand and enjoy the real thing (2003:2). Among all the rich variety of authentic materials, video medium has the advantage of being a highly motivating and engaging resource for teaching a foreign language and, therefore, have caught the attention of many language teachers and researchers. In this paper, the educational potentials of authentic video materials (AVM) and English language feature films (ELFF), in particular, will be investigated. First, the description of  description of my teaching context will be provided, followed by a critical review of studies on the usage of AVM in the light of comparison with other EFL materials, motivational strength, cultural input, and usage methodology as well as skill development. Finally, some conclusions will be drawn in regard to the applicability of AVM to teaching English in Uzbekistan.

Teaching context

I teach a course of integrated skills to tertiary-level students, which means that my learners are already familiar with the basics of the language. This allows them to make up sentences and involve in a simple conversation. However, the problem at this stage is that they quite frequently fail to select the right vocabulary for the context and are not familiar with how natural English language should sound. Another widespread problem is that students usually use language by translating it from their mother tongue word for word, which obviously sounds strange in English in terms of sentence structure and prosody. Teaching in this country has been hugely textbook-based and the only example for them is usually their teacher and the textbook. However, it must be noted that  textbook content itself cannot be sufficient to make students competent in communication in English – there should be something else that can facilitate the ability of speaking naturally and this can be AVM.

Uzbekistan has wide access to English-language television programmes and popular feature films. This makes them an appealing resource for teachers in language classroom and an engaging source for students to absorb authentic language and culture for students. Now that English is widely spoken and the government of Uzbekistan is eagerly trying to educate proficient speakers in this language (Presidential Decree #1875, 2012), it perhaps is necessary to concentrate more on communicative skills to achieve the desired level which is set in educational regulations. AVM seem to be able to provide this owing to a number of features that will be discussed below.

Literature review

A literature review has revealed that using AVM has been addressed by researchers in different countries, where English is taught as a second or foreign language. A great number of empirical studies have been conducted to examine their use from different perspectives. Among all the studies on using authentic video materials, many have compared AVM with other teaching sources (Secules et al,1992; King 2002; Sherman,2003; Brown, 2010; Ismaili,2013). Others looked into their motivational strength (Ciccone, 1995; King 2002; Herrington ,2006; Chen, 2012; Donaghy, 2014;  Yaseen & Shakir, 2015) or provided considerations of realia and cultural input (Herron, & Hanley,1992; Ciccone, 1995; King 2002; Sherman, 2003; Brown, 2010; Chen, 2012). Most of them also discussed the ways of their applications and benefit they bring to four skills (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking) development. Considerable attention to this type of teaching source was given in 1990’s, presumably, due to the boom of technology and freshness of this resource at that time (Joiner, 1990; Garza, 1991; Herron & Hanley,1992; Seculos, et.al, 1992; Ciccone, 1995; Fehlman, 1996; Progosh,1996; Markham, 1999; Weyers,1999).

AVM in comparison with other types of teaching materials

Undeniably, any language is best learnt when this is done in the real life atmosphere. To achieve this in classroom, a teacher may select to apply authentic video, which can create this atmosphere. Sherman (2003:2) highlights that AVM is a contemporary resource of all the features of language, which cannot be provided by any coursebook. Brown (2010:45) agrees with this and states that unlike video material specifically produced for EFL learners authentic films can offer “much more positive learning experiences”. King (2002:510) also calls attention to the drawback of videos specially produced for EFL by stressing that such standard teaching materials cannot offer “a realistic and meaningful context and fail to deal with contemporary issues that are relevant to their lives”. Comparing the two types of video materials, he states that if preference is given to AVM, then “artificial situations can be replaced with real life context; students can be exposed to many different kinds of native speakers” (ibid). He also argues that artificial language teaching videos focus more on “meaning and accuracy rather than communication” and may be less effective in comparison to, for example, feature films, as the same characters take part in those videos, which eventually stops to be interesting and engaging for learners (ibid).

In their study Secules et al. (1992) compared video based teaching in one group and traditional instruction based teaching in another group, the results of which they checked via listening comprehension test. The results showed that video is more efficient. Ismaili (2013:121) in her study also notices that classes based on AVM can be an engaging substitute of “boring” reading classes, which might involve the same classic masterpieces but in audio-visual context. Thus, many studies seem to agree that AVM have advantages over many other types of teaching materials.

Motivation

Along with comparing AVM with traditional teaching devices a bulk of researches discussed motivational potential of AVM in learning a foreign language. Since“motivation is one of the most important factors in determining successful second-language acquisition” (Donaghy, 2014), this aspect of teaching cannot be neglected in examining the use of AVM.

Several researchers notes that one of the strengths of feature films, as one of types of AVM, is that they can be very motivating for learners, presenting the language in natural context, allowing learners to explore its use together with an interesting plot of story of the film. The fact that watching a film is entertaining activity makes it more interesting for learners and an effective motivational tool for teachers. King notes that “DVD films provide pedagogical options and are rich resource of intrinsically motivating materials for learning” (2002:509). Herrington (2006:viii) shares from his personal experience of teaching undergraduate and graduate students that the “more authentic the tasks and activities in the course are the more students are engaged, the more they learn, and the more they retain”. In addition, according to several studies, films can motivate learners to read classic literature. Comparing the book and the film may become an engaging activity for students (Chen, 2012; Yaseen & Shakir, 2015)

However, there is a danger that watching a feature film can frustrate learners who may find understanding it very challenging (King, 2002). Admittedly, students usually rely on face expression, body language and actions in order to comprehend the message. Without them it may be very demanding to understand what is happening. It should be noted that films do not offer academic and correct English. They show how it is spoken in life, how different nationalities use this language. Students may see that the language is not what they see in textbooks and grammar tests, it is so beyond all these. Ciccone (1995) raises the issue of comprehensibility of authentic video and relying on Krashen’s theory of comprehensible input (1985) he describes possible issues that can arise and responses to them. Yaseen & Shakir (2015) suggests that the preference of students is also important to be considered to motivate them.

Culture

Apart from being a powerful motivational medium, AVM also provides a rich cultural input and this have been widely discussed in many studies (e.g. Herron & Hanley, 1992; Brown, 2010; Chen, 2012). According to them, AVM can provide learners with not only a chance to develop linguistic and communicative competence, but also with an awareness of conventions of communication, which will enable them to use appropriate styles in different communicative contexts. The culture of target language is inseparable constituent of learning any language. While textbooks may provide some insight into it, AVM can show language and culture in action (Chen, 2012). Students may become passive participants of dialogues, which can be very beneficial as they have an opportunity to observe how words, phrases, collocations, idioms and slang are used in real life interaction. Textbook does not show peculiarities of the language as authentic sources do (Herron & Hanley, 1992). Watching AVM seems to prepare students to avoid cultural shock when they communicate to native speakers or speakers from other countries who are familiar with spoken conventions of the language. With AVM they have an opportunity to gain “cultural vocabulary” (Brown, 2010:52). Sherman notes that “A small amount of showing is worth hours of telling from a teacher or a coursebook”. (2003:2-3). However, Brown (2010) points at some challenges in this regard, claiming that too culture-specific film can become a hindrance in understanding the message. Therefore, he suggests that it is the teacher who “will have to be familiar with every word and phrase as well as the purpose of their usage throughout the film, to be able to cater the maximum assistance for learners to make use of the film given for developing their level” (2010:54).

Approaches to application and Methodology for using AVM

A number of researchers warn that films should not just become a way of entertaining students at a language class but be based on certain methodology and used with a precise purpose in mind. So, while AVM can be applied in many ways and for many learning purposes, they need to be approached “with specific amount of preparation and consideration for instruction” (Brown, 2010:46). Morely (1981) also notes that the productivity of AVM greatly depends on how ably they are used. He stresses the importance of relating watching an AVM to other experiences, students can “interpret, generalise, talk back to, think critically about, and responds to other intellectual ways”.  For this purpose, King (2002) offers applying films in accordance with theme and topic so that watching a particular “thought-provoking” segment of a movie could foster discussion. Sherman (2003) in her book provides a wide range of possible ways of using authentic video and offers activities that can be applied for each genre and type.

Another important consideration is whether using subtitles or captions when working with AVM is the right approach. Sherman points out that it is important to recognise the strength of the eye over the ear and given an opportunity of using either of them, viewers will prefer the former(2003:16). It is mentioned in many studies (e.g. Markham, 1999; Latifi, et.al, 2011; Gorjian, 2014) that it might be considered that their presence just distracts learners from listening and makes learners dependable on reading the text rather than try to listen and understand what is said. However, it is argued in numerous studies that subtitles and captions can be a very useful tools in language class (Vanderplank,1988; Zanón, 2006; Rokni and Attaee, 2014; Danan, 2004). Garza (1991) in her study evaluates the use of subtitles as a pedagogical aid to optimise the use of authentic video materials in the foreign language classroom and finds out that they are an important constituent of teaching process. Another study in Iranian university conducted by Rokni and Ataee (2014) revealed that using films with subtitles are more helpful than without for improving listening comprehension. Markham in his study concluded that captions are not only beneficial for listening but for enhancing reading skills as well (1999). However, surprisingly, one study in Iran (Latifi et.al., 2011) revealed that students who were not exposed to captioned watching scored higher in IELTS than those who were, which might be  just a coincidence, as the number of subjects (36) in that might not be adequate for making convincing conclusions.

Several studies also looked into selection of the right AVM and recommended portions to watch at a time. It is not that any random movie can be a good source for language usage (Herron & Hanley, 1992). Therefore, teachers should know what film can suit the learning audience they have. The choice of a film should be appropriate in terms of age, genre, and appropriate content for educational purposes (Secules, et.al, 1992). In addressing the choice of whether AVM should be split into segments and thoroughly analysed or whether it can simply be an inspiring force for discussion, different studies offer different approaches, which leaves us- teachers to choose what is more appropriate for level of students and teaching context.

Finally, particularly interesting were the findings of Progosh (1996), who examined the incorporation of AVM into test development. Such application received a very positive feedback from the learners. This suggests that AVM can not only be applied in teaching but also testing language skills.

Four skills development

According to many studies AVM gives an opportunity to develop all four skills and this factor makes it a strong educational tool. Studies on the influence of one or several of four skills have been examined by different researchers. Mekheimer(2011) reports that there have been numerous studies on the usefulness of videos in developing particular skills, especially listening comprehension (Wetzel, Radtke &Stern, 1994; Chung, 1994; Cinther, 2002; Gruba, 2006, Ockey, 2007; Opat, 2008; Suvorov, 2008). Chen (2012) describes a study where he examines how films can develop reading skills and the results he obtains are positive. Weyers (1999) carried out a study on how useful authentic soap opera can be for developing listening comprehension and oral production, who also concludes that AVM is a strong facilitator. However, Katchen (2003) investigating the opportunities of AVM in developing listening and speaking, raises the issues of accurate selection and long-time preparation needed to be able to develop a syllabus based on it. Qiang, et.al. (2007) emphasised the integrated writing skill development, when ELFF is applied.

A fair note has been made by Fehlman (1996:43) in his article drawing attention to viewing not being seen as a language skill. He argues that

…without integrating viewing as a companion to these other activities, we are suggesting that developing literate, capable language users in an exclusive, not inclusive process. And if viewing is being avoided or overlooked because it is seen as practice without process, a mindless engagement, then this is exactly the reason it needs to be included as a valued component in whole language instruction.

Finally, it is interesting to note that there is one surprising benefit highlighted by some researchers (Quaing, et.al. 2007:41) that ELFF influences on “articulatory organs even when the learner is merely watching them silently”, which lead me to think that continuous viewing of ELFF can by itself improve the pronunciation of learners. I myself made the same observation when after regular watching films for a period of time; I sensed a change in my pronunciation, which was noticed by my coursemates as well. Ruane (1989:30) points out that second language can be acquired subconsciously, “basically using the same facilities that enabled learners to learn their mother tongue.

Conclusion

Literature review shows that AVM can be a very effective tool for teaching language and organizing communicative activities at a class, if used with appropriate methodology. Undeniably, the purpose of teaching English is to see fluent speakers of the language able to freely express their thoughts and fully understand others speak. Regardless of whether they will ever travel to an English speaking country or not, they still need to be competent in communication. Language changes very rapidly, therefore, the language taught in a textbook several decades ago may be already obsolete now. For this reason, it might be necessary that a teacher tries to teach contemporary language with all its features that constantly enters the language. Otherwise, learners may never reach that stage when they are effective in communication and sound native-like. Using authentic materials can hugely benefit language learners in this respect. As mentioned above, learners in Uzbekistan have difficulty communicating because the language is taught mainly though grammar-translation method, making it hard for students to be natural in speaking.  Therefore, AVM is an effective tool in promoting authentic learning of English and exposing learners to real life dialogues with all its richness in culture and natural use of the language. In order to provide the authentic atmosphere for my learners so that they can mitigate the issues with unnatural speech, I see no other way but incorporating AVM into my teaching and encouraging them to use them for self-development out of class as well. As they are future English language teachers and supposed to be examples of proficiently spoken English for their students when they start working themselves, it is my duty now to provide them with the sources that demonstrate how the language that they are to teach should be spoken in real life communication. Admittedly, however, only well considered methodology and accurate instruction on my part can bring a desired effect and further exploration of integrating AVM into curriculum is needed.

 

References

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Danan, M. (2004). Captioning and subtitling: Undervalued language learning strategies. Meta: Journal des traducteursMeta:/Translators’ Journal49(1), 67-77.

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Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic learning environments in higher education. IGI Global.

Herron, C. A., & Hanley, J. (1992). Using video to introduce children to a foreign culture. Foreign Language Annals25(5), 419-426.

Ismaili, M. (2013). The effectiveness of using movies in the EFL classroom–a study conducted at South East European University. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies2(4), 121.

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Latifi, M., Mobalegh, A., & Mohammadi, E. (2011). Movie subtitles and the improvement of listening comprehension ability: Does it help?. The Journal of Language Teaching and Learning1(2), 18-29.

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Sherman, J. (2003). Using authentic video in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Yaseen, B. H., & Shakir, H. (2015). Movie Effects on EFL Learners at Iraqi School in Kuala Lumpur. International Journal of Education & Literacy Studies3(3), 31.

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Komila Tangirova has been teaching English at Uzbekistan State University of World Languages since 2010. Apart from her main responsibility of teaching a Course Integrated Skills to graduating students, she has been involved in projects linked to developing English teaching in her country. Before coming to Warwick as a 2016 Hornby Scholar, she was taking part in British Council project entitled “The Reform of Testing System at Higher Educational Institutions in Uzbekistan” and worked with language specialists from UK. Her main research interests are SLA and language testing and assessment. One of her specific interests is using Authentic Video Materials in teaching English.

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