Eugenia Charoni, Assistant Professor of Spanish and French, Coordinator of Language and Culture Program, Antioch College
The use of short films in the foreign language instruction (“cortometrajes” in Spanish and “court-métrage” in French).
Over the years I have been trying to find better ways to integrate culture effortlessly and effectively in my teaching. In the highly technological era in which we live, the meaningful use of media tools in a language learning setting is especially important in designing vibrant lessons and delivering contextualized material. Accessing cultural content online is definitely one click away, but the way this content is presented needs to be coherent and align with the learning objectives of each lesson.
Incorporating short films in language teaching increases vocabulary retention and fosters a better understanding of grammatical structures. Students are exposed in a short period of time to a story in which real life scenarios are depicted through a variety of linguistic input in a Spanish or French speaking country. Effortlessly and spontaneously students want to comment, react to or critique the film while speaking in the target language – all while being exposed to another culture. Because of their limited length, short films take less class time to introduce, make it is easier to build activities that tie to a certain thematic unit and foster manageable discussion because fewer themes appear in them. They can often be used to support material already presented through a reading.
Recently I used a cortometraje to illustrate the cultural displacement of a young Muslim student in Spain who was being asked to remove her headscarf at a school to feel inclusive. The theme of removing the headscarf was identical with that presented in a play I had recently taught and in which it was depicted an older Muslim woman working as a maid in Madrid. When removing her headscarf while talking to her Spanish female boss about her feelings regarding her life in Spain, she raised the same identity and assimilation questions from a different perspective. Although I have not officially measured the impact of short films in foreign language learning, my observations, formal and informal assessment as well as students’ overall reactions show a positive attitude toward this resource. Students have expressed their excitement not only because of the entertainment aspect but mostly because they feel that they better understand both language and culture. By having the chance to pause a certain scene and reflect on it, it gives them the feeling of control and confidence they need to continue improving their language skills. Regionalisms, slang and expressions blend together with various grammar concepts to which students are exposed through an evolving, culturally rich story. In order to build dynamic world language classrooms there is not only one approach and here is why short films are vibrant and exciting assets for today’s language learning.