We can take in a lot of information very fast just by looking. It’s why video is so helpful to language learners. Audio recordings provide the words, but videos take the blindfolds off. We get information on how old people are, what they’re wearing, their facial expressions, their stance, their gestures. And crucially we get context.
Context changes meanings. Take the phrase ‘That’s a nice one’. If I say it when we’re walking round an art gallery together, it means I like one of the works. But if I point at a cauliflower and say it to the owner of a green grocers shop, it means ‘I want to buy it’. Words and phrases mean different things, depending on who says them and in what context.
With so many great videos on the web, there’s never been a better time for learners to see language in context. But there are so many contexts and so many meanings to see. How can we expose them to enough English in the limited class time we have?
A good solution is to flip the classroom – so send learners off to view English videos for homework and then build on the language and address questions that arise in our classes. That way more classroom time can be devoted to interaction and putting new language to use.
Just five years ago, this wouldn’t have been practical. Understanding natural spoken English is a challenge for any learner, especially if their mother tongue is a dissimilar Asian language. What would they do if they couldn’t understand a video and we weren’t around to help? How could they begin to look things up if they didn’t know where one word started and another one ended?
I first came across it at the www.ted.com site. Rather than captions, it’s a transcript which gives students control over the video. They can move back and forth and play things over, simply by clicking on different parts of the script. It can be cumbersome to replay a section you don’t understand, but with a clickable transcript, it’s a snap.
Combine that with a good learners’ dictionary and a translation tool, and the flipped classroom becomes feasible.
And that’s what inspired me to build www.simpleEnglishvideos.com. It’s a free site and as of this moment there are 26 movie trailers there with clickable transcripts. We’re adding more videos all the time. It’s a great place to send your students for homework assignments. For example, you could tell them to go to simpleEnglishvideos.com, browse the movie trailers and:
- choose one movie you want to see. Be ready to tell us why in your next class.
- find one movie trailer that illustrates an interesting or unusual feature of life in another country. Get ready to tell us about it in the next class.
- find a new word or expression that you think is useful. Be ready to teach it to some other students in the next class.
- find a character you’d like to meet. Get ready to tell your classmates why.
- write a comment or respond to a comment about one of the videos.
I started the website with movie trailers because they’re short, manageable and they generally have gripping storylines. (And they’re current and cool too, of course!) I hope they’ll motivate our learners to watch English movies too. In the future I’ll be adding home made videos on different language points too. So please send your students along to try it out and tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you.