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To DVD or not to DVD - Is that the Question?
by Deniz Dündar & Adam Simpson
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1. The Past

Firstly, we'll take a brief look at the history of the moving picture in the English Language classroom.

1.1 'Made for Teaching' Videos

Commercially available videos, explicitly designed for learning English initially promised to reinvigorate the language learning experience. As King (2002) notes:

'Video is a much more dynamic medium than a static text or a sound-only recording.

So, we can see that learning English through movies represents a novel approach for some students, whose preconceived notion of learning English is based on their past learning experiences. For many students, learning experiences are primarily coursebook-oriented and test-driven, with a focus on form rather than meaning, and accuracy rather than communication. Such standard teaching materials can lack a realistic, meaningful context. Indeed, as Stempleski (2000) notes, there are numerous benefits to using educational videos:

'They are likely to already have been evaluated for language, content, and length, and many instructional videos are packaged as multimedia resources that include student workbooks, teacher guides, video transcripts, and audiotapes.'

In short, videos presented a refreshing change whilst adhering to the needs of a pedagogically sound environment. However, this novelty factor could not sustain interest for long.

1.2 What was the student response?

There were a number of factors which meant that ELT videos were not particularly durable. As King suggests:

'Within a relatively short time span, student interest in video as a teaching mode waned. Watching the same few video actors and actresses appear in episode after episode became a dull and uninspiring routine for most learners.'

Mejia (2003) highlights another important factor, i.e. that such videos were clearly not 'real life', rather they were obviously contrived for the purpose of teaching particular language:

'A drawback to this type of material is that because it is scripted and professionally prepared, it often does not use authentic language.'

The problems often noted with regard to course books, that the material exists just to teach 'language point X', transferred quickly to such educational videos. This leads us to consider what alternatives were available to these specially prepared products.

1.3 Alternatives

The obvious alternative to using purpose-made, professionally-prepared materials was to use something 'authentic'. Authentic materials on modern formats, such as DVD and DivX, contain a great many useful features, and these will be discussed in section 3.1 of this paper. Authentic materials in the past, while presenting real spoken English, did not offer such benefits as sub-titles. Yoder (1988) explains a method she used to overcome this problem:

  • Hand written sub-titles on paper.
  • Sub-titles photocopied on to an OHT.
  • OHP set up next to video.
  • Hand-written sub-titles shown on wall next to TV as lines are spoken.

Yoder comments that this 'worked equally with a television program or film... the titles were clear and easy to read.' While this may indeed have had sound pedagogical value, it is doubtful if the huge amount of time and effort could have been justified. While this is just one example of the problems inherent in the use of authentic materials in the past, pedagogical advantages to using authentic materials were still evident. Issues relating to this relevance will now be discussed.

2. Pedagogical Relevance

2.1 What skills can be learned?

Yoder's example, though exhaustively time consuming, hints at one of the main advantages of using authentic material, i.e. combining auditory and visual input. Burt (1999) offers several other reasons for using video in adult classrooms:

'Video combines visual and audio stimuli, is accessible to those who have not yet learned to read and write well, and provides context for learning... for English language learners... Video can be controlled (stopped, paused, repeated), and it can be presented to a group of students, to individuals, or for self study. It allows learners to see facial expressions and body language at the same time as they hear the stress, intonation, and rhythm of the language.'

As we can see, there are numerous pedagogical reasons for using films in language teaching. Furthermore, the availability of sub-titles on modern formats, such as DVD and DivX offer myriad possibilities for language learning (adapted from King (2002)) :

  • Motivation for students to learn English, especially to listen to the dialogs in movies.
  • Bridging the gap between reading skills and listening skills.
  • Reinforcement of students' understanding of English context-bound expressions.
  • Follow a plot easily.
  • Learn new vocabulary and idioms.
  • Develop students' concentration in following lines.
  • Learn how to pronounce certain words.
  • Develop word recognition.
  • Processing a text rapidly and improve rapid reading.
  • Learn different strategies and styles for processing information

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