Advice and suggestions on how to use video in English teaching.

My students are mostly adults at elementary and intermediate levels. I guess English-speaking feature videos (without subtitles) are of little help to them for practicing listening since those videos are far beyond their level of listening comprehension. On the other hand, there are ones with English subtitles. Should I find some with simpler dialogues and encourage my students to watch them for the sake of both entertainment and learning English? When the students watch these videos, which language skills are they actually practicing? Reading? Listening? Pronunciation? At this point, I would like to put the question more generally: if students simultaneously listen (to any source) and read what is being spoken, are they in fact practicing reading or listening? Or both? Or half of each? Or some other combination, for example, mostly reading and partly listening?
Linh from Vietnam

Hi Linh,

You raise some interesting points. Let me address them, one by one.

  1. I think you’re right that showing your students English speaking videos that are way beyond their level is probably not going to be of much use. Apart from anything else, most students seem to go into a kind of mental hibernation when you sit them in front of a video screen. However, if you take just a short sequence of a film, and transcribe it beforehand – that can be quite useful. (You can get transcripts of many popular films and TV comedies off the Internet, too, which saves time.) Play the sequence (it may be just a couple of minutes) with the volume off, and get ideas as to what is happening, the relationship of the characters, what they might be saying, etc. Then play it with the sound up, and get them to note down any words or phrases they hear, compare notes, play it again, etc. Then hand out the transcription, and let them read and listen at the same time. This can be very satisfying, as they see the words “fall into place”. What’s more, they usually get a kick out of understanding a real video, as opposed to something made for students. However, the problem I have had with this approach is that the students want to continue and watch the whole film. Sometimes it’s better, therefore, to use a film they’ve already seen in their own language first.
  2. As for English-language films with English captions, these are an excellent resource. What skills are they employing? Well, it’s going to be different for every student – and finally it’s impossible to “get inside students’ heads” to work out what psychological processes are implicated at any one moment. But I would think that seeing the written version of what they are hearing is likely to reinforce both the listening skill (instant confirmation of hypotheses; matching of sound to symbol) and the reading skill, although perhaps to a lesser extent, since reading skills are usually better developed than listening ones. In other words, the stronger skill will reinforce the weaker. But the sheer challenge of reading at speed must be a good thing, too.
  3. I think this answers your last question: “if students simultaneously listen (to any source) and read what is being spoken, are they in fact practicing reading or listening? Or both? Or half of each? …” I think, finally, it doesn’t matter, but I’m convinced that the integration of the two “signals” is mutually supportive. I always like to hand out the script of a recorded listening text at some point, usually after having worked on building up the students’ comprehension first, through, for example, a sequence of tasks going from the very general to the quite specific. They then listen and read at the same time, so that the last pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place. Most coursebooks include the transcripts of listening passages at the back, which I think is an excellent idea.
  4. Conversely, I think it really helps to hear a text read aloud, at some point in a reading activity. Again, hearing how a dense text is broken up into meaningful chunks can be extremely helpful in terms of comprehension. It’s important that the teacher does this, though, and not the students. If the students are reading aloud a text they haven’t fully understood, it is unlikely that they will “chunk” it effectively. Reading texts aloud is especially effective if they are literary texts, such as poems, where a lot of the communicative effect of the text is encoded in its sounds and rhythms.
  5. Of course, if students come to depend on always having the written word as reinforcement for listening, or the spoken word as reinforcement for reading, that can be counter-productive.  At some point, they must learn to cope with a single-signal message, as opposed to a double-signal one, if they are ever going to be able to read and listen autonomously.

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