Film and Language Learning in Victorian Schools: A Study of the 2009 Next Gen Program of the Melbourne International Film Festival

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article investigates the role of film in language education based on a study of the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). It is structured around a literature review and results from surveys of students and teachers who participated in the young people's section of the program, Next Gen. The article argues that film can provide an effective link between formal language education and natural/ immersive contexts, but discusses some limitations of normal speed feature films and viewing context. The author identifies issues and offers recommendations for the practical use of film in support of language learning

Keywords

film, cinema studies, language learning, authentic language, context

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The role of film in foreign language education

A key problem in second language learning in Australia has been the difficulty of immersion (De Courcy, 2002). By immersion I refer to opportunities to use a language which is being learned, that is, to find environments that are partially learner contexts and partially real world contexts. Language learning uses many metaphors related to swimming and water. The opposite of immersion is submersion, where a student is 'thrown in at the deep end' and effectively drowns. Immersion allows students to enter the world in which a language is used by accomplished speakers in a slow and measured way, while students use the language for all their daily needs. This happens when the accomplished speakers, or the teacher in class, adjust communication to the level of the learner (Lotherington, 2001). Because a learner has incomplete knowledge of the language but still has specific communication needs there is usually a problem of wanting to say things far beyond the skill the learner has gained. An effective way of learning a language is to link what is formally taught in class as language structure with what is used in natural environments (Lightbown & Spada, 2006).

Films offer such opportunities for learning, practising, and encountering second languages in authentic, real world contexts. However films, like the real world of language use, can represent both immersion and submersion, both swimming and sinking. Recent research in Australia shows that students in secondary schools, the 'next generation', are calling for increased cultural immersion activities in their language learning, and that they perceive the classroom dominated approach of most language teaching as holding back their growth towards proficiency (Slaughter, 2009).

Within this context, this article reports research undertaken in collaboration with the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) exploring the role of film in learning and teaching languages, with specific reference to the young people's section of the program, Next Gen.

For the 2009 festival (24 July to 9 August), Next Gen Coordinator, Chloe Brugale, programmed ten titles of which only two were English language films. The languages included Czech, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Mandarin, and Turkish. Across Australia, the most taught languages in the school system are, in order: Japanese, Italian, Indonesian, French, German, and Mandarin (DE&T, 2007; DEEWR, 2009). As such, Next Gen programming in 2009 was broadly reflective of the priorities in the curriculum. When interviewed, Brugale stated, 'obviously, Next Gen can only respond to what films are out there but, nevertheless, there is some special emphasis put on searching for films in these specific languages'.

The approach to teaching languages in Victorian schools is guided by the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS, 2009). According to this framework there is an equal balance between 'communicating in the language' and what is called 'intercultural competence and language awareness'. The aim is for students to gain cultural insight into the society and culture where the language is spoken as well as actually learning to use the language. …