Teaching vocabulary through films
Асадуллина Л. И., Дусеев И. Р. Teaching vocabulary through films // Молодой ученый. 2015. №11. С. 1255-1258.
During the past decades teaching vocabulary has been of secondary importance. However, nowadays the role of vocabulary is more important and the teachers try to balance between all the different areas of language teaching. Of course also the teacher’s own views affect their teaching, and if he or she does not think that knowing vocabulary is of great importance, it is likely that he or she does not concentrate on teaching it often enough. However, the current trend is to be able to communicate with the foreign language, and thus vocabulary, alongside with grammar and oral skills, is rather recognized, or at least it is paid attention to more than for instance thirty years ago. According to Celce-Murcia and Rosensweig  there is also a difference between the active use of vocabulary (i.e. recall and production) and the passive use of vocabulary (i.e. recognition and comprehension). The teacher must know to which category the vocabulary items at hand fall into. Active use of vocabulary is of course somewhat more important, whereas the passive use of vocabulary for listening or reading may exclude productive facility altogether. Moreover, the vocabulary items necessary for the development of formal reading and writing skills may not be appropriate when one is learning the less formal vocabulary typical for listening or speaking. Another important point is that the teacher must decide whether the passive vocabulary is to be learned permanently or temporarily, for instance to understand a piece of text or a movie with no consideration for later use. However, all in all both passive and active vocabulary are needed in foreign language learning.
Learning new words in a foreign language is not always easy, and it requires a great amount of repetition and practising. Yuksel and Tanriverdi  emphasize the usefulness of English captions when watching a movie. Captions facilitate acquiring vocabulary, since they help the learner to incorporate a word into a context. This was the case at least when shorter clips of movies were used in EFL teaching. Moreover, films can help to learn for instance vocabulary around a certain theme. In fact, according to Wray  it is possible to teach vocabulary and even ready scripts of a certain social situation with the help of television. With sufficient repetition and practising even a beginner learner may be able to acquire a great amount of vocabulary despite his or her previous linguistic experience. However, this vocabulary may not be acquired entirely correctly but well enough in order to be able to communicate in social situations. Finally, the acquired vocabulary can then be used for instance in an oral exercise (discussion, interview etc.) or in a written assignment (an essay, film review etc.) Other vocabulary assignments related to films are for instance word lists or a gap-fill from a certain scene of the movie.
A great deal of the meaning of language resides in the meanings associated with individual words and phrases. By learning a few basic words and set phrases, a beginner can get some meanings across. Language learning syllabuses almost always specify vocabulary items or areas for learners to concentrate on. The following suggestions should enable you to help your learners to work effectively with the vocabulary of their target language.
1. Using productive explanation techniques. There are many possibilities for clarifying the meaning of words that your learners don’t know: definitions, examples, visuals, mimes, etc. However, the explanation should turn into an active perception process encouraging students themselves to figure out the meanings and functions of new vocabulary items.
2. Tailoring teaching to distinguish receptive and productive vocabulary needs. Some learners, who intend to read extensively in English, may need to recognize a lot of words that they may never have to use themselves. Others, for example, general English beginners, are probably hoping that the words they learn will be available for both recognition and use.
3. Teaching new vocabulary in topic-related sets. You could choose sets of hyponyms (e.g. names of family relations), or sets that are linked to the same context (e.g. Work). Most people find it easier to learn lots of new words if they are presented in a related set. If you are teaching a set of nouns, you can include some verbs which are typically used with them (e.g. take an exam). One of the most effective ways of introducing new vocabulary used in teaching General English to 1st and 2nd year students of National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University is wordlists on the topic. The table below shows the example of “Education” wordlist.
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.)
Master of Arts
Master of Science (M.Sc.)
Private language school
away from home
devote time to smth/smb
Face-to face classes
hall of residence
keep up with your studies
learn smth by heart
meet a deadline
sit an exam
take a year out
take an exam
To fall behind with your studies
To give feedback
work your way through University
write a thesis
4. Teaching how vocabulary works. This idea refers to the word itself, or to the word in a phrase. For example, in the case of a verb, does it have an irregular past? In the case of an adjective, is it usually followed by a certain preposition? Some of this information may be available in the text where your learners meet the word, and you can give extra information yourself. Understanding how a word ‘works’ is an important part of knowing that word.
5. Teaching collocations. Even when teaching basic vocabulary, you can show how words often combine in certain ways. For example, Spanish learners studying colours would be interested to note that English says ‘black and white’, whereas Spanish says ‘blanco y negro’. Set phrases, such as ‘hard work’, can also be particularly useful to point out.
6. Emphasizing connotative meaning. You can turn connotation into a window on the target culture. Take a simple item like ‘train’. For many British speakers, this item has the connotation of a fast and frequent, though also expensive and unreliable, mode of transport. In Russian language, on the contrary, it means inexpensive and slow means of travelling.
7. Helping learners to differentiate the register. It is also important to teach students to differentiate between written and spoken, formal and informal, literary, technical and slang vocabulary as well as what clues the context of the word gives about its register.
8. Using direct translation carefully. Obviously, translation is an efficient way of explaining a word. But it’s also worth drawing attention to the ways in which words are not equivalent. A teacher can use dictionary study activities to emphasize this point.
9. Emphasizing word formation. An understanding of common prefixes and suffixes, for example, can open up the meaning of many words.
10. Teaching conscious vocabulary learning strategies. This is one of the areas of study where it is particularly beneficial for learners to apply their own ‘techniques’; to remember items or work out the meaning of new ones. It’s especially useful for you to show them strategies that they can use outside class. For example, they might: keep a vocabulary notebook; classify new words they have seen; revise new vocabulary at intervals; pin around their flat sticky notes with difficult words on them. Teacher’s role can be to explore various techniques with the class, and help each learner to find out which ones suit them best.
Considering the above-mentioned, an American comedy film called “Mr Deeds” directed by Steven Brill and starring Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder was chosen to build up the vocabulary on the topic of “Personal identification” to the 2nd year students at General English classes.
As a pre-viewing writing activity the prediction of the plot based on the list of film vocabulary on the topic of “Personal identification” was suggested. (Worksheet 1)
1 In pairs, look at the list of film vocabulary below and predict the plot of the film.
2. to inherit
4. on the air
7. to lose control of something
8. to play someone like a fiddle
9. enormous fortune
13. media frenzy
14. party pooper
16. eligible bachelor
17. to molest someone
18. to goof on someone
19. to pipe down
20. to shat oneself
21. to get riled up
25. car crash
26. secret parent
27. city country contrast
28. corporate take over
30. martial arts
32. hidden camera
33. car accident
34. pizza parlor
35. spinning newspaper
40. true love
42. falling through ice
44. sudden wealth
45. newspaper editor
47. greeting card
48. secret identity
2 Look at the photo of the main character of the film. Which words could be used to describe him?
Students were also suggested reading the following plot summary to fill in the missing words from the list above as a while-viewing activity. (Worksheet 2)
1 Watch the film and fill in the plot summary below with the words above.
When Longfellow Deeds, a small-town pizzeria owner and poet 1. ______________ $40 billion from his 2. _____________uncle, he quickly begins rolling in a different kind of dough. Moving to the big city, Deeds finds himself 3. _____________by opportunists all gunning for their piece of the pie. Babe, a television tabloid reporter, poses as an 4. ________________ small-town girl to do an exposé on Deeds. Of course, Deeds' 5._____________naiveté has Babe falling in love with him instead. Ultimately, Deeds comes to find that money truly has the power to change things, but it doesn't necessarily need to change him.
As a round-up for the while-viewing stage students were asked to re-dub the episode with the sound turned-off.
The post-viewing stage included the writing activity based on the model. (Worksheet 3)
1 Fill in the gaps in the viewer’s comments on the film.
Mr. Deeds, the 1._______________ of Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town is an old comedy that is personally one of my favorite comedies. It's just a wonderful film that I highly recommend you watch if you get the 2.______________. So Adam Sandler decided to 3.______________ that classic and make it into his film, which honestly isn't that bad, just 4. _______________in comparison, believe me then you look at it as a 5. ______________ film. It was just one of those 6. _____________ that really didn't need a remake. But Adam Sandler did 7. ________________ to the film and just 8. _____________ the story for the 9.__________________ that obviously never heard of the movie.
2 Write your own comments on the film. (6–8 sentences)
1. Celce-Murcia, M. and Rosensweig F. 1979. Teaching vocabulary in the ESL classroom in Celce-Murcia, M. and McIntosh, L. (eds.) Teaching English as a second or foreign language. Rowley: Newbury house publishers.
2. Yuksel, D. & Tanriverdi B. 2009. Effects of watching captioned movie clip on vocabulary development of EFL learners. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology 8 (2), 48–54. [online]. (29 Nov 2011) http://www.tojet.net/articles/824.pdf
3. Wray, A. 2004. ’Here’s one I prepared earlier’ — Formulaic language learning on television in Scmitt N. (ed.) Formulaic sequences: acquisition, processing, and use. Philadelphia: J. Benjamins. [online] (4th December 2011) http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.jyu.fi/lib/jyvaskyla/docDetail.action?docID=10052865
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