I just marked some homework from a student. Her exam is in a couple of weeks and like everyone else she's decided it's a good idea to leave everything to the last minute.
One thing I noticed when looking at her mistakes is that if she was a movie fan she might have known more of the answers.
Learning English From Movies
Now, watching a movie isn't reaaaaaaly going to help your English unless you actively do something. While watching Bruce Willis scream at Alan Rickman, you have to think 'hmm why did he use the present perfect there?' Or 'that terrorist used a word I know in a way I didn't expect - maybe I should check the meaning of that word in case I learned it wrong.'
I don't mean every second of every minute of every movie, but activate your brain every now and then.
Oh, and it goes without saying that you should watch English movies in English! If it's too hard or there's too much slang, try with English subtitles. If it's still too hard, use subtitles in your own language - but at that point you're really not going to learn much.
Don't watch movies dubbed into your own language. That's a crime! An actor's voice is part of his performance - you can't get the feeling of a movie except in its original language. I'm looking at you, Poland!
At the end of this article there's a link to a resource you might find useful.
Meanwhile, here are some examples from my student's homework of what you can learn from movies.
Never Say Never Again
Here's an extract from a gap-fill exercise.
New software from a company based in California raises the prospect of never forgetting a face __________.
My student wrote 'anymore' which shows that she understood the intention of the sentence. But because she's not a movie fan she didn't know the classic James Bond movie 'Never Say Never Again'. If she watched more movies she'd know the word that collocates with 'never' is 'again'.
I think there's a Justin Bieber song with a similar title, but I'm not suggesting you go and listen to his music. Learning English isn't THAT important.
From the test:
My teenage daughter behaved so badly last year that I was on the brink/limit/boundary of a nervous breakdown.
My film-hating student chose limit. Well, the correct answer is 'brink'. On the brink. The phrase with limit is 'to the limit'.
You know, like in Scarface.
Next was a gap-fill exercise about an elderly marathon runner. Aged 102 he decided it was time to stop running.
He said that racing is getting very tough for him and he feels he must retire on __________ high.
My student left it blank. No idea! The answer? Watch more James Bond movies!!
The lyric is 'on an all-time high'. So in the example above the answer is 'a'. He wants to leave on a high. In another exam the answer might be 'an'. An all time high.
Batman (sort of)
In the homework was a word formation exercise where the topic was an incredible blind man who can use his voice to build a picture of the world around him, just like a bat. It's an amazing story - he can even ride a bicycle. Totally crazy and inspiring.
Anyway, here's the sentence:
When the sound waves hit an object, energy is reflected back to the ear to enable a blind person to decode its size, depth, and distance. The image the blind person creates combines these __________. CHARACTER
My student wrote 'characters', which is sort of a good guess. But if she watched more movies she'd use the word 'character' all the time in its PROPER context.
'I really like Leonardo DiCaprio but I hate his character in this movie!'
'Christian Bale is an amazing character actor. He can play the good thief, the bad cop, the crazy genius.'
The answer, then, isn't characters. What other word do you know from the same root? Did you say 'characteristics'? One point for you!
Being John Malkovich / Adaptation
The task: to choose the correct word to fit the sentence.
This popular children's story has been __________ for television.
a - led
b - revised
c - adapted
d - converted
My student plumped for D - converted. Now, if you're a movie fan, and the whole point of this article is that you SHOULD BE, you will have seen a crazy and brilliant movie called Being John Malkovich. Well, the writer of that movie became famous and was asked to turn a book into a movie. He found that it is hard to make a second movie/book/album if your first one was so popular.
So he wrote a movie about how hard it is to turn a book into a movie. The process of turning a book into a movie is called adapting a book. The movie is called Adaptation. it's weird, but good.
And there's your answer. C.
Once every six years there's a French movie so good that even I enjoy it. There's one called Priceless that stars Audrey Tatou (the cute waitress from Amelie). Can the movie help us to understand 4 seemingly similar words?
Do you know what these mean? What's the difference exactly?
In the movie Tatou tries to get valuable gifts from rich men. She meets a penniless hotel attendant but thinks he is worthless.
The hotel guy meets a rich woman who helps him win the heart of Audrey Tatou. The rich woman's help is invaluable. He couldn't have done it without her.
The film is all about money. But finding true love? That's priceless.
I hope you can guess from the context that priceless isn't about money. Priceless things are beyond money. How much does it cost to buy the Mona Lisa? You can't buy it. It's priceless. A billion dollars? They wouldn't sell it. Ten billion? They wouldn't sell it!
American movies with English subtitles for learning English
So after writing everything above, I thought to myself - how about including some examples of movies that the students could learn from? And that's when I found the website I'll tell you about now.
It's called Speechyard and you might just love it. The first step is to follow the link below - the site might ask you to choose your language.
Then you'll see a bunch of rectangles like this:
I scrolled down to 'Epic Rap Battles of History' - a Youtube channel that I think is clever and funny.
The first video is a rap battle between Isaac Newton, possibly the greatest mind of all time, and Bill Nye, a guy from television.
The videos all have subtitles. If you hover the mouse over a word the video will STOP. Click on the word to get a translation.
[That's in German because that's what I chose before.]
Now I don't know about you but I think you guys could learn a lot from those videos! GO AND TRY IT ALREADY.
I'd be very interested to get your feedback about that website. If you have time, please let me know what you think about it in the comments.