EDUCATION: The Language of Global Lens

Intern Rachel Cook discusses how watching a film can mean learning a language

GFI Intern Rachel Cook

In my second week as an intern at GFI, I had a conversation with the Marketing and Publicity Manager, Hilary Lawson and the Director of Programs, Santhosh Daniel, about how film is used in the classroom. They were interested in my experiences with film in various language classes from my bilingual elementary school to my college courses.

I’ve always shied away from class discussions, but my sophomore year of high school when I signed up for a seminar on French literature and film, I knew things would have to change. There were only five students in the class, and I couldn’t help thinking this was going to be a painfully silent semester. Our teacher decided to start the course with a film so we would have something to talk about right away. I looked around at my peers skeptically, thinking there was no way this timid group would ever speak up –especially not in a foreign language. Still, after years of dry grammar lectures and mundane vocabulary lessons, the idea of watching a movie in class seemed almost too good to be true, and we were all eager to see what our teacher had in store.

Some people liked the movie, others hated it, but to my surprise this quiet group was actually having a discussion! Once we got over the initial shock that in real life French people don’t speak nearly as slowly or clearly as our teacher, we were able to let the story take over. Since then, I’ve watched dozens of movies in language classes and I’ve always had a similar experience. Movies have this power to stimulate discussion; we talk about them with our friends on a daily basis, so in the classroom it already feels natural to express our opinions and ask questions. This is part of what I love about films in a language class: it gets the group talking. After every film, we’re instantly armed with new vocabulary that we get to use creatively to explain our views and debate with our peers.

French Beyond France: A scene from MASQUERADES (dir. Lyes Salem, Algeria)

In my French seminar class, we all agreed that one of the best parts of watching these films was that we got to see so many different people, time periods, and cultures. It’s easy to forget that a small region can be home to so much more than just a stereotype. We watched the stories of angsty adolescents, scheming dukes, and hopeless lovers, but my teacher always lamented that she was never able to find a suitable film for our section on immigration. As I was watching Masquerades from Global Lens 2010, I couldn’t help thinking this would have been the perfect addition to the course. Although it’s not a film about immigration, this Algerian movie explores some interesting concepts about a country clinging to the past, with a timid optimism for the future. It’s the story of a girl torn between obligation and desire, told with lighthearted irony, making it palatable and even enjoyable for high school students. The film would have added depth to the course by providing a depiction of what many immigrants leave behind, and showing how the French language is used beyond France’s borders.

A scene from MASQUERADES (dir. Lyes Salem, Algeria)

Movies like Masquerades give us the opportunity to see other how other people really live, but for me the best part of watching films in class is that we get this parallel experience with people on the other side of the world. I’ve found that it’s kind of hard to connect with people of another culture when everything I know comes from a textbook. But, when I can reference a line from a movie, or use slang (instead of talking like a teacher), that’s when we really start to understand each other. Masquerades has made waves in the Franco-Arab world, and now that I’ve seen it, I share this common ground with a huge group of people that I never really knew much about. We may not have grown up with the same books or the same kind of food, but for a quiet girl trying to learn French, this movie gives me something worth talking about.

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