THE USE OF TELEVISION AND VIDEO IN
THE PERSONAL STUDY OF A LANGUAGE
Renae Swain Curtis
Renae Swain Curtis
Television programs and films, hereafter referred to more broadly as “video”, have become a widely used educational tool for students and adults of all ages. One merely has to press power on the remote to find anything from enthralling action movies on superheroes to historical documentaries on the Vikings to college courses on Calculus. But can such an educational tool be an effective means for an individual learning a language? Research has been done to determine this answer. Almost without question, researchers agree that video can be an important part of second-language pedagogy when used in the classroom correctly. This means that if a teacher has provided a purpose for watching the video, if it is explained beforehand, if comprehension is checked throughout, and if the students are continually engaged and actively participating with it, it is a good tool for language pedagogy. However, more controversy exists as to how effective these tools are when students use them for their own personal study of a language without a formal teacher to answer to.
For students studying English in various parts of the world, American videos are very accessible. Many teachers encourage their students to watch these programs to help them in their study of English. They have read research that argues that video is a wonderful tool for learning since it is highly motivating and engaging. The research says that video is a very visual means to hear authentic language and learn the culture of a given people.
Other research argues these benefits of video are not enough; they alone do not constitute the tools to learn a language. These tools are only beneficial when there is a teacher to manipulate the material and engage the learner, a teacher who will make this method of teaching an active process.
An acceptable pedagogy for the classroom is not always an acceptable pedagogy for the home. Video in the personal study of a second language is not an effective course for successful results. Although it might help further the acquisition process in the advanced stages of language and culture acquisition, video alone does not provide enough comprehensible input or what the learner actually understands, to create understandable output or what the learner can actually say, necessary for learning a language. Video does not provide the language learner use of the language and interaction with others, both vital ingredients in learning a language. At home, the use of video is more of a passive activity, and it is difficult without the prodding of a teacher or a worksheet to continually stay focused on the message or the story. Also, most dialogue in videos do not directly relate to the picture that is on the screen; thus, making the language less comprehensible. All of these reasons make video use in the home a long bridge to language fluency. Video is not a successful tool for the student learning a foreign language without access to a teacher. This report will discuss past research on the use of video for second-language study and will explain in more detail why it is not beneficial for the personal study of a second-language.
THE USE OF TELEVISION AND VIDEO IN THE PERSONAL STUDY OF A LANGUAGE
Renae Swain Curtis
Television programs and films, hereafter referred to as “video,” have become a widely used educational tool for students and adults of all ages. One merely has to press power on the remote to find anything from enthralling action movies on superheroes to historical documentaries on the Vikings to college courses on Calculus. But can such an educational tool be an effective means for an individual learning a language? Research has determined this answer. Almost without question, researchers agree that video can be an important part of second-language classroom pedagogy if used correctly. This means that if a teacher has provided a purpose for watching the video, if that purpose and the video are explained beforehand, if comprehension is checked throughout, and if the students are continually engaged and actively participating, then it is a good tool for language pedagogy. However, more controversy exists as to how effective these tools are when students use them in their own personal study of a language.
With the world becoming more of a knit society, increasing numbers of people are interested in learning a foreign language. Some are turning to foreign language classrooms. Others are using “learn at home” videos and books. Regardless of the method, at one time or another the student will be encouraged or will want to go home and watch and listen to videos of the target language. This paper will analyze the issue of video use for the guided personal study of a second language and will go into further detail as to why it is not an effective tool when used outside of the classroom even if there are resources for help.
1. The benefits of video in studying a second language. For students studying English in various parts of the world, American videos are very accessible. Many teachers encourage their students to watch these programs at home to help them in the study of English. Research helps to back up this challenge. As one professor stated:
“Video cassettes in the L2 classroom display many immediate and obvious advantages. For the mind they offer a procession of stimulating images in living color, for the ears a range of speaking voices at varied levels of language; and for the eyes, a fascinating glimpse of the non-verbal features of interacting in the foreign language, including the authentic and spontaneous lip movements and body language of natives. (qtd. In Donahy 1978)”
In each of these areas, video can be a great tool for learning another language.
1.1. Learning culture. Culture is an important aspect of learning a language. One would be mistaken if he were to believe that video does not portray some of the cultural fibers of a nation. One expert has said, “The essence of video is that it can present certain aspects of the target language culture in situ, rather than by means of an explicit or abstract presentation of a particular idea” (Tudor 1987: 206). Another expert agrees, “With each glance at the screen, one can learn something of the manners, gestures, customs, way of life, etc. of the country” (Someya 1990: 37). Not only this, researchers say that video introduces “idiomatic or familiar language, non-standard register or pronunciation” and non-verbal communication—all of which are important to become completely fluent in another language (Tudor 1987: 204).
1.2. Access to input. Another argument in favor of video is that it offers students unlimited access to the language. Stephen Krashen, a linguist who has been one of the most prominent influences in second language learning research, has theorized about the difference between language acquisition and language learning. He describes language acquisition as the “picking up” of a language that is mainly unconscious. On the other hand, language learning is the conscious aspect of learning a language. Tudor uses this information to defend the use of video. “The theoretical underpinnings of the proposed use of video derive from Krashen’s distinction between language learning and language acquisition . . . Krashen posits that there are two essential prerequisites for language acquisition to occur: the first is the exposure of learners to large amounts of highly contextualized authentic language input, even if this is somewhat beyond their current level of linguistic competence, and the second is the presence of positive affective variables, one which is low anxiety with respect to the learning/acquisition situation” (Tudor 1987:204). Thus, in defense of the use of video as a means to learn a language, Tudor explains that even if the linguistic content is too advanced for the student, videos help to give that student highly contextualized language that can be processed at a later time, “in a tension free environment”(Tudor 1987:204). Researchers say that video is a great tool to learn language for this reason.
1.3 Providing motivation and a low affective filter. As one student has said regarding the self-study of a language, “I like being able to study at home, because there is no tension as in class” (qtd. in Umino 1999:319). This idea is very important to many students. Television is a means of creating a low-anxiety environment. As one expert has explained in defense of the use of television, “The creation of a low-anxiety environment is crucial for the meaningful assimilation of materials which may be quite demanding in both linguistic and conceptual terms” (Tudor 1987:206). Researchers say that it is important to not only allow the student to be in a more relaxed environment, thus allowing the brain to take in more input, but also to become more motivated since there are no tests or papers to be written. The materials that they are watching are mostly picked by the student, which helps the student’s motivation to watch the program. Tudor goes on to say, “ . . . materials of high innate interest, offer the potential of raising student motivation towards both the [foreign language] community and the learning process itself . . . motivational levels can hardly be overestimated.” According to researchers, video provides the perfect recipe for language acquisition—one of high motivation and low anxiety.
2. The problems of video in studying a second language.
2.1. Difficult. One professor has observed, “[Films] look like a wonderful way to practise English: they’re fun, they’re real, they’re easily available. So learners rent them from the local video store and settle down to watch them at their leisure. Half an hour later they’re confused, depressed, and convinced they’ll never understand ‘real’ English. At least that’s what a lot of my intermediate students have told me” (Doye 1998:60). Many student using video as a means of the self-study of a language “reported trying to use films as a source of vocabulary and idioms for studying culture or for practicing pronunciation by repeating what the actors said. In fact, all these activities require a level of intensive comprehension that is very challenging and certainly not sustainable for an entire film” (Doye 1998:60). No matter how motivated the student was to watch the show in the target language, that motivation slowly is overcome with frustration as he or she is unable to understand what is happening in the show. Teachers need to be available to make the films or television shows more comprehensible. If teachers broke the film down into segments and had an objective for each part, much more learning would take place. Without the teacher, using video as a means of learning a language is not as productive.
2.2. Its passive Connotation. Everyone at some time has experienced the mesmerizing effects of video. It is not uncommon in our society for the television to be on, and a person staring at it blankly, not listening to a word that is said. This is precisely one of the arguments researchers have against the use of video in the personal study of a language. Japanese students studying English through self-instructional broadcast materials have rated this phenomenon to be one of the top 5 problems of these types of materials (Umino 1999:320). Without a teacher to keep the student engaged in what they are viewing, video becomes not an active learning tool, but a passive waste of time. When this happens, “the video ceases to be a language teaching tool, [and] (it reverts) to television,” (Willis 1982:45) since “most language learners will be experienced in passive television viewing as domestic viewing tends to be passive” (qtd in Tudor 1987:204). Passively watching television does not promote any learning. “Viewing must be an active process, one in which the learner’s attention is purposefully involved throughout” (Tudor 1987:203). Without a teacher, it is difficult for a student to stay intent on video being watched. Without any direct purpose or any guiding hand, watching the pictures on the screen will be the only direct result of television viewing.
2.3. More and more experts have realized that merely watching videos is not enough. They have developed different methods or approaches for the more careful and correct use of television in the classroom. “[Methodological approaches] have been developed to meet the emerging insight that the video medium’s continuous ‘stream of underselected images’ would not in itself bring about miracles of language acquisition” (Marchessou 1990:51). If researchers have realized that watching videos is not enough to learn language in the classroom, they realize that it is not enough to learn a language at home. There needs to be some sort of structure to the use of video for it to be an effective teaching tool.
3. Further reasons video use should remain in the classroom. One cannot help but agree that video is not an appropriate means of self-instruction in a language when analyzed through various theories of language acquisition. Although it does give a student access to culture and can be highly motivating, these reasons are not enough to make it an effective tool outside of the classroom.
3.1. Comprehensible Input: Video alone does not provide enough
comprehensible input or what the learner actually understands necessary for
learning a language. When a child first
learns a language, parents provide him/her with comprehensible input by slowing
down their speech, making their sentences simpler, focusing on the here and
now, and elaborating on the child’s language.
With the similarities that exist between first and second language
acquisition, it should be obvious that exposure to the language through video
is not enough. These same techniques
need to be used for the second language learner as well. Video does not provide for those
accommodations. A person has to “notice”
the language to have comprehensible input.
As Gabriela Kasper of the
3.2. Understandable output. Even if video did provide enough
comprehensible input to learn a language, it still does not allow for
understandable output or what the learner can actually say, necessary for
learning a language. Video does not
provide the language learner use of the language. Elaine Tarone of the
3.3. Interaction. Videos do not provide the language learner interaction with others. In a study of Japanese students who were using self-instructional broadcast materials to learn English, the students indicated that one of the main problems of using the materials were that they were not interactive (Umino 1999:321). Interaction has been said to greatly increase the ability for a student to learn a language. Cheryl Brown Mitchell of Brigham Young University has said,
“The social and emotional
make a huge difference in language learning as they do in every kind of
learning. John Schumann advanced
theories about why that is so with language learning. As you create a positive atmosphere around a
learner—a warm association with friends or teachers—neurotransmitters in the
brain actually, are different. As they
move to higher levels you pay more attention, you are ‘more awake’ and you earn
This is only one reason that interaction with others is vital to language acquisition.
also forces the language learner to negotiate meaning and try to understand the
person they are interacting with. These
acts of negotiation are in fact helping the student to acquire a language. Annela Teemant of
3.4. Relationship between image and diologue. Also, most dialogue in videos does not directly relate to the picture that is on the screen, making the language less comprehensible. A recent experiment illustrates this point. Forty-six French students studying English as a foreign language were engaged in an interactive video of a cornea transplant in a young child. The students watched as the doctor examined the boy’s eye with a small flashlight. The narrator of the video stated that ‘a standard eye chart does not work with these young patients’. At this point the picture froze and the computer asked what an ‘eye chart’ was, a term fairly close to the French term. Interestingly enough, 30 of the 46 student answers were references to the light. This phenomenon occurred even though each of the students had an English dictionary at their seat. (Marchessou 1990:54). This example shows that even though the images are visually stimulating, there is not always a direct relationship between what is said and what is seen. When there is no direct relationship, it is more difficult to comprehend the video.
3.5. Types of oral language. Research also indicates that there are two types of languages that must be learned in order to become fluent in a language. One is referred to as BICS, or Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. This refers to conversational proficiency in a language—the ability to communicate socially. These skills include the vocabulary of conversations. These skills usually take 2 years to completely develop when immersed in a language. If a student is fluent in these skills, it does not mean he will be successful in the workplace or in an academic setting. Another aspect of spoken language that is sometimes forgotten about is referred to as CALP or a learner’s “cognitive academic language proficiency”. These skills are difficult to learn through video. They require the knowledge of formal and academic uses of the language, tens of thousands of specialized, low-frequency words or words that are not used very often, etc. These skills require another 5-7 years to develop. These are the skills that are not easily produced by watching videos at home. Hence, another reason video does not account for much success in learning a language through personal study.
3.6. Other Issues. Writing and reading a language are important
aspects of being fluent in a language.
A President of Harvard once said, “Technology is only like the trucks that bring us food. They do not determine the quality of our diet and our nutritional values; they only get the stuff to us” (qtd in Donahy 1985). A child or an adult studying a language does not have the proper tools at their stage of language development to determine whether the technology he or she is using is appropriate for their language learning benefit. Teachers and peers need to be available to make sure that the materials the students are watching are appropriate and meaningful, that they have an objective to them. Having an objective or purpose for television use is imperative if successful language learning is to occur and that happens in the classroom with the aid of a teacher. Even if an objective is decided on in the use of television at home, video and television do not provide the language learner enough comprehensible input. It also does not give the students opportunities to use language or interact with other students, each of which are important to language learning. With so many videos and cassettes on the market claiming to teach a language, one must be wary of just how effective those tools would be. The best way to learn a language is with the careful, controlled guidance and interaction with peers and teachers.
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Someya, Masakazu. 1990. On the use of English movies as effective teaching material.
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