Films might be the only chance students of English have to hear English spoken naturally in many different regional accents and dialects and their only exposure to the English language, apart from their own teachers. This is why films are one of the most powerful teaching tools for any teacher.
Britain boasts many famous directors, for example Mike Leigh, Harold Pinter, Alfred Hitchcock, Ken Loach, David Lean, Ridley Scott, Stephen Frears, Michael Powell, Carol Reid, Nicholas Roeg, Richard Attenborough, Lindsay Anderson, Ken Russell, Tony Richardson, Stanley Kubrick, John Schlesinger.
Films provide the student with several important things:
- The chance to listen to dozens of different English dialects spoken by native speakers.
- The chance to hear the different shades of standard English spoken by different social classes.
- The ability to freeze any moment of a film and re-play, to listen many times to the same sentence, phrase, or clip.
- The chance to observe British society in any period of history, up close through a magnifying glass, whether observing the working class social realism of Ken Loach, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson, or the more psychological works of directors like Harold Pinter and Nicholas Roeg, or through human relationships and the biting satire and humour of Mike Leigh’s films.
A scene from Secrets and Lies, by Mike Leigh – 1996.
‘North and South’ (BBC, 2004)
The BBC TV series North and South (2004) is very popular with my students. It is a ‘period drama‘, that means it is a realistic story set in a period of history (1860’s) when Britain was going through many social changes. It is based on the novel by the famous English writer Elizabeth Gaskell. A perfect TV series for English study, showing relationships between people belonging to different social classes, and between people from the affluent South, like the Hale family, and those in the North, at the peak of the Industrial Revolution.
BBC TV Series, North and South, 2004
- Each 1-hour episode is divided into 10-minute clips. This means that there are six clips for each episode, 24 clips in total.
- For each clip there is a worksheet with questions about the film clip, followed by a matching exercise, where students have to match words and phrases from the clip, on the left, with their definitions on the right. At the end of each worksheet there is a key.
- Students are given a link to the first 10-minute clip, and also to the worksheet.
‘North and South’ – example worksheet – here
- Watch the 10-minute clip, without sound / audio. Study the facial expressions and body language of the characters, trying to read as much as they can without words. When you were a child, learning your own language, watching TV with your elbows on the floor and your face in your hands, staring at the screen. You didn’t understand many words, but your imagination helped you to understand. It’s like ‘painting by numbers’, where you can’t see the whole picture, but you can add each line by joining the numbers, and slowly slowly, a picture starts to appear.
- Go to this link here and look at the screenplay of North and South, the script of the series. Study the text, line by line, writing down all new words and phrases and looking up their meanings. Think about translating the text into your own language
- Now watch the clip again, with your screenplay / script open, and if you don’t underdstand something, pause it and check the script. Work through the 10-minute clip in this way, until you understand it well.
- Now watch the clip again, without the script.
- Now try to answer all the comprehension questions in worksheet 1, checking the film clip where necessary, at the time point given.
- Do the matching exercise, matching words and phrases with their definitions.