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MFL - The long and the short of it

Films provide great material for lessons - and so does advertising

Films provide great material for lessons - and so does advertising

Foreign-language media such as films and advertising can be excellent teaching resources - their use of characters and stories is great for engaging pupils' attention and making vocabulary memorable.

Learning is reinforced when pupils use the target language in role play and written work. If they create a cheesy advertisement with a catchy slogan in Spanish, for example, the vocabulary they use becomes an in-joke they will remember long after the lesson has ended.

It is worth looking at films before watching adverts. Pupils can then see how advertising uses the same techniques as film directors. They can also see how adverts reference particular genres to place the product in the viewer's imagination. Pupils could use this in their role plays: creating a cool French advert in the style of a film noir thriller, for example.

Foreign films provide a window on to another culture and a refreshing break from the American output that dominates our own. Trailers of classic foreign films are an excellent teaching resource, as well as a great introduction to the films themselves. They tell part of the story and often have key words flashed up on screen.

Classic films tell powerful stories about human nature that cut across barriers of time and language. If the class likes the story, why not show them the whole thing? Jules et Jim is a good example and its central idea still sparks debate: can a woman love two men at the same time?

La Grande Illusion is an absorbing and often witty tale of friendships in wartime cutting across the social divide. Jeux Interdits, about children coming to terms with loss during the Second World War, and Le Salaire de la Peur, about a terrifying journey transporting nitroglycerine across the South American jungle, are also marvellous.

Bilingual scenes in film and television drama are worth looking out for, too. The German general's speech in Band of Brothers is a deeply moving example of this. The general speaks to his men after surrendering to the Americans. His words are translated by an Allied soldier who gradually realises that they apply to all those who fought. They are all "Brudern...die den Tod zusammen gesehen und miteinander gelitten haben" ("Brothers...who have seen death and suffered together").

Advertising is full of useful contemporary language, from imperatives to superlatives, commands to colloquialisms. It has been said that an advert tells a story in 15 seconds. Perhaps you could give pupils a slogan and ask them to make up a story that supports it. In the 2008 Spanish advert for the Ford Focus, a young man is bored by everything except his car. Not even a spaceship distracts him. The tag line is "Nada te sorprendera tanto" ("Nothing will surprise you so much").

Pupils could use these techniques to design a campaign poster on a topic that matters to them. This activity will make them keen to know how to write or say certain things in the new language, and that is always a good thing.

Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa. Read more of her articles at

What else?

Clairecopp has shared a French introduction to film genres.


Help pupils to speak in French about the television shows they watch with hunterdj's lesson.


Get pupils to advertise products in a German lesson from rosered27.


A film and media booklet shared by rhawkes is packed with eight pages of vocabulary, perfect for a Spanish media unit.


Try spanishgalaxia's advertising activity, which asks pupils to match Spanish slogans with famous products.


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