Modern Foreign Languages - Make film your friend

Selective use of cinema can boost your language lessons

Neil Jeffery

As teachers of modern languages, many of us like to give pupils the chance to gain some cultural awareness, and the occasional use of carefully selected films is a perfect way to do it. But can you use films as a more specific teaching tool?

I love using modern media to show pupils that the languages they are learning are vivid and relevant, and I firmly believe that they can have a specific pedagogic value.

For instance, let's look at Tom Tykwer's Lola Rennt (2000), a fast-paced film that is a cinematic version of "chaos theory". The title character has 20 minutes to get 100,000 Deutschmarks to save her boyfriend from robbing a store to appease his gangster boss. We see three different versions of events, each subtly different, through interactions between Lola and a character.

As a starter activity, offer simple comprehension questions, leading into a straightforward present tense narrative exercise.

"Lola geht zur Bank, um ihren Vater um das Geld zu bitten."

Then the teacher can show the second version of events, and pupils can describe differences in the two versions.

"Im ersten Teil hat Manni den Supermarkt geraubt, aber im zweiten Teil ist Lola rechtzeitig angekommen."

The third and final part of the film can give pupils the chance to learn how to use the conditional (rendered in German using the imperfect subjunctive) to describe past or future, or by using the future tense to predict events.

"Wenn Lola im ersten Teil rechtzeitig ankame, dann wurde Manni den Supermarkt nicht geraubt haben."

"Ich denke, dass im dritten Teil Lola das Geld im Kasino gewinnen wird."

Of course, you can differentiate fully, offering pupils a text with a selection of examples underneath or asking more able pupils to write a newspaper report on the events of the story.

It isn't just German film that is eminently suitable. In a resource book I wrote, I created a listening exercise for GCSE French students by jumbling up the introductory sentences from the start of the 1990 film La Gloire de mon Pere, from "je suis ne dans la ville d'Aubagne" to "c'est Garlaban". I then asked students to reassemble the text and translate into English. This gives a clear idea of linguistic usage.

A note of caution: censors can have a slightly more "liberal" attitude when it comes to language or content of some films made in a language other than English, so it's best to make sure that there is no content unsuitable for a key stage 4 audience.

Neil Jeffery teaches modern languages at a secondary school in Herefordshire


Check out the TES MFL film collection to help you incorporate the audio-visual into your secondary classroom.

grebdeb has shared a colourful study aid to help pupils show their understanding of the film Lola Rennt.


A teacher is looking for advice on starting a French and Spanish film festival in school. Can you help?

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Neil Jeffery

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