Thinking about using films for a foreign language course or club during the age of Covid-19? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

What? How?

The obvious first question is what will students watch, but a less obvious, also important question is how will they watch it? Ideally, the film will be available to stream online for all students in the class.

The UChicago Library has several film databases within their collections. Many of these databases focus on world cinema and can be filtered by language.There is also a website called Telescope Film that does not stream movies but rather indicates the streaming platform(s) on which international films can be found. This site can also be filtered by language.

Why?

Why are students watching this film? Are the objectives linguistic (e.g., extensive listening practice), cultural (i.e., learning about specific aspects of life in regions where the language is spoken), or social (a way for students to connect to one another in these isolating times)? The answer might be ‘all of the above.’ But the purpose should be clear to you AND your students, and there should be pre- and/or post-viewing activities that help achieve those goals. Linguistic tasks could direct students attention toward vocabulary, pronunciation, or grammar. Cultural tasks could have students compare what they saw to life in their home culture. And purely social tasks could have students share their opinions of the film or similar stories from their own lives without any specific linguistic or cultural goals.

When?

The question of when students will watch the film may be closed linked to the questions of why and how.

Generally I would not recommend watching a film as a group synchronously over Zoom. This might look fine for the person running the movie but will look not look great for all other participants, who will experience significant chopiness and lag between the audio and video.

To maintain a remote ‘movie night’ feel for foreign language clubs, you can hold your synchronous Zoom meeting at a specific time and recommend students start the film at a specified time before that–though of course they’ll have the freedom to watch the film any time before that if they so choose or have scheduling conflicts. You can encourage this ‘distanced social viewing’ by having a short opening discussion on Zoom (e.g., 6:30-6:45), splitting off to watch the film independently (6:45-8:45), and then coming back together to discuss after (8:45-9:15).

In summary:

• Find films that are streamable for all students.
• Don’t try to watch as a group over Zoom.
• Have relevant pre- and/or post-viewing activities that serve your intended goals (could be synchronous or asynchronous).

Photo by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash