Film in foreign language teaching

Films offer a huge potential for the teaching of foreign languages. They have a motivating effect on learners, giving them insight into a different culture and creating plenty of authentic material to encourage speaking and writing.

Why use film in foreign language teaching?

Including film allows foreign language teaching to be motivating, learner-centric and hands-on. Film brings a dimension of audiovisual comprehension skills into the foreign language lesson, thus granting the understanding of audiovisual content the same status it occupies in our day-to-day world. Since films are authentic cultural products, working with film can provide the learners with an important contribution to the development of intercultural and media skills.
Feature films tell a story with image and sound, enabling learners to engage with the conflicts and viewpoints represented, and thus encouraging them to shift perspective. Linking emotion and cognition has a motivating effect and supports the affective emotional side of foreign language learning.

Selecting the film

The key criterion for the choice of film is the learners. The film should be suitable for the learners’ age and culture of origin, and arouse their interest. In terms of theme, it should be possible for the learners to understand how it relates to their own living environment. Of course the language level of the learners must be taken into account too. But it’s possible to compensate for lack of language skills with the appropriate methodical approach.
There is a choice of film formats: (full-length) feature films, short films, TV series, music videos, adverts, news shows, interviews etc. Shorter formats have the advantage that the whole film can be shown in one session in the classroom. If there isn’t enough time in the lesson for a full-length movie, another option is to show 4-5 scenes from the film, which can be used as a basis for working on the film’s thematic content.
One final important reason for the choice of film is whether there are already relevant teaching resources available. The "Links zum Thema" below may be useful for finding those.

Methodological and educational considerations

Even with shorter films it’s a good idea to split the film up into several sequences and work through them bit by bit, which prevents the learners from immersing themselves in a purely passive viewing experience. A sequence for learners to work on should be no more than five minutes long. Depending on the language complexity in the film clip and the level of the learners, the sequence can be shown several times. The use of subtitles (here German subtitles are preferable to subtitles in their native language) is another possible way of making it easier to understand.
When working on complex film sequences, the focus should be on a single element in order to reduce complexity for the classroom: language, plot, characters, film language etc. The elements can also be shared out amongst different students working in groups, using a shared approach at first and then putting all the elements together at the end.
Individual film clips are adapted for classroom use by applying the well-established BEFORE-DURING-AFTER technique.
Tasks BEFORE VIEWING activate the learners’ prior knowledge, arouse their curiosity and provide preliminary input with respect to vocabulary, historical background or regional culture.
Tasks DURING VIEWING are designed to prevent passive viewing and make comprehension easier.
Tasks AFTER VIEWING help to consolidate understanding of visual and audio content and create a reference point in their own lives.

Examples of task forms

The task numbers given in the examples relate to the adaptation of the film “Deine Schönheit ist nichts wert” (Your Beauty is Worth Nothing) for classroom use.

  • Speculating on the plot or characters using the film poster or quotes from the movie as a basis.
  • Stills from the film: describing the picture (cf. Task 1A/B).
  • Creating an associogram on the theme / on key concepts.
  • Preliminary input of vocabulary using matching tasks.
  • Working with the transcript: reconstructing the dialogue in the correct order. 
  • Observation tasks, for instance relating to the plot, characters, regional culture (cf. Task 2).
  • Checklists (what did you see in the film and what did you not see?).
  • Showing the picture without sound and speculating on what the characters are talking about (cf. Task 4a).
  • Listening to the soundtrack on its own and speculating as to the pictures. 
  • Ensuring comprehension: right/wrong tasks (cf. Task 3),
  • multiple choice tasks (cf. Task 7a),
  • filling in the gaps (cf. Task 7b),
  • writing a profile of a character (cf. Task 5),
  • answering open comprehension questions (cf. Task 4c).
  • Writing a summary or film review.
  • Creative continuation: composing an inner dialogue, writing the rest of a scene from a given beginning (cf. Task 9A/B b),
  • inventing an alternative ending (cf. Task 10b),
  • conducting an interview with the main character.


Biechele, Barbara (2010): “Verstehen braucht Sehen: entdeckendes Lernen mit Spielfilm im Unterricht Deutsch als Fremdsprache.” (Comprehension requires seeing: discovery learning with feature films in German as a foreign language lessons) In: Welke; Faistauer (2010).
Henseler, Roswitha; Möller, Stefan; Surkamp, Carola (2011): Filme im Englischunterricht. Grundlagen, Methoden, Genres. (Films in English lessons. Principles, methods, genres.) Seelze: Klett/Kallmeyer.
Welke, Tina; Faistauer, Renate (ed.) (2010): Lust auf Film heißt Lust auf Lernen. Der Einsatz des Mediums Film im Unterricht Deutsch als Fremdsprache. (An interest in film means an interest in learning. The use of film as a medium in German as a foreign language lessons.) Vienna: Praesens Verlag.
Welke, Tina; Faistauer, Renate (ed.) (2015): Film im DaF/DaZ-/Unterricht. (Film in GFL/GSL lessons.) Vienna: Praesens Verlag.