I am a Languages and Media specialist. I’m a language tutor and occasional translator with a background in producing online media, including articles, blog posts, websites, podcasts and YouTube videos.
So what is the connection between learning a language and the media?
Traditionally, the two are not associated. Learning a language was seen as an academic pursuit, using books, studying grammar, learning from tables, engaging in quiet study, or maybe practicing with native speakers or learning from a teacher or tutor, who will teach you the language entirely using their knowledge and skill. You might use a coursebook, which contains lots of exercises, short bits of text, maybe a CD of exercises.
But in the age of online media, there is a different way to learn a language. You can learn from video, from audio reports, from online articles. A good example of this is Yabla.com. They select videos from across the internet, then they present the video using subtitles in the foreign language and in English, adding exercises and other activities to help you make the most of the material. It’s a great way to learn a language.
Let’s contrast this with some of the methods a few of my students have told me about. One student told me her French lessons at her school in Russia consisted of studying verb tables and learning them by heart. Another student at a top-rated secondary school in Manchester informed me “At our school, all the materials we use are really boring, so I’m not very good at French,” which was why I was called in to help him. He got a grade B in the exam (a 6 or a 7 in the current GCSE marking system).
If the material you are learning from is not interesting and relevant to you, then you are not going to learn very much. Don’t get me wrong! Grammar tables are important – we consult them and practice from them regularly, but they are a supplementary resource, not the main focus.
I make extensive use of all kinds of media in my intermediate classes and increasingly in my beginner classes too, maybe an article from a news or information website, a radio report on an interesting topic, preferably one that won’t go out of date, or a video, mostly on an ‘evergreen’ topic, but sometimes we can take a current topic as well. I try to keep the interests of the students in mind. The item is usually short. Often, I select just a section of a video, report, documentary or even a TV drama or movie.
Then I produce extra materials to help students to benefit fully from the material, extracting new words and phrases, examining interesting grammar points, helping with pronunciation and practicing dialogues.
I’ve built up a huge collection of media and I store it in my ‘Mediathek’ – pronounced / MEH dee ah tehk / – that’s the German for media library. The library is only available to my students. I present a few samples on this site and in some of my YouTube videos.
It’s important to understand how things have changed in the last few decades. Previously a coursebook was your primary source of material to learn from. Today, we have a limitless collection of material available online from which to learn a language.
And that’s what I do in my online sessions with students. It’s the opposite of the traditional teacher-student situation where the teacher stands at the front and teaches, while the students sit passively at their desks. Instead, we explore the German language together through media – through interesting articles, audio reports and video material.
To enjoy the experience to the full, you need to have reached intermediate level. Then you can begin to cope with material created for a native speaker audience.
Before you get to that level, you need to build your knowledge from beginner to post beginner, heading towards intermediate. At this level, we use material from various language course books, as they provide some structure and progression. But I also like to introduce sample items from the media, such as short videoclips with subtitles, brief excerpts from the radio, with the transcript, maybe a weather forecast or traffic report, as well as – from news and magazine websites – articles and their headlines.
It’s important to understand how I use media to help people learn languages, in a way that’s definitely not traditional!
It was described by one of my Erasmus students as ‘a new way to learn English’.