Using digital video for cultural and linguistic awareness in ELT – an unofficial introduction

Technology as such and technological skills in particular are not crucial for teachers to use digital video to enhance cultural and target language awareness in ELT. The main point is actually multitasking in the sense of the students using multiple senses simultaneously in order to absorb and handle the information given. Listening, reading, writing, speaking and even getting emotionally involved are at the centre of language learning. And whereas videos, be it fictional films, documentaries or newsflashes, have long been recognized as a useful tool in the language classroom, their place in the curriculum have been marginal, because so much information is given in such a short time span that it has been impossible to utilize them effectively in ELT. Therefore they have mainly been used as complementary sources of information or as a means of tuning in to a particular subject. The reason for this has been that it’s been impossible to customize video viewing according to the differing individual needs of students trying to learn the language. The play, pause, fast forward, and the rewind buttons have been in the complete and sole control of the teacher, and the students have had little or no say as to the progress of their viewing. Technological advance in the digital area has now enabled us to offer a radical change of this situation.

The simple passing on of the control of these buttons to the students enables them to take charge of their own viewing process, and thereby giving the teachers a multitude of possibilities to vary their approach of  video in the classroom. The video content can step forward from their hitherto marginal place onto the centre of the classroom stage. This does not mean it will replace the traditional textbooks and workbooks that have looked basically the same for decades, but it will radically change their function, their appearance as well as their use. The book will now be complementary – still essential but nevertheless complementary. It is more or less useless without the video content.

Let’s take an example. I as a teacher might want to introduce my students to the vocabulary and traditions of British food and drink. I could do it the traditional way and present them with a complete text, including dialogues and descriptive passages, and an accompanying wordlist, like this: .

Food and Drink in Britain

 Deep-fried Mars bars

  • British food doesn’t enjoy the greatest reputation in the world, but at least it’s not boring, particularly here in Glasgow, Scotland.
  • ─     How can I help you?
  • ─     Well, what’s the most unique thing that you’ve fried?
  • ─     We have deep-fried Mars bars,
  • ─     Oooh! That’s a candy bar?
  • ─     Yes. You usually serve it with tomato sauce.
  • ─     What?!!!
  • ─     Okay, this is it, ketchup and all! … Mmmmm
  • ─     Very tasty?
  • ─     Very strange….

Jellied eels

  • ─     Jellied eels… Not like lollies, eels!
  • ─     Get it down you!
  • ─     That’s not bad at all! Oh, I’m starting to talk like this now – know what I mean?
  • ─     It works, doesn’t it?
  • ─     This is not good … That’s awful! It’s not even cooked! It’s raw!
  • ─     Ah, you’re braver than me…
  • ─     You mean, you don’t eat it???
  • ─     Never!

The full English breakfast

  • I just don’t understand why so many people disparage the English culinary tradition. I mean, they’ve got things that are good for you and properly named. You’ve got deep-fried fish and chips, you’ve got something called a toad-in-a-hole, but today I’m going to try a cornerstone of their nutritious diet – the full English breakfast.
  • The full English breakfast consists of a fried slice of bread, bubble and squeak which is potatoes and cabbage fried, fried black pudding, baked beans which are boiled, fried sausage, fried bacon, and, of course, a fried egg.
  • ─     Oh, ta…
  • ─     Wow!
  • ─     What is this stuff?
  • ─     That is black pudding.
  • ─     Yak! What’s it made of?
  • ─     You don’t want to know. It’s dried blood.

The Cornish Pasty

  • I’ve come here to this small fisher village of Port Isaac for one thing – this! I’m going to track down the ultimate Cornish pasty! Oh, yeah!
  • The pasty was a snack for the tin miners, and the reason why it’s always got this thick edge round it is that if you work with tin you get poison from the metals in your fingers. So when you eat your food, you don’t want to get the poison from your fingers all over the bit you are going to eat. So you hold on to the rim, eat all the good bits, and then you chuck the crust away!
  • Oh, yes, wow! Traditional pasty filling is simple and very tasty. Flaked, not diced, potatoes, skirt beef, onions, salt and pepper.
  • ─     So you never cook the filling first? You cook it inside the pastry.
  • ─     Yes, and then the gravy that is produced, stays inside.
  • ─     Wow! And that’s what gives it that …
  • ─     That moist.
  • ─     Aaaah…. Lovely! Oh, yeah! Definitely Cornish, I say! That’s lovely, ladies. That was my first real Cornish pasty on this trip… Gorgeous! Like you two, gorgeous! Gorgeous!

Tea and ballroom dancing

I’ve found refuge here in the delicate atmosphere of the Waldorf Meridien Hotel, where tea is served to 4 p.m. and guest dance in the old-fashioned way. It’s really very civilised.


  • Up north in Scotland at the island of Islay at the west coast of Scotland is the mecca of single malt Scotch whisky. Here you can take a tour of the Ardbeg distillery. Scotland’s national drink dates back to around the 15th century, in Gaelic they call it “usquebaugh” , which means “water of life”.  I am talking about whisky. Scottish whisky’s distinctive taste comes from malted barley. The barley is soaked and dried in a kiln over a peat fire – mixed with water and then left to ferment. The weak alcoholic solution, or wart, is then distilled and matured in oak barrels for three to thirty years. This process hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.
  • ─    This is 1975 Ardbeg. You will find it very smoky, very fruity and very sweet.
  • ─    Slainte Mhath!
  • ─    Slainte Mhath! What’s that?
  • ─    That means cheers.

Now these text passages are admittedly not ones to be traditionally found in an English textbook. The dialogue is too broken up, too incomplete to be presented as a representative discourse in any language textbook. But this is how we use the language in real everyday life, which is proved by the fact that this is actually a transcript of a 5-minute video clip on somebody experiencing food and drink in various parts of Britain. We have the English breakfast quite accurately described, there is high tea at a fashionable London hotel, the Cornish pasty is to be found here as well as some culinary oddities like deep-fried Mars bars. There is even a visit to a Scottish whisky distillery included here. But does language alone give the student a full picture of what the text is actually talking about. Does a sausage look the same to a Finnish 14-year-old as it does to an Englishman? No, it certainly doesn’t. So a textbook could add pictures, one could very well argue. Okay, here is one of the full English breakfast:


Can I now be certain that my students know what I am trying to convey to them? Actually no. And without more visual material most of the text information would be lost to them anyway. And working traditionally with books and paper poses another problem: how to provide the students with a lot of images without resorting to pure teacher-centered activities with the teacher showing them all the necessary visual imagery in order for the students to get a better understanding. And, as a matter of fact, they would probably have been bored to death by the time I get to the pictures, and most likely not even bothered to look at neither the pictures nor the word list in order to understand all the words probably incomprehensible to them.

Okay, let’s try another approach. Let’s make it into a problem-solving task or a puzzle task, where my vocabulary learning objectives are more defined. The same text is presented to the students in the form of separate cards., but now all food-related terms and words are missing and I have also deleted the subheadings (in order to make it even more into a puzzle I could delete the A, B, C, D, E and F of the remaining subheadings as well as the numbering of the gaps):







This results in a text with 49 gaps with Swedish (mother tongue) clues within brackets. There are also six subheadings to be filled in by the students who are to deduce what subheading might be suitable for each passage. But how can they be supposed to know what words like “torveld” or “brödkant” are in English. And if they do, what use is there to have a text like this. This text was presented in order to make them learn new words, remember? Not to test them on what they are already supposed to know. Well, let’s add the missing English words in alphabetical order –  that might make it more into a guessing game, and therefore perhaps even more motivating.

Skärmklipp ord

There are still some things missing – first of all, there are probably words impossible to guess. Secondly, there is the pronunciation which is always a problem with a language like English where the relationship between spelling and pronunciation is if anything enigmatic. So we need sound. And we still have the initial problem of visual illustration.

The video[1] is the solution to all these problems. First of all we get a context with live persons in real life situations in authentic environments behind the sometimes incomplete lines, We also get an illustration of what all these food things look like, the typical British surroundings and the culture code, for example with the High Tea passage. And the pure guessing game is gone, instead we have a purely cognitive activity where brain cells are activated in various areas of the brain: areas related to vision, listening, combining listening to reading, associating the visuals with pre-conceptions we have of what might be British, as well as complementing existing images with new knowledge, new images. And we get the writing skills involved, as well.


[1] The video clip (from Ultimate UK) cannot be viewed here for copyright reasons. By the way, if you want to use authentic video in your classroom, but are not sure whether you’re allowed to or not, it might actually be worthwhile simply to contact the production company in question and ask whether they will give you permission or not. That’s what I did with Pilot Productions, listing all the different ways I might use it, and lo and behold, they gave their consent, probably too stunned by having somebody ask insted of just doing it. I therefore have their written consent to use their videos in my own classroom teaching as well as in the teacher training, a valuable thing indeed.

Authentic video in the classroom: Ireland II

My second example of utilising authentic video in the EFL classroom is based on the same 50-minute travel video as my first. Of course, one can apply this to any video, but this time I will stick with Ireland. How I do it now will, however, differ from my last post because now I’ll concentrate on the language and vocabulary awareness in detail (but I wouldn’t use both methods on the same video in the same class, though). This approach is, however, associated with a lot of painstaking preparatory work for the teacher, because transcription of the video material needs to be done, at least for some of the clips. It takes about 1 hour to take down 5 minutes of video material, so one needs plenty of time to get a complete transcript. I rather enjoy transcribing videos and sound; oddly enough I experience the process as relaxing, especially if there is no deadline approaching. And having a transcript for a video makes the creating of tasks so much easier.

I’ve previously said that I use the gamification platform Didactor for most of my online material, and this is true for when I want the students to work with authentic video as well. This set of tasks/games are connected by following Ian Wright on his aforementioned tour of Ireland. They are, however, separated by task type and Ian’s activities. Variation is important for student motivation, and even though I might use the same game types over and over again, I try to vary how they are used.

The “game board” that the students start out with looks like this:

VideospelThe idea is that they start with task number 1A and then follow Ian’s route one step at a time until they reach the end of the journey. By then they should have a pretty clear idea of what life and travelling in Ireland is all about as well as key concepts and vocabulary needed in order to get by.

In order to illustrate the student’s journey, I’ve recorded the learning process in nine shortish video clips, because I thought those would better describe what the student is supposed to do than if I tried to do it in words. NB! In some of the tasks I’ve made use of my students’ mother tongue, Swedish, but that could be changed into any language really. In fact, Didactor can be used for any language learning whatsoever, not only English, and also for other subjects.

1. Antrim – Giants’ Causeway

There are three different steps here, ie.  two different gap texts – one based on vocabulary, the other on verbs – and a vocabulary game on the videoclip vocabulary with definitions in English for clues.

2. The Troubles

Here I’ve simply used a multiple choice task type for the first step, which therefore is simply traditional listening comprehension, whereas the second part comprises a bilingual wordlist to the video clip, with the English part scrambled. A lot of background info on the violent and bloody history of conflict between the Loyalists and the Republicans is provided here, something every student, language learner or not, should have in his bag of general knowledge when he steps into adulthood. The activity is rounded off with a take on pub life and the traditional Irish pint of Guinness.

3. The craic and nightlife in Belfast

This is quite simply a dictation kind of task involving intense listening and writing (+ spelling and grammar).  I’m a firm believer in the theory that one can’t write what one can’t understand when listening, and technology has revived the ancient language learning methodology of dictation, something that quite simply does not work in the non-tech classroom any more. But given the control over the audio, many a student actually enjoys dictation activities.

This is also the last video clip here involving two tasks, the latter on the same principle as the one described in Environmental collocations – but this time having the student provide the English translations of single words from the dictation.

4A Road bowling

This is a memory game played a little differently. First of all, hardly any of my “memory” games are played with hidden cards – I don’t think remembering where something was is as important as getting the student’s brain cells working by trying to connect one item with another. But here I’m not aiming for words, instead I have made the game consist of bits and pieces of lines from the video. The student has to actively listen for what is being said in order to connect two pieces of sentences to each other.

4B Janus the fertility god

The task type SORTER is based on the idea of  sorting words or concepts into various categories. Well, it can be used for sorting scrambled lines of text, too. I would argue that this task is impossible to solve or to score satisfactorily on without listening, which again serves the idea of active listening in the classroom, ie. listening serves a functional purpose, and not just perfunctory activity.

5A Dublin and checking into a hostel

At this stage, the flipped classroom might well come into play because this activity is very much based on a communicative situation; Ian is checking into his hostel, and the skills to successfully obtain accommodation in a foreign country is something all of today’s language learners most certainly will need at some time or another in his life. Supposing hotel bookings and checking in will be the theme for the next communicative lesson, this task might very well fill the function of “homework” in anticipation for that lesson. It’s based on a combination of scrambled lines of dialogue, clues in the form of the same lines in the mother tongue, and a hangman-type activity without the “hanging”.

6 Attending a hurling game in Dublin

No sport except Gaelic football can be more Irish than hurling and therefore a must when dealing with Ireland in the English language classroom. This is a very short and rather simple game-type activity with a time factor, but it still gives the student an idea of what distinguishes hurling from other sports.

7 Cobh – the seaside town

The Titanic, the Lusitania, World War I, and Irish emigration are all part of the history of the small town of Cobh. A true/false/doesn’t say activity here.

8 Blarney Castle and the gift of the gab

This is the very last of my demonstrations here, one on the myth of becoming a good speaker by performing the rather awkward ritual of kissing the Blarney stone. The activity comprises the unscrambling of whole chunks of sentences to be heard in the video clip. Scaffolding in the form of mother tongue versions is provided.

 The whole Ireland-theme presented this way could be finished off with the same post-video/post-computer activities as described in my previous post here, but now wordchecks or quizzes on vocabulary and collocations could be added.


Authentic video in the classroom: Ireland I

What you see here is an approximately 3-minute clip from a 50-minute travel video on Ireland. It is authentic, in the sense that it’s intended for English-speaking people interested in travelling and other countries, not for language learners per se. “Ireland” is one of many videos in the Globetrekker series produced by UK-based Pilot Productions. The series is based on the concept of having a travel guide touring a specific country, experiencing cultural highlights, meeting local people and basically learning about the country together with the viewer. The “guide” is not the expert here, the experts are the locals, and the viewer travels the country in the “guise” of the guide, which makes the videos quite entertaining and exciting – and ideal for the language classroom.

There is hardly any language classroom without the use of videos at one time or another. Youtube videos abound and you are sure to find something suitable regardless of subject matter at hand. Authentic video clips are the obvious choice for introducing real-life people, accents and situations, as well as giving the students a cultural frame of reference for the target language.

What activities are used in connection with video-clips in class? Most common, I would say, are the following:

  1. – for introducing a new subject: Watch and guess what we are going to talk about today.
  2. – to go together with a text: Watch and find similarities to what was said in the text
  3. – to go together with a text: Watch and look out for certain objects (= make a list)
  4. – for discussion: Watch and tell me (the teacher) what this has to do with the text we’ve read
  5. – to go together with a grammatical point: Watch and write down all the instances this particular structure is used
  6. – to illustrate situations: Watch and then tell me what this situation is all about. How would you react / What would you have said in the same situation?
  7. – for listening comprehension: Watch and answer the following questions

Quite a lot it would seem. However, I would argue that we could do much more if we applied the blended learning concept.

Hardly ever do the video clips replace  texts, and there is a good reason for that: the time variable that basically defines the video and audio media. Watching a video together in a class makes it rather impossible to pause, to rewind, to replay according to individual demands. By making watching video possible for all students at the same time, we make it impossible to adjust for individual needs and individual study. But if we take out the “all students at the same time”-aspect, and gave over the play and pause buttons to the students, a whole vista of new possibilities emerge, increasing the overall as well as individual student activity.

So, what could these alternative activities be? I will try to give at least a few scenarios in this blog.

Ireland I

Skills: Listening, reading, speaking/writing

Objectives: the student should be able to talk/write about life and travelling in Ireland based on the facts presented in the Globetrekker video

Pre-video phase – tuning in to the subject

The teacher writes down words having to do with Ireland on the whiteboard, eg. LEPRECHAUN, GUINNESS, GAELIC, JAMES JOYCE, CONNEMARA, THE TROUBLES etc. The students guess what country is represented and when they have arrived at the correct destination, Ireland, they can try to guess what phenomena these individual words are associated with. The answers will be found in the subsequent video.

Video phase – instructions what to do + work sheets –> student activity


The students are asked to do three things while watching the 50-minute video:

  • 1) Before watching he needs to read through all the keywords so that he knows what to listen out for.
  • 2) During the watching he is to draw the travel route in the blank map, and
  • 3) watch and listen for the given keywords on the worksheet, make additional notes in order for the keywords to make sense to him.

As he has access to the video online (in a closed community/LMS) he can pause the video whenever he likes, re-play what he didn’t catch the first time around, ie. he will now enjoy total empowerment and control over his own learning process. Neither is he confined to the classroom space – he can work from home as well.

The keywords have been sorted alphabetically, ie. they do not appear in the correct order. Thus the student has to read through the keywords several times in search for something to match what he has seen and heard. He does not have to find all of them – there is no 100% score to aim for here. The teacher decides how much  time will be allocated for this, and when he thinks it appropriate he stops the activity and calls for the students’ attention back to the class.

Post-video phase 1– Discussion in small groups

The students compare their findings in small groups, assisting each other in filling in missing information on the worksheet.

Post-video phase 2 – Debriefing

There are countless possibilities here , but I’ll just give a few, based on a simple PowerPoint slide show with ten keywords from the worksheet. 

Powerpoint1) The students work in pairs, but no worksheets allowed any more. You will show a keyword and the students take turns in telling his partner all there is to know about that keyword. If the partner has nothing to add, the first student will score a point. For the next keyword the partner in turn does the same. If none of them has anything to say both will lose a point.

2) Divide the class into 4-5 groups and give each group 10 blank papers. Explain the rules: You will show 10 keywords, one at a time, and each group should write down as many facts associated with that keywords as they can. The group with the most correct facts will score a point. The same with the next keyword until time is out or all ten keywords have been dealt with. The winning team will get a prize.

3) Let the students write down their names on small pieces of paper. Collect the names, put them together in a hat, let a student draw a name. That student will have to explain all he knows about the given keyword.

Post-video phase 3 – Final task for evaluation and assessment

Alternative 1)

Give the students a choice between 4-5 broader topics in connection with the video and have them write a composition of 200-250 words. For example:

  • 1. Music in Ireland
  • 2. Irish history
  • 3. Farming in Ireland
  • 4. Sports in Ireland
  • 5. Irish climate and geography

or a communicative topic like this one:

Imagine –

you have a friend you have met on the Internet and there only.

Now he/she tells you he/she is about to go to Ireland in a couple of weeks and as you have told him/her that you have done and read a lot about Ireland in school he/she asks for advice on where to go and what to do and see there exactly. His/her interests are very wide which means he/she is open to all kinds of activities. Write your reply to him/her now and try to uphold his/her image of you as the real expert on Ireland.

Length: about 200 words

Alternative 2)

A short test on facts related in the video. For example:



Alternative 3)

A photo album with nine stills from the video. The students’ task is to write short texts about six of them. For example:

Photo album