A few months ago, I released Episode 27 of the English 2.0 Podcast titled, “How to Use Movies to Study English”. I received a lot of positive feedback on that episode so I wanted to go a little more in depth on how I approach using movies to study English. For the first lesson of Studying English with Movies, let’s take a look at a scene from the action movie, “Man of Steel”.
Step 1: Choose the Movie
The first thing we need to do is choose a movie that we will use to study from. As I mentioned in the podcast episode, there are basically two ways to study English using movies. The first one is for comprehension and the second one is for context. For this example, let’s focus on the second type: context study.
Now, I’d usually recommend using a movie with more natural dialogue that would be similar to what you would use in your daily life. Dramas, light comedies, and family movies are best for this. If you wish to choose an action or science fiction movie, there are some things to take into consideration before you begin.
First, note that the movie may have a lot of specific vocabulary. If it is an imaginary world, there may be a lot of names and terms that are unfamiliar and not used in daily conversation. In addition, there may be a lot of technical terms that are specific to police work or scientific work, etc.
Step 2: Choose a Scene
In this example, actually I have chosen an action movie, “Man of Steel” but I have carefully selected a scene that has some normal dialogue. I like to focus on scenes that are only between two people to keep the situation as simple as possible. This allows us to focus on the language and eliminates distraction from extra characters.
This scene features Lois Lane, a reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper having a conversation with Clark Kent (Superman) at a cemetery. She is advising him to share his secret with the world and reveal his identity.
Step 3 (optional): Try Writing Down the Script (Dictation)
If you have time, I would advise writing down what you hear in the scene. Try writing every word or sound that you hear, even if you can’t identify it clearly. Just mark down the sound of what you think you are hearing. This will help you fine tune your ear and help you with pronunciation in the future.
If you have the script (you can check imsdb.com or if you have the DVD turn on the English subtitles), check your dictation with the script. Any sounds or words that you couldn’t hear exactly will hopefully become clear to you at that point. Make a note of the sound you heard and the actual word or phrase that was spoken. When you do this, you will be focusing on HOW you can sound more like a native speaker. This is very important if you want to improve your pronunciation.
Step 4: Look Up any New Vocabulary
Step 5: Find Common Sentence Patterns
This is a very key step. In this step, we are identifying common sentence patterns in the script that we can use for our spoken communication.
What are sentence patterns? I like to think of them as keys to unlocking language. Let’s use the script from our scene to demonstrate:
Clark: What if I don’t want my story told?
Lois: It’s going to come out eventually. Somebody’s going to get a photograph or figure out where you live.
Clark: Then I’ll just disappear again.
Lois: The only way you could disappear for good is to stop helping people altogether and I sense that’s not an option for you.
Clark: My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me out of fear.
This scene has several good examples to choose from. Let’s start with an easy one. We will use Clark’s first line in the scene:
In the previous line, Lois said to Clark, “Let me tell your story” which in the context of this movie means, “I want to share your secret that you have super powers.”
Now, hopefully you’re familiar with the story of Superman and he of course is not ready to share that secret yet. With that in mind, we can understand that he would be concerned about revealing his identity to the world. So to express that concern, he responds to Lois with, “What if I don’t want my story told?” meaning in other words, “I’m concerned about you sharing my secret with the whole world and I don’t want you to.”
Therefore, if we look at his sentence and try to identify the “key”, it would be:
This sentence pattern shows concern for future effects or possible results of present actions. Also, it includes the feeling that the speaker does not want “X” which in this case is an event, action, or thing.
Here are some other examples you could make with this pattern:
“What if I don’t want to become a doctor?”
“What if I don’t want you to help me?”
“What if I don’t want their money?”
Now, those examples are specific to a particular context and we won’t go into that now, but I just wanted to show you how this pattern can be used.
If you can find other sentence patterns like this, I believe it is a very valuable and powerful skill to have when studying English from movies. When you are able to use these patterns in your real life conversations, not only are you likely speaking with natural phrases and pronunciation, but also you are thinking in English.
There are some other things you can do with movies but we’ll stop here for today. If you have found this blog post valuable, please leave a Comment below and let me know! Also, if you have any tips or advice on how to use movies to study English, please share them with your fellow English learners!
If you there is enough interest shown here or communicated to me, I will be happy to talk about some other methods in future posts.
For now, good luck and have fun!