For the second lesson of Studying English with Movies, we’re going to take a look at a scene from the superhero movie, “Elektra”. I borrowed this DVD from a friend a few years ago and I decided to finally watch it the other day. Overall, it’s not a great movie, but as always, I like to find dialogue that can be used to help us learn English. In today’s scene we have Elektra, played by the beautiful Jennifer Garner talking to Abby, played by actress Kirsten Prout.
Step 1: Choose the Movie
Again, “Elektra” just happened to be a recent movie that I watched but I would advise starting with a story that takes place in the real world.
Step 2: Choose a Scene
I chose this scene because the dialogue between the characters is about a possible real world situation. Abby broke into the house where Elektra was staying and is mad because Elektra told her father. As a teenager who likes to keep her privacy, Abby is upset that Elektra ratted out to her dad. This dialogue could happen between any teenager and adult.
Step 3 (optional): Try Writing Down the Script (Dictation)
This is a short scene so it shouldn’t take you much time or effort. Give it a try and remember to write down every word you hear. Even if you don’t know the exact word or phrase, be sure to write down the sound as you hear it. You can later match it with the script to see how you adjust your hearing for the next time.
Step 4: Look Up any New Vocabulary
Not too many tough words in this dialogue. Perhaps I would highlight and look up “break into” and “cool” as a slang term.
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? As I mentioned in the first Movie Lesson, they are keys to unlocking language. If you can become comfortable using various sentence patterns to achieve your speaking objectives, you will become a very powerful speaker. Here is one example from our dialogue:
Elektra: How long have you been standing there?
Abby: Like, a minute. (Pause) What did you tell my dad? Did you tell him I broke into your house?
Elektra: Yeah, because you DID break in.
Abby: Well, you didn’t have to tell him. I thought you were cool.
Elektra: I’m not.
Abby: Yeah, no kidding.
The main sentence that stands out to me as a common pattern is Abby’s second line:
The phrase “didn’t have to” (the past tense version of “don’t have to”) means that there is no obligation to do something.
In this scene, Abby did not want Elektra to tell her father that she broke into her house out of fear that her father would get angry with her. This is pretty normal behavior for a teenager. She is telling Elektra that she had no obligation to tell her father and that she could have kept the break-in a secret.
So, our sentence pattern is:
Here are some other examples you could make with this pattern:
“You didn’t have to wake me up so early.”
“You didn’t have to tell the boss that I was late.”
“You didn’t have to travel so far just to see me.”
“You didn’t have to give me such a nice gift.”
The first two examples express that the speaker did not want the other person to do that action and emphasizes that there was no obligation to do so.
The second two examples express that the speaker is happy with the results of the other person’s actions and is being polite by saying that the other person had no obligation to behave in a nice way.
Step 6: Note How a Character Responds to a Question
Let’s add a new step today!
In Episode 29 of the English 2.0 Podcast titled “How to Respond More Quickly” I talked about responding to questions as a key area to work on. We can look at scenes from movies to help us with this task.
In this scene from “Elektra” we have one example:
Abby: Did you tell him I broke into your house?
Elektra: Yeah, because you DID break in.
So what can we learn from this question and response?
Well, first we need to identify Abby’s question as a “Wh” question or a “Yes/No” question.
“Did you…?” tells us that it is a “Yes/No” question.
So how did Elektra respond?
“Yeah” is a casual way of saying “yes.” It is important to note this because she did answer the question very clearly. Often I find that my students do not answer “Yes/No” questions clearly with a “yes” or a “no.” This is important to show the listener that you heard them properly.
She then explains the reason why she told Abby’s father about the break-in.
I’m sure you have noted the emphasis on the word “DID.” If you go back and watch the clip again, you’ll notice that Elektra emphasizes this word in her spoken dialogue as well. Grammatically, she could have said,
It is exactly the same meaning. The reason for stating the word “DID” plus the regular verb form (“did break in”) is to emphasize the action that happened in the past. Elektra wanted Abby to realize that she had a clear reason to tell her father about her actions because it actually happened in reality. In other words, she was telling the truth.
How can You Use this in Conversation?
Anytime you are referring to a past action and you want to emphasize the action for any reason, just add “DID” plus the regular form of the verb. Also, make sure you are emphasizing “DID” with your voice as well, just as Elektra did in the video clip. Please watch and listen again to really catch and understand her intonation.
After choosing a movie and a scene to study, try to dictate the scene by writing down every word and every sound you hear. After that, go back and check your notes with the actual script. Look up any new vocabulary to make sure you completely understand the words and expressions. Try to find sentence patterns and identify the purpose or function that the pattern is useful for. Write down some example sentences with that key pattern. Finally, note how the characters respond to questions. This will help you in your own responses and reduce your response time.
Most of all, have fun and good luck!