A Treasure Trove of Videos for Language Teaching

A Treasure Trove of Videos for Language Teaching

Photo credit: YouTube user Pefu & Lukyson Creative Commons License

From the editor: The following is a portion of a transcript from an interview with Dr. Christian Hilchey, which was originally published in COERLL’s newsletter. Dr. Hilchey explains how to search for and get inspired by openly licensed authentic videos.

We use films. We use songs. But oftentimes, we can’t share those because they are copyrighted. I started finding these excellent videos by conducting searches for open content on YouTube. I would go to YouTube and search for content under an open Creative Commons license. Unfortunately, some key words weren’t working for me at all.

Finally, the best key word that I stumbled upon was “vlogs” (video blogs). And then I combined the key word “vlog” with another word like “Christmas.” So, “vlog Christmas” or “vlog zoo” or “vlog vacation.” And I found that there were a lot of people posting vlogs and that they weren’t a one-off kind of thing. Typically, the kind of person who was posting a vlog was… writing several dozen about their personal experiences. So, what I found helpful was to go to specific users themselves to find the richest content. Once I found a good vlog series, I would search through it like an archive. It really was as simple as that. But the key was to find the right vlog. At that point, it was looking for patterns in the archive. What kinds of videos were they posting? How did they title their videos? So it was really about finding that rabbit hole that previously was unknown to me. But once I found it, I was amazed by all the good content and was able to mine it quite easily. It changed things for me overnight. I went from having no open video content to having a surplus of really excellent materials to choose from.

A lot of times, as educators, we are looking for really specific content. I think to find the “good stuff,” educators need to be more flexible. Instead of looking for something specific, it is better to find high quality content and then think about how to incorporate it into your lesson or materials. Actually, I think that my experience looking for open content reflects my experiences fifteen years ago that led me to learn Czech so successfully. These language-learning experiences with native speakers weren’t necessarily planned. They were experiences talking about things that I didn’t expect them to say or talk about. So what I have found is that being more open to what could be useful to the learner, what could be said, has allowed me as an educator to think outside the box and to say, “OK, I wasn’t planning on talking about this content in this particular way, but there is a lot here that I can use for the classroom.”

Take an early chapter in a first year program. You are probably teaching [students] to name items. So, the focus is on nouns. If you start to look around, you will notice that people are naming things in real life. So, for example, I found a lot of videos where people give tours of their homes. And during the tour, they name items: “This is my television. And this is a chair I bought at the flea market.” Utterly mundane but really useful for language learning. Another example of a really great video I stumbled upon was a trip to the zoo. A Czech family visits the zoo and they point out and name all the different animals. The content was interesting and fun and it was perfect for learning animal names. Again, this was not something I was planning. But when I found it, I knew that it could be the basis of a lesson. I hadn’t thought about taking my students on a trip to the zoo, but why not? There are some very large zoos in the Czech Republic! It is not normative or typical to discuss Czech zoos. But they certainly exist.

You do have to watch and to listen to these videos. Sometimes, I will immediately dismiss a clip because the audio is bad or the video is sub par. Although… the fact that someone isn’t looking perfectly into the camera and isn’t wearing a mike often makes the video more real. I am trying to balance the issues that come with lower production values with the advantages of extemporaneous content. I remember the textbooks I used when learning Czech and we would mock the videos: “Don’t these actors sound silly!” Whereas, in these videos, the people don’t sound silly, they just sound real.

To learn more about vlogs:

Christian Hilchey is a lecturer in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of “Reality Czech”, a full curriculum of open language materials for introductory Czech.

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