Creating Culture Vultures

The Step II EFL instructors at TYO use many methods to inspire and encourage their students’ English Language Learning. Language learning should be enjoyable, as well as academic. Therefore, the English Fellows at TYO incorporate various mediums in our classrooms, including music and movies. These alternative teaching tools enable our students to hear different native English speakers with varying accents and cadences, familiarize themselves with informal phrases and tones, and discuss various cultures. It also breaks up our day and brings more laughter into our classrooms. Three EFL students show their movie posters created after discussing film vocabulary during Pop Culture week.

As Leo, one of EFL Fellows states, “We use films to deepen our students’ understanding of the cultures and societies. In addition to learning a lot of vocabulary—we watch films subtitled in English to help with writing and pronunciation—we learn about how people look and interact in other countries when we watch films in class. These tools are useful because they enable us to discover things outside of what is immediately available to us here, think about different points of view around the world, and expand our own horizons.” His students watched Zootopia and then discussed women’s roles as potential superheroes in their societies.

The use of music, lyrics, and art give students a way to express themselves creatively and in a new language.

After doing workshops linking colors and emotions and music, Katrina—another EFL Fellow—asked her students to bring their favorite songs into class and then instructed them to paint how the song made them feel. “I had some students who were uncomfortable expressing themselves and I wanted to encourage them to build those skills. They did not have a lot of vocabulary in this area, so we used art to put them more at ease and give them another way to show emotion. Then the students gave short presentations about their paintings.” The exercise was meant to give the students different avenues through which they could practice expressing themselves in a foreign language.

Two students re-create a scene after watching a film in English.

Many of the English language teachers use these mediums as a jumping off point for games and other activities. My students were asked to take the animated short videos that we watched online and act out basic summaries, encouraging creativity and silliness—both excellent avenues for language learning. They listened to songs from various genres of music and then had to connect the songs to emotions that we discussed in class. We watched “The Bucket List” which proved perfect for deep conversations about priorities and what everyone wants from their lives.

I want to teach English that is actually useful for my students, not simply random vocabulary words that they will never have a use for, but meaningful ways to express themselves and their ideas. I want to encourage laughter and silliness, but also thoughtful and holistic engagement with every aspect of their lives. These soft skills will enable them to bring themselves into the language learning process and help them better relate to the individuals with whom they are conversing—an often difficult task in another language. If done well, watching movies and listening to music in the classroom can create spaces for conversation that might not otherwise be possible.


-Emma, Summer 2016 EFL Fellow

The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.