Press Play! How to Teach Foreign Languages with Videos

Edtech is ever-evolving.

But the one thing that remains consistent is the excitement and love for learning through videos.

Not only is it fun, but it gives learners an opportunity to experience a foreign language in a unique, authentic way.

Before you start making the popcorn, here are some things you need to know about teaching a foreign language with videos.


Why We Love Teaching Foreign Languages with Videos

  • Videos help students become active learners. Frequent opportunities to pause, interpret, discuss and replay allow for maximum engagement. It’s almost like having a conversation with a native speaker. What a great alternative to traditional lecturing and note-taking.
  • They simulate real-life situations. Quality foreign language videos represent authentic interactions, similar to what your students might encounter if they were living abroad and fully immersed in the target language.
  • Students have the chance to analyze gestures and facial expressions along with the verbal/auditory input. As a language teacher, you know that verbal communication is only one part of a larger picture. Non-verbal communication is a huge piece of how people of all cultures communicate. Foreign language videos offer a unique opportunity to analyze this key element of language not afforded in worksheets or textbooks.
  • They appeal to visual learners. Did you know that 65% of your students are visual learners? It’s tough to find or create materials that appeal to this large segment of the population. But videos are a convenient way to provide the visualization that most of your students need.
  • They’re fun and motivating for students. There’s just something about watching a video in class that gives students a sense of excitement. It’s a change in the predictable routine of the classroom.

Having said that, not all classroom video experiences are successful. If they’re not implemented correctly, videos can feel purposeless and even (gasp!) boring. As the teacher, you have a key role in making sure this doesn’t happen. Here’s how.

How to Teach Foreign Languages with Videos

1. Choose a high-quality video.

Your students’ enthusiasm will disappear faster than a good gelato on a hot day if they encounter scratchy, garbled sound or blurry images in your video. Don’t waste time on poor quality.

2. Choose an authentic video.

Undoubtedly, there’s a time and place for instructional videos. But whenever possible, avoid videos that were created for language learners. These are likely to include simulations that seem obviously artificial and contrived. Instructional videos are more meaningful if they’re balanced with authentic movies and clips intended for native speakers.

3. Have a collection of “just for fun” videos to use as rewards or celebrations.

Not all videos are created equal! Some are useful mainly for instructional purposes, such as the ever-popular Mr. Duncan series for learning English. Others are pure fun, like the French children’s film “Un monstre à Paris” (A Monster in Paris). If you have some of these fun videos at your disposal, rewards and celebrations can become much more meaningful.

4. Download videos ahead of time.

The internet is one of the greatest resources available to teachers, but it can also be the most unreliable! Don’t allow your plans to be foiled by faulty technology or a sketchy internet connection. Download videos onto your laptop or a flash drive so that you’ll have it ready as a necessary plan B. Some educational apps allow you to download learning materials for offline use.

5. Have the class watch for non-verbal communication first.

During the first viewing, turn off the sound and ask students to make predictions based on movements and facial expressions. This will get them in the habit of interpreting communication in all its forms. The second time, pause it frequently for discussion and clarification. Finally, play the video again all the way through without stopping.

6. Try a “cloze” fill-in-the-blank worksheet. 

Want to foster active learning during the video? Give students a brief script with blanks replacing some of the words, and ask them to fill it in as they watch. You can find a few video-based cloze exercises here.

It’s also very easy to create your own! Download the script or transcript, blank out some key words with white-out or a black marker, then make copies.

7. Show a brief video clip each day.

Once you’ve built a good collection and developed some strategies, try showing the class a brief video clip each day. You can choose videos that relate to topics you’re covering in class, and it’s a great way to warm up or wind down as a class. Starting or ending the lesson with a brief clip will add some sparkle to topics that might otherwise be dry.

8. Assign videos as homework.

Are you getting tired of hearing your students complain about homework, or maybe not even do it? Boost their motivation by posting short videos to be viewed as homework assignments. This is a great way for them to practice their skills outside of class without making it a chore.

9. Flip your classroom.

A flipped classroom is one where lessons are learned by students independently, at home rather than the classroom. They come to class prepared for activities and practice assignments, where the teacher can answer questions and help them put their new knowledge into practice.

This works perfectly with foreign language videos, as you can send students home with instructional videos to teach them complete lessons—then they can each watch the lessons at their own pace, pausing and rewinding to take notes as needed. There’s a full guide here, in case you’d like to learn more about the flipped classroom model.

10. Assign a project in which students give an oral presentation about a video.

If you’re looking for some creative project ideas, this is a great way to empower students in their learning. Give students a list of videos from which to choose and ask them each to present one video to the class, showcasing their own understanding.

Now you have the strategies. What else do you need? To find the right videos, of course.

Building Your Foreign Language Video Library

Before starting to use your new repertoire of foreign language video activities, you’ll need to build a library of videos from which to choose. Here are a few resources to get you started.

  • The Annenberg Learner Video Library. This collection features a variety of language learning videos, including the classic “Destinos” telenovela series for Spanish learners and the popular “French in Action” series. There are also videos for you to watch to help you hone your craft as a language teacher.
  • FluentU. The selection of videos on the language learning app FluentU is ideal for your classroom needs. Here you’ll find a selection of authentic media clips suitable for any level. The videos, which can be downloaded for offline viewing, are paired with interactive subtitles that you can hover over for definitions, audio pronunciations and associated images. You can also use these videos in conjunction with other app features, such as multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes.
  • Spanish for Proficiency. The University of Texas has compiled a vast array of interviews with native Spanish speakers. These brief video clips span a range from “Beginning” (identifying objects) all the way up to “Superior” (life without electricity). This is a great resource for pointing out linguistic and cultural differences among the many Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
  • Chinese with Mike. Chinese teacher Mike Laoshi brings his own brand of humor and fun to weekly Chinese lessons on his YouTube channel.
  • Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu. Any of these popular streaming sites allow you to search for movies and TV shows in the target language. (For example, just click the “International” genre in Netflix to pull up an array of intriguing options!) Some of my favorites: the Russian film “Solaris” and the German movie “Downfall” on Amazon Prime.


Foreign language videos offer limitless opportunity to add authenticity and sparkle to your daily classroom routine.

It just takes a little planning and finesse to transform a movie clip or YouTube video into a valuable and engaging language lesson.

Now that you’re prepared to start teaching with videos, it’s time to go to class and press play!

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