We all love movies, but we don’t always have enough time to watch them!
After all, they’re typically an hour and a half long.
That’s a lot of time!
You might have other important things to do.
Or maybe listening to English for an hour and a half seems like a lot of work because you get lost trying to understand everything the characters are saying.
Learning English with short movies might be the perfect solution for you.
This post is all about short movies and how you can use them to improve your English skills.
What Are Short Movies?
First, let’s make sure that we understand what we’re talking about.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines short films as motion pictures, or movies, that are 40 minutes long or less. In other words, they’re videos or a series of images shown together to tell a story. Short movies are also called “shorts” or “short films.”
Short movies come in all shapes and sizes: commercials, movie trailers, music videos, animated stories or stories made into a movie. Short movies are a form of art that permits the artist to communicate many things in a short amount of time, using dialogue, music, images and sounds.
Why Learn English with Short Movies?
They’re quick and productive.
Like learning English with YouTube videos, you can start and stop a short movie at any time you like. And because they’re short, they’re a great way to practice listening and thinking in English, even if you don’t have a lot of time to study.
If you’re tired of the TV series you’ve been watching for months now or if full-length feature films are too long to hold your attention, short movies are a great way to practice English without having to spend too much time (or energy) doing so.
In fact, short films are great for learning a lot of new vocabulary words and phrases in a short amount of time. Just check out the following video on FluentU’s YouTube channel. It uses a movie trailer from a film featuring actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and the video’s instructor leads us through all of FluentU’s awesome features for learning vocabulary to learn English with short films and movies.
You’ll practice authentic, creative English.
Kieran Donaghy, an English teacher who runs the site Film-English.com, encourages the use of short movies in language classrooms to invite creativity and creative thinking into English learning, without the need to think too much about things like grammar.
When you watch short movies, you’re learning through authentic input, which means you’re learning by using real English materials that weren’t actually intended to teach the language. Learning this way helps you learn the language more naturally, instead of always relying on a textbook.
Short movies are useful for many types of learners.
When you’re watching a short movie, you’re seeing images of objects or situations within a story that helps you remember vocabulary and grammar in a more meaningful way.
If you’re a visual learner, you can pause the short movie and try to name all the objects you see in the image. If you’re an audio learner, you can associate the music and sounds with the situation and use them to help you remember a phrase or a piece of dialogue you hear.
And if you’re encouraging your children to learn English, videos and short movies will keep their attention, especially if there’s not much dialogue.
How to Learn English with Short Movies
Just like normal, longer movies, there are many different types of short movies.
Some are silent. Some only have music and no conversation. Some have a few lines of dialogue and some have a lot of dialogue. Some are animated, some are live-action (with real actors).
Today we’ll look at a few of each of these kinds of short movies. I’ve also included vocabulary and discussion questions to help you along the way.
As you watch, try to find the vocabulary and guess the meaning of the words through context. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything. You can always pause the film to get a dictionary and look up the words to confirm their meaning (or ask a teacher if you have one).
Increase your learning by watching the movies with a language partner. Two heads are better than one, as they say, and that’s true here also. If you watch the movies with someone else, you can work together to identify the vocabulary words and discuss the questions together.
Try to think about the discussion questions as you’re watching the movie. Since the movies are short, you can always watch them once and then play them again when you’re ready to answer the questions. These short movies cover some important issues, so try answering the questions and sharing your answers.
If you’re watching the movies by yourself, you can still answer the questions. If you feel like writing, try writing a review on IMDb—or you can even start your own blog or website and write movie reviews! You can also leave comments under the video on YouTube or Vimeo, find a blog that discusses the short movie or talk about the movie in your English class or with your English-speaking friends.
FluentU is yet another incredible study tool for English students who love movies.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It even reminds you when it’s time to review! Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Get Moving! Learn English with 11 Awesome Short Movies
Short Movies with Dialogue
“The LEGO Story”
This movie tells the story of everyone’s favorite building blocks and how the company got started making LEGO toys.
Vocabulary: to dismiss, carpenter, to give up, to put an idea into action, skilled, to help out, to keep up, the highest quality, wholesaler, in big trouble, bankruptcy, to afford, to be a blast, to manage, the last batch, to make a profit, a good bargain, in stock, moral support, groundbreaking
1. What happened in the story?
2. According to the story, what does “LEGO” mean in Danish? In Latin?
3. What do they mean by a “system of play”?
4. Who’s telling the story?
5. What is the message of story?
A younger woman helps an elderly woman with her mobile phone. This short movie is a nice picture of how technology affects people and relationships across generations.
Vocabulary: to unlock your mobile, the star button, the menu button, to go to the main menu, to text, to enter your PIN, to scroll up/down, to select, to press a button, to delete or to get rid of it, to predict or to be predictive
1. Pay attention to how the younger woman gives instructions to the older woman. How would you describe using your tablet, computer or other pieces of technology to someone who didn’t know how to use them?
2. How would you describe the young woman?
3. What is the message of this movie?
“The Fear of Flying”
“The Fear of Flying” is an animated film about a bird who’s afraid of flying.
Vocabulary: to have a fear of something, heading south, to go on ahead, to end up like him/her/them
1. Why do you think Dougal (the bird) is afraid of flying?
2. What motivates Dougal to overcome his fear of flying?
3. How does he overcome his fear?
4. Do you have a fear of something? A fear of heights? A fear of water? A fear of public speaking?
5. What can you learn from Dougal about your own fears?
This video is a commercial for CBeebies, the BBC’s children’s channel. The directors of the short movie interviewed pairs of children who are friends. The filmmakers asked them about how they’re different from their friends.
Vocabulary: down the hill, up the hill, to be good at something, defender, hiking, gymnastics, swimming
1. The children use the comparative form of adjectives to answer some of the questions. (For example, “He’s got smaller toes than I do,” or “Lucy likes tomato sauce. I do like it, but not as much as Lucy does.”) What other comparisons can you find?
2. What other differences do the children mention?
3. The video is cute and funny, but why?
4. What makes you different from your family and friends?
“Blind Vaysha” is a 2017 Oscar-nominated short movie about a special young girl. She was born with one eye that only sees the past and the other eye only sees the future. It’s an animated movie, with original paintings from the director, about how her village reacts and how she lives with her eyes.
Vocabulary: adoration, sighted person, blind, affliction, to convince, a gaggle of women, to reunite, to restore, vision, to topple, to lay eyes on, nightmares, to split, abyss, void, ruins, apocalypse, disability, reassuring, preceding
1. What is the message of the movie? Do you agree or disagree with the message?
2. How did the color of the images and the music affect how you felt while you watched the movie?
Short Movies with Some Dialogue
“The Notebook” is about a boy helping his mother with the household chores.
Vocabulary: doing the cooking, vacuuming, tidying up, making the bed, walking the dog, watering the plants, sweeping, babysitting, washing the clothes, doing the washing up, ironing
1. Why is the boy helping his mother? What does he want?
2. This video is a commercial. What is the company selling? Before you saw the logo at the end, did you know it was a commercial?
3. How does the story help sell the service or product?
This short movie is about an older man learning English and the different techniques he uses to do so.
Vocabulary: sticky notes, headphones, textbooks, luggage, slippers, pajamas
1. What are some of the techniques the old man uses to learn English? Have you tried using some of them for your own learning?
2. Why is the old man learning English?
3. This short movie is also a commercial. What is the company selling? How does the story help sell the service or product?
The main character “Zero” lives in a world where people are judged by the number they have on their chest. He lives a lonely life as a person with the number “zero,” but he soon meets another “zero,” and learns how can he change his life.
Vocabulary: matter, to effect change, mediocrity, shortcomings, to get someone down, battered and bruised, unaware, belonging, notion, forbidden, to fade, infinity
1. What do you think the film is about?
2. What’s the message of the film?
3. What’s your opinion about the issues showed in the movie?
Short Movies with No Dialogue
With these short movies, it’s important that you begin thinking in English—and they can help you do it! As you watch the movie, look at the images and try to name all the nouns you see or describe the events that are happening.
Because there’s no dialogue, try to write your own conversations after you watch the movie. Better yet, you can speak the dialogue you invent as you watch the movie! Even though these movies use mostly music to move the story along, the messages are still strong. If there are characters, what do you think they would say if they were speaking? How would you describe them?
This short movie is an animated movie about a father and son going through their daily routines while living in a city.
Vocabulary: to get ready for school/work, to go to school/work, schedules, desk, typewriter, clock, crayon, paper, backpack, briefcase, alike
1. What does the word “alike” mean? Does it have a different meaning in the context of this movie?
2. Why do you think the film is called “Alike”?
3. What adjectives would you use to describe the boy? The father?
4. How are the father and son alike? How are they different?
5. What is the message of the film? Do you agree or disagree?
“When I Grow Up”
This quick and fun animated short movie is about a girl who’s thinking about all the different careers and professions she could pursue when she’s older and has to decide.
Vocabulary: the phrase “when I grow up,” nurse, doctor, soldier, astronaut, deliveryman/woman, firefighter, teacher, ballerina, lawyer, judge, fast food worker, ice cream man/woman
1. How many jobs did you see in the video?
2. “When I grow up” is a phrase taught to children to describe what dreams they might have or professions they hope to pursue when they’re adults. When you were a child, what did you hope to be when you grew up? Why?
3. What is the message of the film? Why is it called “When I Grow Up”?
“Paris / New York”
In this video, images of Paris and New York are shown side-by-side, or next to each other. It’s a video about life in both cities and what the food, transportation, people, culture and views are like.
Vocabulary: bridge, neon lights, graffiti, metro/subway, cuisine, diversity, historic, skyscrapers, skyline, to-go/take-away cups, cocktails
1. This video is a nice comparison of the two cities. What adjectives would you use to describe Paris? New York?
2. Based on the video, how are they alike or similar? How are they different?
3. “Paris / New York” is also a commercial. Like the other commercials we’ve seen, before you saw the logo and advertisement at the end, what did you think the company was selling? How does the story help sell the service or product?
Interested in More Short Movies? Check Out These Resources.
If you’re interested in watching more short movies—or just like movies in general—here are some resources to help you find more of them. Many of the links on the sites below only let you see trailers or short clips of the movies, but that can point you in the right direction and give you ideas of new movies to check out.
Pixar is famous for including their short movies at the beginning of their more well-known, full-length feature films. Many of their longer movies started as shorts. Pixar is quite proud of the short movies they make, so they’ve given the public a place to find out more information and view some of them. They’re fun to watch and often have characters you might already know from their full-length movies.
Oscar-Nominated Short Movies
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences highlights their favorite short movies every year during their annual awards show (famously called “The Oscars”). These shorts are praised for their innovation, and they demonstrate how short movies can be used in new and exciting ways to make art.
Short of the Week
Short of the Week is a website that highlights recent short movies from independent filmmakers. As the name indicates, there’s a new short movie posted to the website every week. So if you’re really interested in shorts, this is a great resource to follow to keep up with the industry.
Short movies are an entertaining way to take a break from your normal English learning routine. They also present you with new ideas and ways of thinking. While you’re practicing listening and thinking in English, short movies also encourage you to explore the more creative parts of yourself. Short movies can even teach you more than you had expected if you just keep your mind open to the possibilities.
Teresa Mupas is an EFL teacher currently living and working in Galicia, Spain. She has also taught English in central Thailand and the United States. You can follow her on her travels here.
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