Video materials for teaching English as a global language.  Language & Communication Review: A STETS Publication, 2, 15-19, 1997.


Video Materials for Teaching English as a Global Language

Johanna E. Katchen





According to Kachru (1996), most nonnative speaker use of English takes place with other nonnative speakers.  Within East Asia, we see examples of this every day in business, government, and professional contacts with Europeans, South Americans, and other Asians.  Students are generally taught toward a standard variety in the classroom, a useful approach if they are to be understood by the outside world.  But successful communication also requires good listening skills; higher level students in particular may need to be able to comprehend, in their future workplaces, other varieties of spoken English.


Material for teaching about world Englishes comes into many of our homes every day via the television set.  News and information programs in particular introduce us to people from all over the world, speaking in English—politicians, scientists, businessmen.  In this paper, we survey some of the better sources of these television materials and present three examples to illustrate how these materials be exploited both to teach listening skills and also to teach about the linguistic characteristics of regional and other native and nonnative varieties of English.   A by-product of such an approach is increased respect for and pride in local varieties of English.




Admission to university in Taiwan, as in other East Asian countries, is determined by scores on the dreaded Joint College Entrance Examination (JCEE).  It often seems that all education up to this point revolves around this one, all-important test.  In recent years other methods of university admission have been introduced, mainly special admission for students showing exceptionally high ability in certain subject areas, but so far, these only cover  small percentage of students.  In 1997 approximately 61% of JCEE test takers gained university admission (The China Post, July 4, 1997), up from about 33% ten years ago. Nevertheless, demand may always exceed supply; therefore, some means of selection must be used, and the JCEE is fair in this respect.


Whenever a test is so all-important, the determinant of whether a person will be successful in life or not, it is natural to expect that teaching will be geared to passing the test, most especially at the senior high school level.  How can tens of thousands of students be tested and graded quickly and efficiently?  By blackening a square on a computerized form.  Language skills lending themselves most readily to this treatment are vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension.  Listening could also be tested this way by radio broadcast over a special frequency, but so far we have not adopted this method.  We do have sections on our exam for a short translation and a short composition.  In this computer age, we will most likely see great changes in the examination system in the near future enabling us to test language skills of large groups more thoroughly and comprehensively.


Now, however, our university students are still primarily the products of the traditional exam system.  That is they may be adequate readers and be able to recite grammar rules.  Reading in English, of course, may be the most useful language skill for the typical university student.  National Tsing Hua University, for example, is primarily a science and engineering school and about 80% of the students are male.  In the life of a typical undergraduate, other than struggling through the required Freshman English, his professors lecture to him in Chinese, he takes exams in Chinese, he writes his reports in Chinese, but he may have to consult some reference materials in English, in the library or on the web. If he goes on to graduate school here, he may attend classes given by visiting professors from various parts of the world—the USA, Russia, India, Austria, France, all lecturing in English.  Here listening is crucial.  Toward the end of his Ph.D. study, his professor may encourage him to present a research paper at an international conference.  Here writing and speaking are brought into play.


Students in Taiwan prefer and are taught the American variety of English.  Historically this makes some sense.  After World War II, the United States helped build up Taiwan against the communist Mainland and maintained military bases in Taiwan.  Even after the US established formal ties with the Mainland, Taiwan and the US remained good friends.  For many years Taiwan topped the list of number of foreign students studying in US universities.  The US is still a popular destination for those emigrating from Taiwan; many of the students have relatives or at least friends in the US or Canada.


Increasingly, Taiwan’s students are discovering advanced educational opportunities in Britain, Australia, and non-English speaking countries.  More importantly, Taiwan’s business connections, already strong, are strengthening even more, resulting in more foreign companies locating in Taiwan and more local business people travelling abroad for commercial purposes.  In these cases, the lingua franca is almost always English.  This means Chinese need to use English to communicate with Europeans, Africans, Central and South Americans, an even other Asians.


Communication involves more than speaking; we must listen to and comprehend what the other person is saying.  That is, anyone working in a profession in Taiwan today who has to deal with non-Chinese may find him/herself struggling with other nonnative speakers of English.  This is the reality, not only in Taiwan but in many parts of the word today.


Most of us teaching English believe that knowing how to use English will be useful to our students sometime in the future, that it will be an asset to their professional lives.  Of course, we must teach them a recognized standard so that they can communicate with the outside world.  At the very minimum, they have to be able to read standard English in order to receive and process all the information available today, from directions on consumer products to the world wide web.  Writing and speaking abilities--in an acceptable standard--may also be needed for a number of professions, from business to service industries.  Written material, by definition, tends to be more formal, although one can find less formal styles of novels and screen plays.  The so-called active or production skills we teach--speaking and writing--should be toward a standard so that our students will be comprehensible to the widest possible audience. We should not fear producing little native speakers who lose their L1 cultures.  Most of us know from experience that no matter how hard we try, the speaking and writing skills of the majority of our students would never be mistaken as coming from native speakers.


Sources of Materials


There are some materials made for teaching linguistics that have selections of varieties of English.  The best known may be The Story of English, a set of nine videotapes, each 50 - 55 minutes long, with a text to go with it.  There are explanations of the development, along with spoken examples, of all sorts of varieties of English, from RP, Cockney, Black American English, Irish English to Australian, West African, Jamaican, and Indian varieties.  For the teacher just starting out, the series is useful for providing speech samples in addition to teaching some basic linguistic principles.  It’s linguistics for the native speaker non-specialist.


For American English, American Tongues (55 minutes) provides good examples of various regional and ethnic varieties as well as discussion on advantages/disadvantages of using standard of nonstandard varieties.  The BBC documentary Talking Proper, although it does not provide a survey of British dialects nevertheless provides some examples of some nonstandard varieties and discussion of standard/nonstandard use in the British context.


CNN International.  This is only one of the CNN family of stations and it is not available in the US; it has a more international focus than the US domestic CNN stations do.  That means we get more world news stories and more opportunities to hear speakers of English, both native and nonnative, from all over the world.  Here in Asia we can also see special news programmes about Asian issues, such as the morning and evening Asian news from CNN’s Hong Kong studio, and a half-hour Inside Asia on weekends.  These stories with a focus on Asia cover political, economic, and other areas of interest, such as reports from entertainment, sports, medical fields.


Another programme where one can hear nonnative speakers using English well is World Report; here reporters from various countries report on cultural, environmental, educational, or other issues in their part of the world.  While these stories are not breaking news, they are nevertheless potentially interesting because of their deeper analysis of topics not normally covered in faster-paced reporting.


Despite CNN’s normally political and economic focus, it does provide other types of information programming--travel, style, computers, and other topics, especially on weekends.  One can hear all sorts of Englishes, from politicians to other professionals, in documentary-type shows, special focus shows, and even from the interviews of Larry King Live. CNN International is available through some cable companies.


BBC World (formerly known as the BBC World Service).  This station has not been available in Taiwan since April 1994, when STAR-TV discontinued broadcast.  It is available in some other East Asian countries, such as Hong Kong and Japan.  It has all the advantages of CNN International, but with a British perspective.  In addition to news, it includes a selection of the high-quality BBC documentaries.  Depending on programmes, it offers a chance to hear regional and social British varieties; Irish, Welsh, and Scottish varieties as well as several international varieties.


ABN--Asia Business News.  This station comes out of both Hong Kong and Singapore and is completely home grown.  Most programmes are in English; a few are in Mandarin.  The presenters are or speak as well as native speakers of British or American standards, but they are Asians.  Other speakers (guests, reporters, interviewees) are from all over Asia and even sometimes other parts of the world; most command English well enough to use it effectively in their respective fields but are definitely not native speakers.  Thus these are good role models for our students--they show how good English skills can help one in one’s career.


Topics are primarily related to the business field, but here aspects of politics, technology, the environment, and other areas are also covered as relevant. Female students tend not to be interested in business topics; however specific stories or programmes can be made interesting to students if we use appropriate preteaching activities.  A half-hour programme on pros and cons of getting an MBA (from Money Talks) proved quite interesting to our predominantly female class in Advanced Listening. ABN is available through some cable companies. 


NHK BS-1.  This station, from Japan public television and broadcast by satellite, provides both news and sports programming.  News programmes relayed from other countries are rebroadcast weekday mornings and late in the evening.  The majority of these are delayed a few hours and then rebroadcast bilingually; we can listen in the original language or in Japanese by the flip of a switch.  Thus language learners of French German, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese, Cantonese, as well as Mandarin, Japanese, and English have a great daily resource for listening practice.  For English varieties, one can find daily American (CNN domestic (Headline News) and ABC World News Tonight), British (BBC domestic), also selected stories  from nightly news programmes from Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines.  It also provides other documentary or interview-type programmes produced by NHK Tokyo, sometimes in English.  One especially interesting interview was conducted in 1991 by a Japanese professor of literature from Tokyo University with Umberto Eco, the Italian semioticist most well-known for his novel The Name of the Rose.  One is a NS of Japanese, the other a NS of Italian; the interview was conducted in English.  NHK Satellite TV is available in Taiwan by satellite TV only.


STAR-World.  This is one of the stations of the STAR-TV Network, which is broadcast out of Hong Kong to most of Asia.  It provides entertainment programs—situation comedies, soaps, dramas, mysteries, cartoons, all in English.  This station is a good source of material for two reasons:  (1) it carries American, British, and Australian programmes and, depending on the programme, one can find plenty of examples of standard varieties and, in many cases, regional or nonstandard varieties; (2) students enjoy sitcoms and cartoons in particular, genres which are short enough to be used in a one or two-hour class.  For example, sitcoms typically run 20-22 minutes without commercials; a typical two-hour class allows time to do different activities with different scenes and to repeat scenes for checking. (See Stempleski & Tomalin, 1990; Katchen, 1996; and many others for ideas on developing activities for these genres.)  STAR-World is available in Taiwan by satellite dish or through some cable TV companies.




Numerous articles have appeared on how to use video with movies, television programmes, and other types of films.  The reader is referred to Katchen, 1996 for more detail on developing activities for news stories, documentaries, interviews, and other information programmes which are discussed in this paper.  Basically, video can be used for listening practice, for observation of nonverbal and cultural behavior, as a springboard for speaking and writing activities, and, of course, for learning something from the content presented on the video.  The teacher needs some practice in matching activities to the type of video, to the way the video presents the material, to the age and language level of the students, to the objectives of the course, and so on.  Here we discuss three video clips, which the author has used in her classes; some of the actual activities used are presented in the Appendix.


Excerpt 1--from Inside Asia, CNN International.  The story selected concerned a man in India who had found a way to turn garbage into fertilizer and was making a profit from his business.  It was used in the course Advanced Listening and, that semester, the students were using, outside of class, Earth Watch, a book and video set in the 5-part series ABC News Intermediate ESL Video Library (Stempleski, 1994).  Since the out-of-class theme was environmental issues, I occasionally used related stories in class.  The units in the text concerned environmental issues in The United States; this story was about Asia, India in particular.  Moreover, the narrator was the CNN India Bureau chief at the time, Ashis Ray; he spoke Standard English with a few features of Indian English pronunciation.  The man interviewed for just a few seconds exhibited stronger features of Indian English.  Thus I felt the story was appropriate for expanding students’ listening without being too difficult.  Activities used were True/False questions as comprehension check and a cloze to have students listen in detail.


Excerpt 2--from Money Talks, Asia Business News.  The topic of the episode chosen was the pros and cons of getting an MBA.  I had anticipated, correctly as it turned out, that our students would be interested in this topic, since in the past some of our English major graduates have gone on to pursue MBAs in the United States.  We began with some discussion questions on what the students already knew about MBAs and the degree’s usefulness.  We then used this 24 minute video for practice in note taking.  Students were instructed to outline and take notes as they watched the video.  Afterwards, students were asked what information they heard.  We also introduced some key vocabulary terms.  As always, a copy of the tape was put in the self-access lab for further review on students’ own time.  Another variation would have been to give students the questions the announcer asked, have them speculate on the answers, then ask them to listen for the answers.  Or each segment could be treated differently, as one might segment any program.  One could start with comprehension questions for the first part, do a short cloze on the next part, concentrate on vocabulary or grammar/usage on another part, for example.


The English on the tape was mixed, from the native speaker sounds of the presenters and one interviewee to the slight Indian and Hong Kong accent of the other interviewees; thus it was typical of the higher end of the kind of English students might encounter in Asian contexts.


Excerpt 3--Interview with Milos Forman from ABC News.  We began this unit with small group discussion of the pros and cons of censorship.  Afterward, students were given a list of key words and phrases for an episode of The Simpsons  on censorship, we went through the vocabulary, then we watched the video The Simpsons. In the next class, we began with questions about the movie shown on campus the previous weekend, The People Versus Larry Flynt, asked students who had seen the film to describe it, then asked what they knew of the director, Milos Forman.  We watched the lead-in to the interview--approximately two minutes summarizing the film and Forman’s life--and answered some comprehension questions.  We then reviewed some vocabulary items and phrases that appeared in the interview.  We watched the interview (about four minutes) and then students completed a cloze.  As we slowly went through the cloze, we listened for any special features of pronunciation (stronger [h], trilled [r], fuller vowels, unaspirated voiceless stops).


Forman was born and raised in what is now the Czech Republic and moved to the US in 1968.  He is an educated speaker of English but he does exhibit interference in pronunciation from his native language.  This is just the sort of speaker our students might encounter: someone who uses the vocabulary and grammar of English quite well but still has a noticeable accent.


Concluding Remarks


If we would like to expose our students to the kinds of speaking in English they may hear in the workplace, we need to find suitable materials.  These are not generally commercially available but must be gathered from real life situations.  Fortunately, with the growth of cable television in East Asia, we have many resources for gathering samples of native and nonnative varieties of English, on topics most often related to politics, business, the economy, the environment.  These materials, however, do not just come to us.  The teacher must know what is available on local television, listen for announcements of programmes that might be useful and of interest to students, and be ready with her VRC and blank videotapes to record.  After this, appropriate teaching activities must be developed.  Nevertheless, the teacher may find that, after showing students in class that a particular variety of English can be comprehended, students may be more willing to try to listen to speakers or television programmes on their own time to improve their listening skills.


Materials Cited


American tongues.  1987.  New York:  Center for New American Media. (Videotape, 56 minutes.)

-----.  (1997) .  Over 61% will pass college exam: official.  The China Post.  July 4, 1997, p. 20.

Kachru, B.  1996.  Opening borders with world Englishes: Theory in the classroom.     Paper presented at the 22nd  International Conference of the Japan Association for Language Teaching, Hiroshima.

Katchen, J.E.  1996.  Using authentic video in English language teaching: Tips for Taiwan’s teachers.  Taipei:  The Crane Publishing Company, Ltd.

Stempleski, S.  1994.  Earth watch.  ABC News Intermediate ESL Video Library.  Prentice Hall Regents.  (60 minute videotape with accompanying workbook)

Stempleski, S., & Tomalin, B.  (1990).  Video in action.  Prentice-Hall.

The story of English.  1986.  BBC Enterprises Ltd.  (Nine videotapes, 55 minutes each.)

Talking proper.  1985.  BBC.  (Videotape, 35 minutes.)








     True/False.  As you listen to the story, mark the following statements T or F.


            _____              Ganesha is 36 years old.

            _____              Ganesha doesn't like being called garbage king.

            _____              So far, Ganesha is not making much money in his business.

            _____              Organic manure is cheaper than chemical fertilizers.

            _____              We can infer that it takes about 60 tons of garbage to produce 15 tons of                                      organic manure.

            _____              Chemical fertilizers are better for growing coffee or tea.

            _____              Chemical fertilizers can damage top soil.

            _____              Organic manure is good for the environment.

            _____              Earthworms are the only living organisms used in converting garbage to                                            manure.

            _____              The reporter implies that people are more likely to do something if they can                                    get some benefit at the same time.



Word Study

Notice the following:   organic/inorganic     degradable/non-degradable

What is a baron?  a trash baron?  Can you name any media barons?

What does it mean to cash in on something?           

     (a) get money from a bank;        (b) make money from;     (c) spend money

Where do you think agro wastes come from?

It's easy to guess the general location of top soil, but why is it different from other soil?

Notice the stress on cashing in on it, laboratory, top soil.

Notice the form environment friendly, whereas Americans would use environmentally friendly.






Pre-Viewing Discussion Questions

What do you plan to do after you graduate?  Is a degree in English enough?

Would you like to go into business?  Get an MBA?  What does it stand for?

What skills could you learn from an MBA?  What will it enable you to do?

Where would you go to get an MBA?  How would you choose a school?

How much will it cost?  How much time will it take? 

Do you need any special preparation?  What criteria do schools use in choosing students?






Discussion Questions

There is a lot of talk right now about a moral decline in Taiwan society and what should be done about it.  Does censorship have a role? 

What should be censored?  Why? 

Who would decide?  How? 

What would be protected?  What would be lost? 

Who would gain?  Who would lose?

Do individuals like us have any responsibility?  What can we do?

Can one person make a difference?



Pre-Viewing Questions

Did you go to the movies this past weekend?   What did you see?

Did anyone see “The People vs. Larry Flynt”?  How was it?  What was it about? 

Do you think it’s a good film?  Why?

Is the film popular in the US?

Who is Larry Flynt?  What is he known for? 

Who is Gloria Steinham?  What do you think she would say about the film?

Do you know who directed the film?  Is he known for any other films?  Which films?

Do you know anything about his life?  Where is he from?  Where does he live?

Why do you think he chose this theme? 




box office                                        biggest grossing film                             critical acclaim

scathing column                               sanitize                                                 manipulate

sexual fascist                                   open the door  a crack                          Boccacchio

Michelangelo                                   Dennis Rodman                                   Jessie Helms

let a genie out of the bottle               have misgivings                                     protagonist

ambiguous character                        to ennoble someone                              perpetrator     

take something for granted               First Amendment                                  totalitarian regime

devastating effect                            run amok, run rampant                          civil liberties



Questions After Viewing Pre-Interview Information

How does Steinham feel about the film?

Where did Forman grow up?  What happened to his parents?

Why did he leave his home in 1968?  What did he do in 1975?

How do you think this background has affected his philosophy of life?


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