Movies as a Means of Developing Conversational Skills in the Advanced Russian Language Courses

Yelaina Kripkov, University of Oregon

In many Russian language programs, advanced Russian language courses leave little time for comprehension and conversation practice in the classroom. Usually students are overwhelmed by lengthy analytical reading and/or written assignments, and by the end of the year practically lose the conversational skills achieved, for example, by the end of the third year. Introducing a movie series into the advanced language curriculum may solve the problem and further develop students' comprehension and conversational skills, without sacrificing reading and writing.

The present paper summarizes the results of research and practical application of the new methods of teaching movies in the advanced Russian language classroom.

Syllabus problems

Two years experience in teaching this course have proved that one should not base the syllabus for the advanced Russian language course (for the whole academic year) exclusively on video materials, because (1) work with movies is a non-traditional type of activity in class and students sometimes feel reluctant to do it all the time; (2) it is monotonous and therefore, tiresome; (3) not all like movies to such extent, some prefer books. The best solution is (1) to combine work on some textbook, articles, or short stories with a movie (one for each term); (2) to start with reading as a traditional type of work, then turn to a movie.

What Movie Series to Choose (Methodological Requirements)

(1) From easier to more complicated ones;
(2) movies should have something in common--tradition, actors, or message (to be recognizable), but still be different;
(3) provide valuable cultural and language material;
(4) develop all four language skills: comprehension, conversation, reading and writing.

Three movies by Eldar Riazanov prove to be a good choice: (1) "The Irony of Fate," (2) "Office Affair," and (3) "The Promised Heavens."

Why Riazanov?

(1) Riazanov is one of the most talented and popular movie directors in Russia.
(2) His basic genre is comedy, which is easier to teach and it is fun. It is typically Russian type of lyrical comedies, based on the traditions of classical Russian literature (of the Chekhovian type), sometimes with laughter through tears. They carry a humanistic message which unites all Riazanov's films. These three movies belong to Russian classics that retain its attraction for a long time.
(3) Riazanov's movies always have brilliant actors.
(4) They realistically and authentically reflect Russian culture and milieu.
(5) They widely incorporate music, songs and poetry which is by itself valuable study material and give the opportunity to discuss a movie as a piece of art.

The paper provides a thorough justification for the choice of these three particular movies, as satisfying the methodological requirements set for this course.

The second half of the presentation focuses on the problems of structuring the syllabus and on types of activities and devices of working on a movie. Although some of these devices by themselves are not new, the novelty of the method, however, is the combination and order of different types of activities:

(1) viewing the movie and answering general questions;
(2) working on the exercises in handouts and audio tapes;
(3) working on the script and language (idioms and style; students receive the script only on this stage which insures their active work on oral comprehension);
(4) role play (by memory);
(5) creative transformation of episodes and performing students' versions of the end;
(6) writing a short play on a similar topic for a contest;
(7) choosing the winner and performing the best play (mini-theater).

Activities 4-7 provide extremely intensive speaking practice.

This method is illustrated by a 7-minute mini-lesson, including a 3-minute demonstration of a fragment from "The Promised Heavens." The audience is provided with handouts of pre-view and post-view exercises and excerpts from the script.

Two years of teaching the course have proven the effectiveness of the proposed methods.