Why use video to learn English? A debate.

Here is an article that appeared in the recent magazine – The English Connection. It is in the form of an email debate between a teacher in Korea, Michael Griffin and David Deubelbeiss, the Director of Education here at EnglishCentral.  A nice read about using video to learn and teach English. Published here with permission.

Dear Michael,

With all due respect, if video killed the radio, it certainly won’t have any problem with the immobile book. The book can’t even call out for help!

I jest, but only a little. It truly is a “move over Gutenburg” moment and for language teachers video offers the amazing benefit of bringing the real world into the classroom. And hasn’t that always been the problem with the classroom? It’s an artifice, it’s not real, it’s fake and a fraud. If we must have it, at least we can make it less artificial and more valuable towards the “ambiguity” that communication forces us to deal with.

There are other profound benefits. Video can be asynchronous. Rewind it, repeat it, review it, remix it. It allows control of the input and a foothold from which learning of a language may take place.Video contextualizes. Really, video is a misnomer, I prefer the term moving pictures. We “imaginators” of the new visual realm process meaning through the eye, less the ear. Language learning will only profit by using images. Video is and should be authentic. I repeat my above refrain, with the 3 noble truths of language learning. Real, Real, Real.

Video is highly cultural. Language and culture embrace like a double helix. You can’t separate them and the best way to teach culture is through the eye (for the eye cannot see itself and thus be anthropocentric). Let’s not forget to mention the paralinguistic elements that video teaches students. Not only voice, but the body, the nuances of language.

Finally, video is cool. Yep, that’s it in a nutshell. Won’t even explain it. It’s just cool – the book, dull, grey, staid. So there you go. Join the video revolution or miss out leading your students into a whole new realm of accelerated language learning. Video IS the new text.


Dear David,

Thanks so much for the insightful and entertaining response. While I certainly appreciate much of what you have written, David, I cannot help but wonder if video is not just another passing fad that will be discarded when something cooler comes along. Were cassette tapes not once considered the future and much cooler than record players? Was audio-lingualism not once considered cooler than grammar-translation?

I think you made some important and excellent points but I am not sure if video vs. textbooks is a fair comparison. To my mind, it is video vs. not video, or more accurately, video vs. hundreds of other things. For the record, you will have a hard time getting me to say too many positive things about textbooks.

You mentioned one of the main benefits of video being the fact that it is asynchronous. Good point. Is this another reason for video to be used outside of class when students can go at their own pace and continually review and remix? What role (if any) do you see for teachers in the wake of this video revolution? Will the best teachers simply be those most adept at finding suitable clips?

You mentioned that video is and should be authentic. I hope you will say a bit more about this. I am having a hard time imagining a less authentic situation than the characters in “Friends” paying for those apartments after seemingly just drinking coffee every day. Aren’t the students’ lives much more authentic than the scripted lives that appear on television and in the movies?

Speaking of scripted, I am not sure that the dialogues we see in movies and TV actually accurately represent authentic communication that happens in the real world (as opposed to the reel world). While I will happily agree that dialogues in textbooks are infamously stilted and unnatural, I am not convinced that commercially produced video is any more natural or realistic.

You mentioned that video is highly cultural and I fully agree with this and think that video can be a great way to become familiarized with different cultures. Here I have two mainconcerns. The first is that video might not accurately portray the source culture and might help build and maintain stereotypes. My second concern is that students might feel they need to be masters of the cultures of English speaking countries when it is probably more important for them to be knowledgeable about their own cultures in this time of English as a lingua franca.

Also, what models are videos providing? Here in Korea, the native-speaker model is often unattainable. I worry that by continually measuring themselves against native speakers, students will lose confidence while using their time and energy inefficiently.

I am certainly not saying that video is bad or that it shouldn’t play a key role in certain classes. I am simply saying that video is not a panacea and that like every tool it should be scrutinized and used in a thoughtful way. Personally, I see video as a potentially useful tool but not so much more than that. Perhaps I am missing something so I hope that you will share your thoughts with me, as well as the readers of The English Connection.


Dear Michael,

“A passing fad”? Surely you jest? Don’t think in terms of “video” but in terms of images and visuality – that’s the revolution. Have you seen Chris Anderson’s TED talk about the social power of video/YouTube and how the Gutenberg revolution is waning? Video IS the new textbook and I’d bet my precious 8-track stereo on that! And for language, it just makes everything REAL and alive – something a textbook page can never do. However, I’m not big on the term “video”, but prefer “The Watching Revolution”. A recent post of mine, “Extensive Watching” (http://tinyurl.com/76ks3jp), outlines how this is really going to replace extensive reading programs and the teaching emphasis on SSR (Sustained Silent Reading).

You ask quite rightly about the role of teachers (and yes, this is where the focus should rest). You ask, “Will the best teachers simply be those most adept at finding suitable clips?” Of course, curation and materials development always make a great teacher but it is only part of the story. Video can be used in many ways other than as a hook or “engager”. I’ve written an ebook with loads of ways to use video (http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2011/06/22/the-videoteaching-revolution/) and I’d suggest, like I infer above, thinking of it as replacing the textbook. No more opening pages, or plowing through exercises – now we just use the forward and rewind buttons. So, no, good teaching is much more than choosing good video clips.

You suggest that there isn’t enough authentic video out there. Ummmm – couldn’t disagree more. There is over 35 hours of video uploaded onto YouTube every minute! The majority authentic, unproduced, unscripted and from reality’s unpredictable mouth. I’d also suggest we get over the neat distinction of authentic vs non-authentic. Fact is, a lot of our conversation, the majority of it, is very scripted. We speak in conventions using tried and true phrases. It’s a necessary part of communication and valuable to learners. I’d also bet there are a lot of second language learners reading this who learned a lot of their English through “Friends” episodes.

About culture, I agree we have to think about the local culture and local ‘Englishes” but there is already enough video being produced in this vein and rather than inhibiting, video is empowering to local expression and utterance. Video is culture neutral and I don’t buy into it being just a big cultural imperialistic tool. It’s all about how it is used. Anyone can cheaply make video nowadays, you only need a $15 phone.

I’’ll leave my rebuttal short. In brief, I think you devalue the role of video in language learning because you see it as just another interchangeable tool or delivery method. It is anything but. It is a form of disruptive media that is having all sorts of profound influences across the globe and cultures. Like moveable type, it is impacting the whole worldof learning and empowering communication in directions we can only guess at. It isn’t just another tool in a teacher’s kit, like PowerPoint or TPR. It IS the platform underlying how we will teach and learn now and in the future. We will all have to be connected and video will be that thread.



Thank you again for another thoughtful response. It seems that while we agree on quite a few points we might have to agree to disagree on others.

My concern with video and “The Watching Revolution” is teachers simply and blindly replacing one teacher-fronted tool and style of teaching with another without really considering the students or their needs and wants. I guess what I am mostly advocating is a thoughtful use of technology and materials in the classroom and not just doing things because they are cool and because we know we can do them.

You write that “Video is the new textbook”. I am sorry to tell you that this is not convincing or persuasive for me. I am not all that thrilled with the old textbook! I don’t think we need a new one. I don’t see using the forward and rewind buttons as an improvement. For that matter, I never really thought that opening the pages of textbooks was the problem. I thought that it was the inanity of the exercises and the way that they are often used.

In fact, I don’t think it is a competition between textbooks and video, but instead video vs. anything and everything else, and I still remain unconvinced that video wins this much fiercer competition.

You paint an optimistic and positive picture of the use of video for language learners and teachers. In some ways I hope you are right. I truly hope that video can help teachers and students go well beyond what they are doing and can do at the moment. Until then I will remain sceptically optimistic.

Thanks again and best of luck with the revolution.


  1. I follow closely to Michael’s perspective in regards to video. It is a great addition and can add value to the classroom, but it is not the end all and be all of teaching. Video also requires far more prep than any other tool I have ever used, and time is a precious thing. Who does the editing? I have even used TED talks as listening exercises and used in classes how to give a presentation. But not all the time. Video also allows for some students to hide from learning. It is easy as a student to disconnect yourself from learning when a video is playing. How do you control that?

    In an ideal world with no problems, and everything works flawlessly, sure video could be the silver bullet, but not in this one.


    • Wangjangnim,

      Yep, it’s all in the eating – how you use it. I think teachers will have to become more adept at using video correctly. I get hot under the collar when I hear of teachers sincerely believing they have a great lesson because they have a cool video to show that takes up 50% of class time.

      I think classrooms will have better equipment and video will work much better for instructional purposes in the near future. We have witnessed this recently with improvements in coding of video and how it does stream much better. As for class equipment – yes, make sure you have everything working well before using video. That’s a given.


  2. Lovely crossing of swords gentlemen – shame you didn’t video it 🙂

    Seriously, an interesting debate, I think maybe the issue is more one of learner coaching and support – helping learners (and teachers) learn how to make the best use of this huge resource for their learning (and facilitating/teaching) .

    To pick up on one of David’s points, I agree that extensive listening/viewing has been under-rated cf extensive reading – and I suspect it brings some of the same advantages – it just hasn’t been the topic of research yet so we don’t have the figures – but, agreeing with Mike, I don’t think the one replaces the other. The visual landscapes created in our minds by books (and I’m not talking coursebooks here – though sometimes, maybe, “even” a coursebook can sketch “a smile in your mind”) are equally – if not more – vivid and effective as the moving pictures of video – and equally motivating and engaging for language learners.

    And I agree that it isn’t an either/or issue – it’s a question of exploring how all the resources open to us can shape and support learning. And each of us – teachers and learners – will have a different take on that.


    • Ceri,

      This quote should be framed!

      it’s a question of exploring how all the resources open to us can shape and support learning. And each of us – teachers and learners – will have a different take on that.

      That said, we also have to deal with the issue of digital/visual learners. Whether you agree with this categorization or not – you can’t deny that as it becomes easier to access/use video, teachers and schools will have to “go where the game is” (to use a hunting term). For too long, it was the students that flocked to the schools because they had a kind of monopoly on knowledge. Access to books/libraries/equipment for educational purposes. Now along comes this disruptive thing that is video and that is everywhere. Schools will have to adopt video or do a much better job marketing what else they offer and the reasons they are valuable (and I do think they are valuable).

      About your notion that the book lends itself to a different experience (that is more beneficial to the learner) – I’m not sold on this. I think the mind is something very malleable and will change. I agree, a book is a “hot” medium while a video is quite “cool” to use McCluhan’s distinction. But I think this means that we will use video for different purposes than with a book.


  3. Hi again – I’m most definitely not excluding video or thinking of it as a lesser tool (and I do think extensive viewing will gather its own bank of positive research results in time) – I am very aware of the “screenagers” all around us (of all ages too) – I’m one 😉 – I love to receive and process information and experiences through moving images. The point I wanted to make about books was about fiction really – about great writers who transport us into another world and who help us paint our own moving images in our minds. I think video is a very important (and potentially powerful) component in language learning – but I don’t think we should set it up against books – the two things live side-by-side and give us different things (and if I suggested that books were more beneficial, I didn’t mean to) – that in embracing video we shouldn’t throw extensive reading and the value of books (whether on paper or on a screen) out with the proverbial bathwater.


  4. Thanks for another excellent article. The place else may anyone get that kind of info in such an ideal approach of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such information.


  5. Nice article! I personally use lots of video in my classes. I use of a mixture of videos plus the entire transcription, or the video and some comprehension questions. I can’t decide which is better though, reading the transcript is almost like cheating but the students seem very satisfied knowing that they’ve understood every word.


  6. Oh my goodness! Debate here is extremely cool!

    I’ve learned so much from it. And seriously, it brought up a lot of cool interesting points in Using video and using EC. And I can tell you that I can’t argue much about it ’cause i’m a newbie teacher and there is so much to learn. But I feel like this revolution is really gonna change things around. And I’m so into EC right now. My students love it. My teachers love it. So far all we have experienced is improvements one after the other. You should see students doing the craziest things to get a 3 month premium account on EC. They go for it, they know it’s really helpful. “Man, what sort of witchcraft is that” one of them said. I said – dude I don’t know but it certainly works fantastically!

    Well, again sorry if I made any mistakes in language, English is my second language.

    Thank you David! For me you’re like – BAAAAD dude!


    • Rinaldo,

      As always, thanks for your positive energy, enthusiasm and kind words. We really are looking forward to helping even more students in Brazil and have been making plans in that direction. Big hello to all your students and glad EnglishCentral is helping them out ….


  7. I prefer English language.I like learning English language with online video conversations http://youtu.be/aaoPI4W2LuU which can help me to speak perfect English.


  8. Hi there! I thought that I already knew this web site
    before but that become different when I went through the content you had.
    Thing is, I’m definitely pleased with your site and I will definitely bookmark it. Count me in as a regular client.


  9. Here i hope you may consider those infrastructure of English for beginners in college, having extra classes with practically done play. Keep blogging this is nice way to make your self public.


  10. Viral videos and other Youtube videos are very popular to people. There are many possibilities you can do with it, you can show MTV songs, commercials, film clips. Learners learn quickly when they hear language. I use video a lot and my students respond very well to them. I like especially TED videos.


  11. Brilliant article with valuable information.


  12. Brilliant piece of information to learn english.


  13. It is normal to say that learning something through videos remains in our brains more than learning by listening or reading. Plus, English is an international language so, there’s no need of telling the importance of learning English and to learn it properly videos are very effective as it is mentioned in Micheal’s letter. So thereby it can be said that for learning English properly we should use videos.


  14. It was an excellent debate. And if i might share a piece of my mind then i would like to say that, English being an international language, it is a must for us to be fluent in English so that we can communicate with people all around the world. So, all possible steps should be taken to make English learning easier. To learn English properly we must master these four skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking. And for better understanding, I prefer using videos.


  15. It is really a useful debate about the usage of videos in the classroom. I agree with Michael on most of the points. As he says its not about the competition between videos and textbooks. Rather it is more of videos vs other supporting material used for the teaching material. Teaching materials including videos is a thoughtful use of technology and materials in the classroom but not just doing things because they are cool and because we know we can do them. Another valid point is that Cassettes, recorders and audio-lingualism were also considered best in their times and one thing replaces the another. likewise, in future some new technology may substitute the videos.
    On the other hand I agree with David on this point that Video can be asynchronous. It allows control of the input and a foothold from which learning of a language may take place. And videos have profound influence across the world.
    In short, I would say that videos are one of the best tools for teaching methodologies, but teacher should not fully rely on videos without text books and other teaching techniques.If only videos were sufficient to get knowledge, students would not have to attend the schools.
    In a nutshell, videos are handy tools in pedagogy.


  16. Maria Ramos from Aichi Kyoiku Daigaku. says:

    Good day, my name is Maria Ramos and I would like to contribute with my opinion in regards to the use of videos when teaching a language.
    Videos are useful for:
    1. Practice pronunciation through repetition.
    2. Analyze cultural aspects from the interaction between the participants on the video.
    3. Contextualize the conversation in the proper environment.
    4. Practice listening skill.
    5. Analyze aspects such as rhythm, pauses, body language and other aspects related to the interaction between people in different scenarios.
    However, the process of learning a language requires feedback. The exposition to authentic material is worthless unless the learner applies what has learned and becomes able to produce his/her speech in different contexts.
    Some comments suggested that videos will at some point replace the teacher; however, I disagree with that. What will definitely be modified is the teacher’s role. Through the use of videos in the class, the teacher becomes the facilitator of the language instead of the powerful figure holding the power and knowledge in the class.
    Self -instruction can also be possible, nevertheless it requires a huge commitment and knowledge of learning strategies to be able to choose the proper material and studying techniques to really experience a moderate improvement in the target language.
    Finally, for rooky learners whose aim is to achieve a considerable level of competence in the target language, videos become an excellent tool when used properly and with the proper guidance from the facilitator.


  17. I basically agree with the idea of the superiority of using videos or moving pictures in language Teaching especially English to using text books. Not only that it is an anwer to the concept of paperless learning, but it also is more efficient. By using videos, students/learners are exposed better to the real usage of the language (esp videos taken naturally). Still using movies or short clip in which the language used might be less natural, they can see how intonations, and utterances are produced more vividly. These days we can find tutorials on any language by the native speaker of that language on youtube both made by professional and amateurs very easily.metimes, those tutors explain a particular accent or word choice according to a particular place where the language is spoken.
    Nevertheless, I think that we still need books in language learning as well. How to involve learners’ imagination, how to create beautiful sentences, or how to depict a situation in a pargaraph are I think could be best learned/acquired through stories or novels. And these skills are needed when it comes to write report, or other academic writings.



  1. […]  https://blog.englishcentral.com/2012/11/26/why-use-video-to-learn-english-a-debate/ […]


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