Short videos can help you practise implementing the top-down approach and develop your listening skills relatively fast.
Unlike longer videos (like TedTalks or series), the shorter ones don’t overload your working memory. It’s easier to stay focused, grasp the main idea and identify the structure of the video. At the same time, the total amount of text is workable and approachable. Potentially, you can clarify everything and drive your understanding to 100% (after watching it several times) without spending the whole day on it.
How long is a short video?
Videos that go with coursebooks are usually 2-4 min long. Research from edX says that the optimal length is up to 6 min – this is how long a student can stay engaged with the content.
Anyway, let’s say that a short video is no longer than 6 min for B2-C1, and about 3-5 min for A2-B1. A good example will be TedEd videos, BBC Ideas or BBC REEL (the shorter ones). These are also animated videos that visualise the key points, so it’ll be easier to follow them.
How to prepare for watching a short video?
In language learning, when we work on listening and reading skills, we usually go through three stages: pre-, while- and post-listening (or reading). Preparation belongs to the first and is essential. Actually, it reflects real life because we don’t watch or listen without purpose. But this stage happens very quickly in our head and we may not notice it. With language learning we need to unfold it and take advantage of it.
With the top down approach we start with gathering the information about the context and activating our general knowledge. We build on what you already know, and this is a very important step because it activates further guessing and analysing processes.
First, look at the description of the video. Very often it will have the main idea and some of the key words, which, ideally, you should know already (if you don’t, look them up). This seems to be a very simple idea, but time and again I notice how my students go directly to watching the video without even checking what it’s about.
Then I’d suggest you take a moment and answer these questions to yourself (if it’s at the lesson or with a study buddy, have a short discussion before watching):
Why did you choose this video? Why is it interesting to you? What would you like to learn from the video? What do you expect to see there?
How familiar is the topic to you? If it’s not, you’ll be facing double difficulty – new knowledge and, very likely, new language. That is a very important question. Decide for yourself where your priority lies, in the content or the language.
If you focus on developing your listening skills, of course, it will be easier to work with something you know in your first language well (or better with something you’re really interested in). On the other hand, some people (like myself) are more motivated by new knowledge and this will make them stick with the video and clarify new language. It’s a personal choice.
Will you hear any specific vocabulary or terminology? Do you know this vocab in English? Do you think you’ll recognise it? If you don’t, look up 2-3 key words. If it’s an educational video, check the glossary. You may make use of mind maps and note down your ideas quickly.
How difficult is the video going to be? If you ask yourself this several times, you may start developing intuition of what videos to choose in the future so that you both enjoy them and learn from them.
It makes sense to go through these questions slowly and thoroughly with a couple of videos to try to break the habit of watching something without preparation. Later and with practice the answers to the questions above may just flash in your mind in a matter of seconds, but still they’ll set the scene for more productive time spent.
Do you want to practise? Choose a video and make notes of your answers in the comments! ☺️