Blog Post

The Uses of Popular Culture in the Language Classroom

In my research as well as in my teaching in the area of Film Studies I have always combined a ‘traditional’ approach based on film historiography and film theory with a broader perspective influenced by cultural studies. Among the many reasons that guided this choice, one specifically is directly related to the topic of this group: while cinema can certainly be studied as a specific sector of the arts and the media industries, it can also be seen as only one of the many components of popular culture, which, today, means that cinema is just one aspect of the global & digital popular culture.

Popular culture constitutes perhaps the most relevant cultural background with which most people live in the contemporary era. Whether “good” or “bad”, “interesting” or “boring”, “politically committed” or “escapist”, the point is simply that popular culture is a subject most individuals (first of all: our students) are familiar and engage with in their everyday life. Approaching film culture from the perspective of popular cinema is thus a good way to look at its historical and social aspects, and it is certainly a good way stimulate a critical approach in our students towards cinema as an aesthetic, economic, cultural and political phenomenon.

For these reasons, while not having been a language teacher, I would be tempted to think that studies in popular cinema, and popular culture in general, might be useful for the teachers of foreign language and cultures. Looking for studies on this subject I found a few articles on this subject that are freely available on the Web:

P., ‘Using Popular Culture in Language Teaching.’ The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, Ed. Carol A. Chapelle, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell 2013:  

Cheung, Chi-Kim. “The Use of Popular Culture as a Stimulus to Motivate Secondary Students’ English Learning in Hong Kong,” ELT Journal, 55:1, January 2001:

N. Fukunaga, “‘Those Anime Students:’ Foreing Language Literacy Through Japanese Popular Culture,” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 50:30, Nov. 2006:  

To launch the discussion between Film and Media scholars and language teachers, I would thus like to ask you to consider the following questions:

Do you use popular culture in your language classroom?

How do you use these materials in relation to the ‘proper’ language teaching?

What digital/online sources do you use?

Do you know of any digital/online language tools specifically focused on popular culture?

(How) Do you use these sources and tools for assessment?





I often wonder why we, as langauge instructors, use materials that are so far removed from the reality of life in the target culture and are not of any relevance whatsoever to our students.  Students will interact with the 21st-Century version of the target culture and not the 17th-Century version of it.  Now, it should stand to say that there is nothing wrong with the 17th-Century, but we must realize that the 21st-Century version of the target culture is considerably more relevant to a student.

So, to answer your question, popular, modern culture is the MOST important element to use in a language classroom.  

An important element of language teaching is to present materials that are for daily use in the target culture itself-- hence any materials that are used by members of the target culture are relevant here, from trashy (non-intellectual) gossip magazines, to romance novels, wikipedia, soap operas, popular film, etc.  I would gander that the Spanish-language Wikipedia page gets more daily hits than "Digital Don Quijote."  Once again, there's nothing wrong with Digital Don Quijote.  


Yes I think popular culture is amazingly effective in the foreign language classroom. Even for my medieval literature classes, I like to use popular films to talk about how they reflect the period. Is it our popular culture of today that they reflect or popular culture of the time? Or both? Not only do students respond well to these films that they've already seen or heard of, I myself find them more interesting that many materials!

In other language classes I use film to stimulate discussion. I find language materials mostly on YouTube or purchased DVDs.

I would be interested in hearing how others use materials for assessment. I can certainly imagine playing a clip of a movie (a real one, not from the textbook company!) and asking conprehension questions, but I haven't personally done that.


Now that I am about to graduate with a MA in Popular Culture (from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio) I can safely say that since students are constantly consuming, participating, and regurgitating aspects of popular culture, that implementing examples of PopC in the language classroom is largely beneficial. It provides the opportunity for students to make further connections with the various cultures found within the target countries (and therefore the language) that they otherwise would not necessarily know about. Granted, many text books include examples of popular culture in the curriculum, I think there's something to be said about bringing in other examples of PopC that might be considered more accessible and relatable to the students.

From my own experience, I have tried to use examples of social media that I know my students actively participate in. Using Twitter and websites connected with magazines and/or newspapers is something that I have found really engages students in not only an insight of seeing how other cultures go about using the same social media that my students do, but also in how to navigate these websites and possibly actively participate in these cultures, even if they do so as a so-called "outsider." I have also experimented with creating a type of online scavenger-hunt activity that my students had to complete, calling them to find a website that had to do with cultural events (concerts, performances, book releases, etc.) or cultural consumption (magazines, films, newspapers, etc.) and answer a series of questions that could only be completed by actually navigating the website(s) that they selected for the task. I recall needing to help a few students out in to complete this assignment (mostly to just get they headed in the right direction, or help them search for websites), but it was an assignment that I had given them 2 weeks to complete so they could take their time to go through various websites and see what interested them. At the end of this assignment, I had my students present the website(s) and the results of their scavenger hunt to the class, actually showing the website to their classmates and allowing the other students to see more examples of popular culture within the target language. I found this assignment to be very successful and I was happy to see that those who weren't presenting at the time would write down the website names to possibly check out later (which I hope they actually did).

Also, in teaching an Introduction to Popular Culture-class, I also tested out implimenting a graded component of the course that was simply posting a topic of discussion on the class' assigned Blackboard-page forum. I would assign 2-3 students per week to post topics of discussion and also assign 3+ students to respond to the proposed topics each week. I gave my students the freedom to post about whatever cultural topic they wished, so long as it initiated extended responses (3-4+ sentences of discussion). While my grading-approach to this was purely pass/fail (complete/incomplete), I asked my students at the end of the semester if they felt as though they enjoyed this component of the course. 90%+ said that they did. Granted, this was not a language course, I can see no reason why students in a language course would not enjoy it just as much as those who weren't in a language course did (if not more so).