Inspiring Innovation: Berkeley Language Center's Library of Foreign Language Film Clips

July 1, 2017

Screenshot of Berkeley Language Center Library of Foreign Language Film Clips

Trying to pronounce the Library of Foreign Language Film Clips (LFLFC) can be as much a tongue-twister as learning to speak some of the words in its movies. In fact, when we sat down with Mark Kaiser, associate director of the Berkeley Language Center (BLC) and project director for the LFLFC, he joked right away about "too many Ls and too many Fs" and mentioned that the name will be shortened to the Library of Film Clips (LFC) in a (soon-to-come) future update.

Regardless of the name, the LFLFC is a powerful and innovative online tool, produced by the Berkeley Language Center in partnership with the Library Media Resources Center, that is becoming an integral part of foreign language curriculums across the Berkeley campus and at more than 70 other institutions around the country. To date, the LFLFC contains around 30,000 films and clips belonging to the university, which have been digitized and annotated for foreign language teaching.

According to Kaiser, the idea for an online library of foreign language films for use in a classroom came to him when several lecturers approached him separately for help creating film clips for use as a learning tool. Across various disciplines and dialects, he realized that film has the incredible potential to help students emulate “authentic” language. In particular, using films whose intended audience is a speaker of that language--rather than media created specifically for foreign-language instruction--helps students grasp the full cultural weight of a language in its natural environment.

Headshot of Mark Kaiser, Associate Director, Berkeley Language Center

The technology behind the LFLFC is simple enough: a DVD owned by the Library is “ripped” and packaged into a file format that allows it to be stored in a database, edited into short clips averaging two minutes in length, tagged with the spoken vocabulary and terms describing the linguistic, cultural and discourse content, and streamed. Instructors can add annotations, assignment instructions, notes for other instructors or entire lesson plans, and they can use existing clips or create their own--all in the same seamless tool. The result is an annotated video that allows students to study at home, practice their pronunciation, and do close media analysis. Among other innovations, the technology allows students the option to, for example, rewind a segment and slow it down by 50% without affecting the pitch. 

Kaiser notes that at Berkeley especially, a foreign language class goes beyond learning verb conjugations and how to get around on public transportation. Truly learning a language requires immersion and an exploration of the cultural values and the cultural weight behind the words. With the LFLFC, not only can students experience a language in an authentic setting as it was intended for native speakers, but even scenes with no dialogue, like a car chase, can be used to practice describing motion and direction. In fact, the LFLFC is often just the starting point for many creative, pedagogically rich assignments. For example, Kaiser mentions one instructor of Japanese who assigned students to not only watch a particular clip but rewrite the scene with themselves in it. Kaiser points out that encouraging students to imagine themselves as part of a culture and language helps foster the integration that is necessary for mastery of that language.

The potential uses for the clips extend far beyond practicing and learning a foreign language. For international students, a film in English could be uploaded and processed to help students in a Reading & Composition course. Several faculty teaching film studies and American Cultures courses are already experimenting with different uses of the tool for their own purposes. In fact, the diversity of interest in the LFLFC is creating challenges as well as opportunities. Many of the "native" features originally built into the tool (for example, filtering users by language or requiring vocabulary terms to be added to clips) don't make sense for other fields of study. For American Cultures in particular, sharing clips and assignment prompts across multiple courses and disciplines is especially appealing. (American Cultures instructors may be eligible for a $250 grant to learn how to use the tool and identify clips for inclusion in the Critical Race Sociocultural Media Literacy Collection.)

Library of Foreign Language Film Clips journey mapping workshop February 1, 2017In February, 2017, the AIS collaborated with Kaiser and with Gisele Tanasse, head of the Library Media Resources Center, to host a workshop for users to give feedback and suggestions for new iterations of the LFLFC. More than 25 instructors attended and completed journey maps outlining ways they incorporate the LFLFC into their teaching, which were used by the BLC development team to help shape the LFLFC future road map.

When asked where he sees the LFLFC headed, Kaiser responds that the next release, slated for January 2018, will include a form of social interface for students to engage with the content. Currently, instructors design the interaction and students consume the clips in a one-way fashion. Eventually Kaiser foresees an option for students to directly add comments to the films as a second-tier interaction. The instructor may choose to make these interactions visible to the rest of the class to spark dialogue or keep them hidden for evaluation purposes. The new version of the tool will also include features that acknowledge the expanded user base, including separate tabs to facilitate discussion of a film in multiple languages and a vocabulary of common film terms and cinematography techniques.

More than its cutting-edge technology, what's particularly exciting to see is how the LFLFC continues to evolve through collaboration and in response to new pedagogical applications. The uses are truly endless, and it is one more example of technology and pedagogy supporting each other through innovation here on campus. Mark ended our conversation by remarking that even the most cutting edge tools need the instructor to guide students through the cultural moments. We look forward to seeing how this tool offers instructors and students across many different disciplines new opportunities to enhance teaching and learning.

For more information about the Berkeley Language Center's Library of Foreign Language Film Clips, please visit the website.

About the Inspiring Innovation Series

The AIS and its partners celebrate collaboration, innovation, and creativity in teaching and research. This series will highlight campus and external experts, and share experiences and ideas about teaching and research technology, pedagogy, and more.

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