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Modern languages starts movie nights

Posted on 09.25.2013

The modern languages department is presenting a foreign film every two weeks, rotating among films in French, German and Spanish.
Assistant Professor of French Peter Vakunta said that he spearheaded this project with the support of other professors in the department.
“I picked the brains of my colleagues and said, well, why don’t we use movies as an immersion strategy and perhaps have students come and see films that are target language oriented, so they can get themselves immersed in the target language cultures? They [my colleagues] welcomed and were very receptive to my proposal,” he said.
The first movie night was held on Sept. 12, featuring the 1988 film “Chocolat” by Claire Denis—not the “Chocolat” with Johnny Depp. The film explores the problems with colonialism. Vakunta asked questions before and after the movie to help students think about what they saw.
Vakunta said that he chose this movie not only because it is set in his birthplace, Cameroon, but because it demonstrates how many dialects of French exist.
“The standard French in that movie has been appropriated and Africanized. But having said that, I think we’re going to have a good mix of films from France, from Belgium, from francophone Canada, from francophone Caribbean,”  he said. “… So we’re going to be having a mix of films from throughout the francophone world.”
Freshman undecided major Amy Siegel attended the viewing. She said that the movie nights are a great idea because exposing students to different cultures discourages ethnocentrism.
“My favorite part was being introduced to the culture of a different francophone country,” she said. “We discussed these culture differences in more length after the film as well.”
She also enjoyed watching a French movie with other students, but she would like the event to expand.
“I definitely want to see more people coming and students of several languages,” she said.
According to Vakunta, getting students to experience as many languages and cultures as possible is the point of showing the films. The next movie, on Sept. 26, will be the German film “Die Fremde,” followed by the Spanish film “Como Agua para Chocolate” on Oct. 10.
“The vision is that this should be a trilingual, multi-lingual kind of learning initiative where students taking other languages, or even students that are not taking languages during a particular semester, can still come,” he said. “… My suggestion is that each movie should have subtitles. So even if you’re not a Spanish student, you can come and watch the movie with the aid of subtitles and understand the movie.”
Vakunta said that he has plenty of experience teaching through immersion. Before coming to UIndy this year, he taught military personnel from different branches at the Defense Language Institute in California. He said that his students there had intrinsic motivation to learn, because it was required for their jobs.
“It’s a different setup here, and I like the fact that I’m grooming linguists right now from square one,” he said. “And they need to know why they need to learn languages.”


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