The language of cinema:
Benoît Bolduc uses films to tutor his students
BY JEFF HEINRICH, THE GAZETTE JANUARY 6, 2012
PHOTOGRAPH BY: ALLEN MCINNIS THE GAZETTE, THE GAZETTE
Tutor Benoît Bolduc (right) discusses a film with Gilles Turcot. Using a technique he developed called Ciné-Langue, Bolduc teaches English and French to his students.
Meryl Streep and Aidan Quinn are walking by the river. Streep’s character, a single mom named Roberta, tells Quinn’s character, her boyfriend Brian, that he should move in with her and her sons. “Woah, slow down here a minute, this is a little bit too much like getting married,” Brian says. “What’s so bad about that?” she asks. “Well,” he replies, ” how do you know in five years we’ll even like each other?”
The scene, from the 1999 inspirational drama Music of the Heart, plays out on a TV set in the living room of Benoît Bolduc’s tiny apartment in east-end Villeray-St. Michel-Parc Extension. It’s a few days before Christmas, and Bolduc is tutoring a student in English by watching a movie with him. Bolduc, who developed the technique more than a decade ago and also does it in French, calls it Ciné-Langue.
“OK, now we’re going to turn the subtitles off and you’re going to repeat what you hear,” Bolduc, 61, instructs his student, Gilles Turcot, a retired RadioCanada TV producer. “I’ll try,” Turcot replies, and Bolduc fiddles with the remote and brings up the same scene again. “Now, focus, pay close attention,” he tells Turcot. “I’m going to run it, there’ll be some very short clips and let’s see what you can do.”
Quinn’s character starts up again: “Woah, slow down here a minute ...” Freeze-frame. “Slow down ’ere a minute,” Turcot repeats, the ‘here’ sounding like ‘air’ in his Québécois accent. Quinn:“ ... that’s a little bit too much like getting married.” Turcot: “There’s a little bit too much. I’m getting married.” Bolduc corrects him: “THAT’s a little bit too much LIKE getting married.” “Yes, ‘like,’ ” Turcot answers, obediently.
Quinn again: “How do you know in five years we’ll even like each other?” Turcot has some trouble with that: “How do you know in five years we were again together?” “ ... we’ll even like each other,” Bolduc corrects. “Yes, something like that,” Turcot replies with a nervous laugh. He’s doing his best, but some of the expressions elude him, and he has to put them in his own words.
That’s the point of the exercise. It’s hard enough for anyone to recall whole conversations from movies, but it’s harder still if those conversations are in another language.
Bolduc watches movies with his students to get their ears attuned to the nuances of English, its vocabulary and syntax as much as its variations of accent. He engages them with the film’s story and teaches them with its words.
He got the idea years ago after a friend asked him to help him improve his English. The friend was a university professor who attended conferences outside Quebec and was often at a loss for English words, explained Bolduc, a bilingual francophone from Quebec City. They decided to watch a movie together – Gandhi, the Richard Attenborough film – and talk about it.
“We had a great time – we literally had fun – and from then on, I began to develop the method,” said Bolduc, an ebullient man with a shaved head whose eclectic tastes include folk music (he plays guitar), Eastern religions (he’s a practising Buddhist), and, of course, cinema.
He has a collection of about 275 DVDs, and uses the best 25 to teach with, the ones with a lot of dialogue, a gripping plot and what Bolduc calls “humanist values” – that is, there’s a positive moral to the story.
“A movie is like some kind of an immersion, OK? In a movie, you’ve got people, you’ve got talking, you’ve got listening, you’ve got reading and you’ve got writing, too – you know, the four functions you have to perform to learn a language,” he said before switching to French. “En français on dit ‘les habilités langagières,’ et j’utilise les quatre – just by watching a movie.”
It beats learning from a book, he said.
“First of all, with a book, there’s no pictures. You might use your imagination, but it’s never as powerful as a real picture with movement and people. That’s why a scene of a movie is going to be much more effective than just a page in a book.”
To deepen their understanding, students can re-watch a scene at home, “and if they like the actors, they don’t mind watching it over and over again.”
The method has its limitations.
“For someone who wants to learn how to write, it might not be the appropriate way,” Bolduc acknowledged.
Since starting his classes 12 years ago, Bolduc has taught more than 1,000 students – at all levels, beginner and intermediate and advanced. When a new student comes to him, Bolduc asks the person to list some favourite movies and, from that, determines his or her tastes. He then delves into his collection to find a few movies that might work. The student then makes a selection from those and the course begins.
Each class lasts 90 minutes: a bit of grammar and homework revision in the kitchen to start, then the movie in Bolduc’s cozy salon.
He sits on a chair and takes notes, his student sits on his futon sofa-bed, the movie plays on a big, old Toshiba TV. On top of the set, bracketed by two sculpted bookends, is a long row of DVDs: A Beautiful Mind, Rudy, Runaway Jury, Invictus, Stanley & Iris, Scent of a Woman, Miracle.
If the student doesn’t already own the movie and wants to borrow it to watch at home, Bolduc says OK, but with one strict condition: the student can’t skip ahead.
“They’re not allowed to go any further than where we are here – oh yes, it’s absolutely forbidden,” he said. “I don’t want to look tough, but if they do this, they’re out. I warn them from the beginning of the session: ‘You don’t do this, otherwise you spoil the whole process.’”
Turcot, 62 has been taking the course for three years. Since studying with Bolduc, “I have more confidence,” he said in English. “Of course, I worked very hard to listen (sic) English and improve my speaking, too.”
Watching movies helps his pronunciation and intonation, he added.
“When you hear good intonation, you can reproduce the same sound, so (that) you can do it without teacher and without movie.”
It’s not only a great way to learn, “it helps me to travel,” Turcot said. “I like (the) English language. It’s fun.”
To learn more and read students’ testimonials, go to Benoît Bolduc’s website at www.cine-langue.com. Or call him at 514-722-2598.
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