5 Reasons to Use Real-World Videos in Your ESL Lessons

What is a real-world video? A real-world video is a video which was not made or intended to be used for language lessons. But real-world videos paired with quality lesson plans can be a great resource for teachers, as it leads to student development, progress, and growth. Let’s dive into the reasons why.

Exposure to unfamiliar voices, accents, tones, pronunciation, & terminology

Video gives students a truly authentic learning experience. First of all, it takes them away from your voice for some time. It’s quite common that students tend to understand you better than other speakers for a number of reasons – number one being that students have adapted to the your voice, and number two being that language teachers often have to speak very clearly, simply, and slowly to their students. You probably know very well that you speak differently to your friends at home compared with your students in your language lessons.

So this means that when students watch a video, they get a break from you talking and must train their ear to different voices, accents, tones, pronunciation, and terminology. It gives them an unfamiliar but natural context in which they have the chance to hear how speakers of the target language actually use the language in real life situations. Although it might be intimidating for your students to engage with language in this way, it’s also a great challenge for them. As you will see, this becomes an incredibly beneficial experience for the learners to train their listening comprehension skills.

Activates two channels

Language learners benefit immensely from watching video because they must simultaneously activate two sensory channels – listening and viewing. Simply put, when you watch something you hear the sound and see the picture at the same time. This helps the learner fill in the gaps – if there are unknown words, terminology, or expressions to students while watching a video, they have the video there to give them a visual context to supplement those missing gaps.

Psychological research suggests that visuals tend to be very effective for learning because our brain does a much better job of processing imagery and visuals as opposed to words and abstract concepts. Vocabulary is much better learned matched with visuals / video rather than definitions / explanations. I see firsthand that students tend to learn vocabulary well using video. They remember the imagery, visuals, sounds, objects, faces, and voices in the context of the video and therefore build a stronger mental association to the vocabulary words. You can follow this guide for tips how to teach vocabulary using video in your ESL lessons.

Wide range of educational and cultural topics

Video is everywhere online and on social media – it has become such a normalized medium for communication, information, entertainment, advertising, and art. There is an endless pool of video content out there that brings the outside world to your students. There are videos in just about any industry and whatever your student’s interests are, there are most likely videos relevant to that topic.  Whether it be music videos, news clips, sports, food channels, product commercials, travel vlogs, speeches, interviews, films, performances, documentaries, TV series – videos are all around us and they educate people about the world.

The types of video mentioned above can also be valuable in terms of cultural education. When you expose students real-world videos, it can help them learn about the culture and get to know the people, customs, beliefs, sports, foods, places, habits, lifestyles, and values of those who speak that target language. A person who is educated in culture is more open-minded and more likely to develop intercultural empathy, a very important trait in today’s globalized world.

Video trains understanding and encourages speaking skills

Although watching videos is a passive activity, videos are often full of content that inspire students to react and speak their mind on the topic. This means that using video provides a balanced learning experience of passive and active student engagement. While watching videos helps your students train their listening comprehension, they also encourage students to share their opinion about the topic, speak about their own experiences, express their own ideas, and find a way to relate to the topic personally. And these are skills that are important to develop for any language learner.

Video is also used as a medium for artistic and creative expression – it often tells a story which can allow the viewer to make a special emotional connection with the content. Emotion often leads to motivation, inspiration, and creative expression. Here is a lesson plan based on a video that tells an emotional story about a restaurant owner in NYC who had to overcome many hardships in his life, but which helped him to realize his dream. For a student who has faced similar hardships, they can relate to this story and therefore be motivated to speak about it.

When students are interested or engaged in the topics, they tend to be more motivated to learn. -@Veslio_Lessons Click To Tweet

Linguistic development and student engagement

The real value of using videos in your lessons is how they can be used to help your students grow and make progress in terms of linguistic development. Videos are inherently packed with linguistic material. This is what Veslio loves to do – use an engaging video topic and transform it into a lesson plan with different kinds of activities, designed to help your students improve. This includes preview activities for conversation, viewing activities for comprehension, vocabulary and grammar exercises, as well as cooperation activities to reinforce this vocabulary and grammar from the video dialogue.

I also have to admit that I love seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter while watching videos with my students. It’s a great way to give them an engaging lesson. Even though I think that the aim of the lesson should be linguistic development, I think it’s great that videos are often very engaging for students. When students are interested or engaged in the topics, they tend to be more motivated to learn. I think most teachers can agree that it creates a much more lively atmosphere in the lesson when it’s announced that it’s time to watch a video. It generates anticipation, excitement, and curiosity. You might even spontaneously come up with some new questions / activities for your students while the video is playing, which you can then use to generate additional discussion with them after viewing.

The Take-Away

Real-world videos can be a great tool to help your students develop their language skills. Both students and teachers typically enjoy working with videos and I encourage all language teachers to incorporate them somehow into lessons. Personally, my favorite thing about working with videos is how much you’re able to learn about your students – their opinions and own stories relating to the topic.  It’s also great to see students cooperating on the topics. I’m still collecting a lot of great memories, quotes, and sayings from my students for the video topics that I use.


Jake Young


Jake Young is a creative teacherpreneur who lives in Prague, CZ. He’s the brain behind Veslio.co – a resource dedicated to providing teachers with comprehensive and modern lesson plans based on real-world videos. He’s also a passionate language learner, fluent in Czech language and an intermediate Italian language speaker.