Foreign Language Films for Students: Our Netflix Selection
Keeping students engaged whilst they work from home is a new challenge facing teachers. To help, we’ve put together a list of foreign language films on Netflix which are best suited to school students learning languages. The selection matches a range of abilities (and attention spans) including both low-dialogue action and highly acclaimed dramas.
All films selected are suitable for students aged 15 and above which we would recommend for IB and A level ability. For GCSE level, we would recommend subtitles.
He Even Has Your Eyes – French
As a short, upbeat comedy He Even Has Your Eyes is a good option to get students to engage with French dialogue. The plot focuses on Paul and Sali, a French-African couple who unexpectedly discover the baby they were planning to adopt is white. While the topic is relatively adult, the humour of the film is universal and spans across different cultures and age groups.
I Lost My Body – French
I Lost My Body is an animated film that combines mystery, adventure, and romance, plus, it includes a hand that’s able to run around on its own. The film’s (human) protagonist is Naoufel, an awkward young man living in Paris and a character a teenage audience is likely to find relatable.
It is a film that’s quirky enough to capture students’ interest without having to pitch it to them!
Kung Fu Hustle – Mandarin/Cantonese
Ever struggle to convince your class that learning Chinese is exciting? Kung Fu Hustle is an action comedy packed with jaw-dropping special effects, intense showdowns, and some laugh out loud moments. The film is set in 1940s China and focuses on a clash between the kung fu masters of a city slum and the notorious ‘axe-gang’ who come to cause trouble. It is low dialogue, high energy, and unlikely to leave students feeling bored. The film is rated 15 by the BBFC and the violence is mostly kung fu fighting but, if you’re concerned about what you recommend, it’s safest to watch it yourself first!
Language in the film contains both Mandarin and Cantonese so it is perhaps most useful to gain an understanding of China’s kung fu movie culture.
Roma – Spanish
Roma swept the stage at the Oscars in 2019, receiving 10 nominations and picking up 3 awards, including Best Foreign Language Film. This Mexican masterpiece is ideal for students who are as interested in award-winning cinema as they are in switching the classroom for Netflix.
Set in the early 1970’s, the film follows the life of a housekeeper for an affluent family living in Mexico City. Cast against the backdrop of an unstable time in Mexico’s past, Roma takes you on a journey through both political and domestic turbulence. Spoken primarily in Spanish, the film also contains some Mixtec.
Okja – Korean
Roughly a third in Korean and two thirds in English, Okja is a film in touch with an environmentally concerned generation. Okja is the eponymous genetically modified ‘super-pig’ of the film. Mija is a young girl living in the Korean mountains where her and her father were left to take care of the creature. At the beginning of the film the large farming corporation responsible for Okja’s creation comes and takes it away. At times dark in tone, the film follows Mija on her quest to rescue the animal she grew up with and loves so dearly.
The director, Bong Joon-ho, is now internationally famous for his acclaimed film Parasite, the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Okja’s blend of Western, English speaking cinema with that of South Korea offers an accessible film for students in the early stages of learning the language.
Spirited Away – Japanese
Spirited Away is a modern animated cinema classic that any students studying Japanese may well know already. Its main character, Hayao Miyazaki, and her family stumble upon a mystical amusement park home to supernatural beings. After her parents are turned into giant pigs (yes, you read that right) she discovers she must work there to set them free.
If your students are interested in Japan, it should not take much to convince them to watch this anime masterpiece. Netflix is now home to many of the renowned Studio Ghibli’s films so, if Spirited Away has already been seen, there are plenty of others to choose from. Netflix offers the option to view an English dubbed version, so you have to trust students to choose Japanese for this!