Oct 26th, 2018, 10:00 AM

Lights, Camera, Learn

By Leona Caanen
Image Credit: Lights, Camera, Learn
Languages through "edutainment."

Imagine a new way of learning a language- one that does not require you to sit still in a classroom for 80 minutes. Instead, you get to make short movies and attend red carpets, while being immersed in a new culture. Amal Bahloul calls this "edutainment." 23-year-old Bahloul is the founder and manager of the non-profit organization Lights, Camera, Learn. The organization "empower[s] children through filmmaking," as it brings digital entertainment into the classroom. Children come to learn a new language and leave with the sense that they understand a different culture.

Lights, Camera, Learn brings filmmakers and educators from all over the world to the institution where the workshop takes place. Since its creation two years ago, Lights, Camera, Learn has had workshops in seven different countries: Jordan, Tunisia, France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine/Israel, and Tanzania. Up until now, 422 kids have participated, producing a total of 48 short films. By the end of the week-long program, the participants are rewarded with knowing a new language and attending a red carpet event, which is often accompanied by Oscar awards.

Amal Bahloul, Founder and Creator of Lights, Camera, Learn. Image Credit: Lights, Camera, Learn

Bahloul founded Lights, Camera, Learn because of her father and her deep appreciation of culture. Qualifying herself as a third-culture-kid, Bahloul, who is Tunisian-American, has lived in New York, France, Dubai, California, and Saudi Arabia. Due to her extensive traveling, Bahloul comprehends "the importance of understanding cultures, and how important it is to be a traveler, not a tourist." The goal is to translate this appreciation and understanding to students who are learning French, English, Arabic, or Spanish. The Lights, Camera, Learn team ensures that all of the filmmakers and educators are native speakers. The staff only communicates with the students in the language that they are learning in order for the students to be fully immersed. Being around the language instructors, the students extract cultural aspects from their interactions.

Her father, a linguistics doctor, is the biggest influence behind the organization. He wrote a book, Lights, Camera, Action In the Brain: the Use of Filmmaking In the Classroom, which explains why creativity and art are crucial to the learning process, and that learning through filmmaking can help learn a language. Yet to Bahloul, who was always around her father, it seemed that the program had too many old people with Ph.D.'s who loved Shakespeare. To her, there was nothing wrong with Shakespeare, but she thought that it might not spark enthusiasm in students learning English.

Bahloul took her father's concept of language learning and put a youth spin on it. The inspiration for starting a non-profit organization happened while she was studying abroad and realized that students tend to grow close to other study-abroad students, rather than mixing in with the locals. With Lights, Camera, Learn, "no one can say that they went abroad and didn’t make a local friend." During their six to eight-hour short film schedule, the students interact with locals, who help them with their lines. By the end of their week at Lights, Camera, Learn, the students have "rehearse[d] so many times, that by the end [they] know everyone's lines."

Amal Bahloul and a part of her Lights, Camera, Learn team introducing themselves on day one of the workshop week. Image Credit: Lights, Camera, Learn

The students that participate in the Lights, Camera, Learn workshops are aged nine to 14. To recruit students, Bahloul goes to educational institutions and explains the project. If the school agrees, she sets up a one-week workshop for which interested students can sign-up. A large part of organizing the workshops is the connections and relationships that Bahloul has established. The international network has greatly aided the ability to hold workshops in so many different countries.

At the start of the week, the kids tend to ask whether their artistic ideas are right or wrong. To Bahloul "there is no right or wrong, everything is ok." She continues to explain that a big part of the project is to help the students be creative, and to help them use the different learning tools to tell their story; "we have to push kids towards creativity." For Bahloul, it is important to show the kids that they do not have to be scared, but rather feel empowered from showing the world who they are through their short films.

Students Working on their short film. Image Credit: Lights, Camera, Learn

AUP junior Hussam Ibrahim has worked with Bahloul and Lights, Camera, Learn and has seen the benefits first hand. Ibrahim says that "seeing them open up and grow, and seeing them realize a new part of themselves, was the most fulfilling and rewarding part of the workshop." There were numerous reasons for him to choose to participate as a volunteer, but the most significant one was the possibility to interact with the kids; "I really, really adore and love kids because of what they signify, their purity and innocence, their hope for life and the future." Besides bonding with the kids, Ibrahim also established a strong bond with the other volunteers and with Bahloul: "the experience itself was so unique and so heartfelt and personal to all of us, that we bonded on some sort of personal interconnected level."

Working with kids can also be frustrating. Ibrahim explained that at one point, one of the students sat on his shoulders and forcefully made Ibrahim dance, which " was a bit frustrating, I'm not going to lie, but it was also a nice way to teach them what is ok and what is not ok." The group of students that Ibrahim worked with all spoke Arabic, and barely any spoke a bit of English. At first, this was frustrating for Ibrahim, but soon he found "creative ways to get them to understand what [he] was saying. We mostly used humor."

The reward of helping kids immerse themselves in a new language and culture is very positive. It is not just the students that learn new things; each mentor, instructor, filmmaker, and volunteer is also confronted by the honesty and purity of the students and can learn from them too. Lights, Camera, Learn, shows a new, positive way for the world to think about education.