With the Academy Awards still fresh in everybody’s minds, it seems like a good time to focus on the movies. Of course, watching films is great for learning English in many different ways: picking up new language from dialogue, familiarising yourself with new accents and training yourself to be able to understand natural, spoken English.
But there’s another benefit that we’re going to focus on today: learning new vocabulary by focusing on our favourite movie characters. Specifically, we’re going to learn some advanced personality adjectives that we’ll be able to apply to some of the best-known heroes and villains from movie history.
By using these adjectives in the context of movie characters, we suddenly bring them to life and they become much easier to remember. We all know what British super-spy James Bond is like, but what adjectives would you use to describe him? Similarly, we’re familiar with Harry Potter from the incredibly successful book and film series, but which specific character traits would you attribute to the teenage wizard?
So, let’s start off by finding out which movie characters we’re going to be talking about.
Cruella De Vil: 101 Dalmatians
The evil Cruella De Vil has had children shouting at the cinema screen all the way back to 1961 when she made her first film appearance in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. In this film, and in later versions, she was obsessed with stealing the eponymous puppies of the title and turning them into a fur coat.
James Bond: The 007 film series
“Bond, James Bond,” as he famously introduces himself, is everyone’s favourite gentleman spy. Travelling around the world, seducing beautiful women and assassinating arch villains is all in a day’s work for the secret agent. Beginning all the way back in 1962 with Dr. No, the Bond franchise is now firmly in the 21st century with actor Daniel Craig recently appearing in Spectre.
Harry Potter: The Harry Potter series
Boy wizard Harry Potter started life in the novels of J.K. Rowling before the enormously popular film franchise drew in millions more fans all across the world. Beginning with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 and ending with The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, in 2011, it made a superstar out of Daniel Radcliffe and introduced the world to the terms “muggles” and “quidditch.”
Jack Sparrow: Pirates of the Caribbean film series
Drunken, foul-mouthed pirate Jack Sparrow is one of actor Johnny Depp’s best-known and most-loved creations. Since first hitting the big screen in Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, the character has captured imaginations for his swashbuckling antics on the high seas. There have already been three follow-ups to the first film with yet another planned for 2017.
Forrest Gump: Forrest Gump
“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Tom Hank’s eponymous hero tells us during this touching film, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” And this philosophy is certainly true of the movie as we see Forrest become a war hero, a champion ping-pong player, a shrimp entrepreneur and even meet John F. Kennedy. The film, released in 1994, won the Best Picture Oscar and Tom Hanks himself was awarded the Best Actor award.
Darth Vader: Star Wars film series
The terrifying figure of Darth Vader first appeared on movie screens all the way back in 1977. With his black Samurai-inspired face mask and his robotic-like voice, he quickly became one of the best-known villains in cinema history. Although missing from the recent sequel The Force Awakens, he still casts an ominous shadow over the film.
Shrek: The Shrek series
Voiced by Mike Myers in a Scottish accent, Shrek is the green ogre who entertained us over four full-length movies. The character and films were created to parody the popular Disney animated films we all know so well and succeeded because they were not afraid to poke fun at themselves.
We’ve got our characters, so let’s look at some useful language for describing them. These adjectives are split into positive and negative characteristics. Read through them and then check out the “Practice” section.
- affable: friendly, good-natured, easy to talk to.
- conscientious: wanting to perform work well and thoroughly.
- charming: pleasant or attractive, endearing.
- decisive: able to make decisions with little hesitation.
- diplomatic: able to avoid offending others; polite and sensitive.
- dynamic: full of energy or new ideas.
- exuberant: energetic, unrestrained.
- fair-minded: impartial, fair in judgement.
- frank: honest and direct in speech or writing.
- gregarious: sociable, fond of company.
- humorous: funny, able to make people laugh.
- intuitive: using instinct or “a feeling” to make decisions.
- inventive: able to think originally to create new concepts/ideas.
- modest: humble about your own abilities or talents.
- pioneering: concerned with new methods and ideas.
- philosophical: showing a calm attitude towards disappointments.
- placid: not easily upset or excited.
- plucky: showing courage in the face of difficulties.
- quick-witted: able to think or respond quickly.
- rational: basing decisions/opinions on reason or logic.
- self-disciplined: able to make yourself behave in a certain way.
- sociable: friendly, fond of the company of others.
- unassuming: quiet, humble, not demanding of attention or focus.
- versatile: able to apply yourself to many diverse roles.
- warmhearted: sympathetic and kind.
- aloof: distant, not friendly or welcoming.
- belligerent: hostile or aggressive.
- callous: cruel or uncaring in the treatment of others.
- cantankerous: argumentative, bad-tempered, often old,
- cunning: able to achieve your goals through deceitful, underhand methods.
- dogmatic: inclined to believe in certain principles as undeniably true.
- foolish: lacking good sense or judgement.
- gullible: inclined to believe things without questioning.
- impulsive: inclined to act quickly based on emotion.
- Machiavellian: achieving your goals in a deceitful, dishonest or cunning way.
- miserly: not generous with emotions or money.
- obstinate: stubborn, unwilling to change your mind.
- patronising: seemingly friendly but actually acting superior.
- pompous: overly self-important or serious.
- possessive: demanding someone’s total attention or love.
- quick-tempered: easily made angry.
- ruthless: having no compassion for others.
- self-indulgent: inclined to focus on your own pleasure or desires.
- sneaky: engaging in deception to achieve your goals.
- superficial: overly concerned with appearance as opposed to substance.
- touchy: overly sensitive, easily upset.
- truculent: eager to fight or argue, overly aggressive.
- vain: being overly concerned with your appearance.
- vulgar: making explicit or rude references, unsophisticated.
- weak-willed: not able to withstand temptation.
This works best as a speaking exercise with your language partner. Pick a character each and describe them one adjective at a time. Don’t give too much biographical information about the character, but leave it up to your partner to work out who it might be from the adjectives alone.
Take a look at this example conversations below:
Person A: OK, I’d describe this character as quite ruthless: he will do anything to achieve his goals.
Person B: Ruthless? OK, so it’s definitely not Harry Potter! Well, my character can be quite philosophical. You could really learn a lot by listening to him.
Person A: Hmm OK. I’d also describe my character as charming. Certainly when they want to be!
Person B: So ruthless and charming? I think I know who it might be… Are they also quite self-disciplined?
Person A: Yes, absolutely.
Person B: So, I think it’s James Bond then!
Person A: Well done! OK, so is your character modest and unassuming?
Person B: Yes.
Person A: OK, well then I think it’s Forrest Gump.