Boldly Learning New Languages in Unorthodox Fashion

I think it has been well-established by now that language learning and technology work well together.  However, I realise that I have forgotten one of the easiest, most obvious ways of learning a language with the aid of technology – watching films and TV shows! I, like many other people, have a Netflix account, which I love very dearly.  Netflix has lots of foreign films and TV shows on it, which means that I can watch Danish, Swedish or French crime shows any time I like.  I can also watch French, Spanish, German and Italian films if the fancy takes me!

However, my introduction to foreign dramas did not happen through the beautiful medium of Netflix. Instead, it was BBC Four (one of my favourite TV channels and I’m not ashamed to admit it) which first enlightened me to the potential gloomy, gripping awesomeness of Wallander, Inspector Montalbano, Borgen, and most crucially, The Killing.  The Killing, a Danish crime drama from 2007, is probably my favourite TV show of all time.  It is in Danish with English subtitles and has been remade in the USA too.  I have never seen the US version – I’m a purist – and I’d much rather see bleak, rainy Copenhagen than bleak, rainy Seattle. Allow me to explain the appeal of The Killing.  

Firstly, the main character, Sarah Lund, is like no other female police officer on television. She’s not friendly, she’s not kind, she has no real mothering instinct, and she wears thick, sensible Faroe Island jumpers, jeans, wellington boots and a plain black coat instead of light, pretty, girly clothes that most other female police officers on television wear.  This is especially refreshing because it adds to the realism of the drama (no one has ever worn heels in a hostage negotiation situation before. Let’s all cop on.).

Secondly, I have fallen completely in love with Copenhagen.  In the grey, dark, gloomy light of November, during which the first season takes place, the city is rain-washed and ten thousand times more beautiful and appealing because of it.  In the same way that reading and watching the Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) convinced me to go to Stockholm (which I visited last April, staying in Sodermalm just where all the action takes place), The Killing has instilled in me a wish to study my Masters degree in Copenhagen.

Thirdly, thanks to The Killing, I am slowly picking up a couple of words of Danish. This language is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It is rattly and guttural, like and yet unlike German and other Teutonic languages, and it has a curious, rolling magic to it. I love the way it sounds and how much fun it is to try to pronounce the words. Yes, I usually fail to do so correctly, but hey, at least I’m trying!

Learning a language from a TV show or a movie is certainly easier when you have more than a few words of that language, so perhaps I should try a French, Spanish or German programme next time. But for now, I’ll stick with the Danes. They seem to do drama and crime television like no one else can even dream of. Perhaps it’s the bewitching, enchanting realism of the piece; how normal and ordinary the entire situation seems to be (run down police offices, exhausted, overworked officers, terrible weather), how human the cast are (while some of them are certainly attractive – looking at you Lars Mikkelsen – it’s never in a way that conforms to stereotypes), and how tensely thrilling the plot lines are. With a show as good as The Killing, I tend to just pick up words without even noticing it, and isn’t that an ideal way to learn a language?


Hate to Love You

Today, as I logged onto WordPress to write my blog post, I saw another writing prompt: what do you love about yourself? Rest assured, I’m not planning on launching into a spiel about my awesomeness, but instead, I’m going to write about something that I love and how it helps me to learn languages.
I love clothes. It’s not even an exaggeration to say that I love clothes, shopping for clothes, wearing clothes (duh. I’m probably the coldest person in the Northern Hemisphere and I wrap up like a Pass-the-Parcel parcel on a daily basis) and looking at magazines about clothes.  This is where language learning comes in.  Whenever I can, I buy Vogue, ELLE, Glamour – etc, all the fashiony magazines! Luckily for me, all of these magazine have international editions, so if I’m travelling abroad or if someone I know is going to be hanging around an airport, I do my best to get my hands on a French/Spanish/German copy of Vogue, ELLE, or Marie Claire. Sometimes I even buy Italian Vogue, even though I don’t speak Italian (yet)!
In this way, I learn through reading (a learning method which Stephen Krashen espouses). I accumulate new, useful vocabulary and read different articles. As the language used in magazine articles is generally different from journalistic or literary language, I also get to experience a new kind of register, tone, and writing. I also get an insight into a different culture, because seeing how a country dresses is a fascinating experience. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, because I’ve never seen so many black and white editorials (that’s a ten-or-twelve page feature of clothes and models) than in French Vogue!
Even though I can’t buy them all the time – especially since they cost a LOT – I still follow these magazines on Twitter and I have “liked” their pages on Facebook. In this way, I get to see bite-size chunks of fashion and foreign languages every day, and all for free and from the comfort of my own home.

Distractions: Good or Evil?

I logged on to write my blog today and a writing prompt popped up on the screen: ‘Write About Evil’.  I thought this over for a minute and came to the conclusion that when one is trying to write an essay or get some study done, distractions are the most evil thing in the world.  I have written previously about one of my favourite distractions, Buzzfeed, and today I am going to investigate another distraction – music!  It’s not such a big distraction for me because, unlike many of my friends, I never listen to music when I’m studying.  I can’t concentrate when there is any background noise WHATSOEVER while I am trying to write or learn vocab or verbs! (For this very reason, I bought a pair of industrial headphones to wear while studying for the Leaving Cert, and let me tell you that they worked a treat!  Now I use them when my neighbours have parties, which, in my exhausted opinion, is far too often.)  That said, music can be very distracting.  If there’s a new album out by my favourite band or I have an earworm (NOT as gross as it sounds! It’s just the slang  term for a song you can’t get out of your head.) then music can definitely be a force for evil.  However, all is not lost.  Music can also be educational!

I’m going to segue into radio for the purposes of this blog entry, because it is a distraction which is often musical.  I LOVE listening to the radio.  Every morning, I wake up to the sound of Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 as my alarm clock.  I am deadly serious about this! I like to hear the news and Spin Southwest read their news from Twitter. That’s not news.  They also play Miley Cyrus and Pitbull, neither of which I consider as “music”.  So Morning Ireland it is, and I feel so informed (and yes, smug too) for the rest of the day.  The radio, just like listening to an iPod or Spotify, can be a distraction, but just like music again, it can also be a force for good!

Now I get to the point of this blog entry… Listening to music or the radio in other languages is an EXCELLENT way to a) learn a language, duh, b) get used to hearing how a language sounds and absorbing those sounds/accents/etc, c) hear local and national news from that country, d) hear some awesome new tunes in a different language!  There are loads more reasons than this – listening out for the weather reports can help you to focus on learning your vocab for describing weather, you might hear a news report or a guest speaker on a radio show who will fascinate you, and you might hear a ridiculously catchy jingle that you just can’t get out of your head. *sings in falsetto: “N-R-J!!!”* 

When I was studying for my Leaving Cert aurals and orals, I used to listen to the radio in Spanish and French while I was going about my room during the day.  To this day, I like to listen to for French tunes and Radio 3 on for Spanish.  One of my favourite radio programmes is an indie/rock show every night on Radio 3.  That’s my favourite kind of music (toss in a little electro or poppy influences á la The Cure circa the 90s and that’s my ideal song), and as many of the songs are in Spanish and the presenters are speaking Castellano, it is absolutely perfect for me!  I haven’t yet found a German radio station but I have listened to some German songs lately in preparation for my German aural, which was on this week.  To find songs in other languages, I check out their Top 40 listings online and search for any songs that look like they’re in German on YouTube or Spotify.  YouTube is a goldmine for songs in other languages. I like to look for the lyric videos because then I can understand what the song is saying! 

Finally, I shall leave you with a link to a Demi Lovato tune which is especially beloved by some of my friends.  It is a translation of her song ‘Skyscrapers’ into Spanish, renamed ‘Rascacielos’.  Enjoy! 🙂

The Key to Language Learning?

I am currently working on one of my Language and Technology essays, which requires a lot of hanging around in the languages labs evaluating the different CALL packages. Today, I tried one called Clef, which aims to help students with different aspects of French grammar. (So this is the preview of my essay that you’ve all been waiting for… be cool, guys!)

Clef offers over 50 different options that a student might need help on, such as irregular verbs (like Avoir, Être, and Faire), all the tenses, the pronouns, etc, etc! I only had a few minutes, so I decided to revise Être. All I had to do was type in the tenses of the verb with the various pronouns. It wasn’t taxing, but I don’t think I really benefitted from it either. One aspect which was irritating was that I couldn’t get the ‘Ê’ to come up in the writing space (unlike many CALL and WELL packages, there was no “accents” option) and I was taxed for this at the end of the lesson.

Otherwise, it is certainly a useful website. I like using WELL and CALL packages to practice and revise, but sadly they are only useful up to a point. I can’t practice writing, I can’t test my levels of comprehension of written texts, there are no listening files, and I can’t practice speaking, which some might say is the most important aspect of language learning! I hope that listening files exist in some place – I think there are some on Deutsche Welle, which I shall be making use of when studying for my German aural exam next week – but it’s a real shame that if these programmes exist, they aren’t available on the computers in the languages labs here in UL.