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?

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