Keeping Up With the Times

So, here’s my first post in a really long time! I’ve been very busy with studying at NYU so I haven’t had time to really write on the blog, but now I’ve thought of a topic! Recently, I’ve been watching a Taiwanese drama to improve my passive understanding of Chinese and practicing parsing spoken Chinese. (I’m using a Taiwanese drama because most of my Mandarin-speaking friends at NYU speak Taiwanese Mandarin, which does have some differences from China’s variety.) This drama, the name of which is PS男 (PS Man), is from 2009 and while very helpful in practicing listening to Chinese, has aged quite a bit. They still use the first iPhones, for one! But more importantly, this brings to mind something else: changes in language. It can be as recent as four or five years ago, and a language can start exhibiting changes in the most minute details, whether it be new slang or new standards imposed by the government.

These changes require the language learner to be ever vigilant. But how, you may ask, can a novice in a language possibly recognize such things?  What you can do, is try to only use contemporary, or at least the most recent, materials available on the language. This can mean a textbook written this year or an ongoing TV show that airs every week. However, you should be careful about TV shows; some TV shows like Downton Abbey are written in an archaic or old-fashioned register of English that no one actually uses. But that doesn’t mean these types of shows aren’t helpful. At higher levels of language learning, such as a point at which one might be going to study abroad, it is important to be aware of certain cultural nuances that accompany a language’s archaic style. There may be jokes or puns that people may make in real life that are drawn from such sources, and they can help to understand the language and the culture on a deeper level.

Another important aspect of language learning as it pertains to contemporary materials is, of course, the language itself. What do people say? And how are they saying it? This is where old-time-y and historical shows fail the language learner, however fascinating they may be. You need to watch shows and movies, listen to music, and read books that someone your age who speaks your target language natively would be exposed to. This is fundamental to understanding how culture works in a modern society constantly in flux, especially in societies where ancient social structures have persisted for centuries and how that fits into everyday life. It’s important to understand the place of women in Indian society when learning Hindi, for example. You will not fully understand the content of a movie like Mardaani if you do not. It is a movie that deals with prostitution rings in India and how people deal with them, particularly the police. This is highly relevant to the average Indian that speaks Hindi, as it speaks to a prevalent issue in their society. Bollywood has seen an increase in socially conscious films that address certain issues in Indian society and that is something that directly affects the media produced by a Hindi speaking population. As such, a language learner, especially one who is not of an ethnicity or nationality that speaks that language, should be keenly aware of the social dynamics and politics of the society that uses their target language.

You may think you don’t need to understand these things in your target language, but believe me, it helps a lot when coming to understand a language. Think of a language as person who’s going to be your roommate for a while; you need to get used to them. Don’t block out the eccentricities and weirdness, but instead, learn from it. This is particularly relevant to me, a first-year university student, living with two roommates in a dorm! Getting along with your language (or a roommate for that matter) is critical to making progress and understanding the culture and society in which that language is predominant.

I hope you enjoyed this piece after a long period of no posts! Please don’t forget to share this post on whatever platform you use social media!

Watching Films and Other Media in Other Languages

Since I was a little kid, it always fascinated me to watch films that my family had at home in other languages. After watching the film, I would immediately want to go to, “Setup,” and change language, and put subtitles. Now, I find it an invaluable source to watch familiar films in Spanish to practice my listening skills, which I find the hardest thing to do in my Spanish class, because the speakers on the audio tracks speak so fast.

I definitely think that films should be available in other languages for this reason, more so than they are now, anyway. You get French and Spanish on most US films, but little else (I think I saw Italian once). I actually watched Frozen in Latin American Spanish yesterday, and I found that I could understand maybe 65% of what was said (and that’s being a bit generous). As of now, I’ve yet to find a site that provides films in multiple languages. I imagine such a site would charge monthly fees in much the way that Netflix does, and it doesn’t seem like it’s that out the question for such a service to exist. Many foreign language teachers often have to go out of their way to find films in the language they teach. To watch a film in the target language would be an invaluable learning tool, because not only do learners enjoy watching a familiar film, but they also learn by doing so.

Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Hindi learners have perhaps some of the greatest resources when it comes to media in the target language. J-Pop, K-Pop, C-Pop (yes, that’s a thing), and Bollywood songs are ubiquitous, as you can buy them on iTunes or download them off the internet, due to the genres’ immense global popularity. They also have access to a number of dramas, as many sites let you watch dramas for free, or sometimes paid when they’re higher quality and have more options. The thing about dramas, especially Korean and Indian dramas, despite their very specific situations, contain most of the words you need to have a functional knowledge of the language. This is also the case with the infamous telenovela of Latin American countries. Bollywood movies are also very accessible, and in some Indian grocery stores, there is an entire section full of Indian movies in many different Indian languages. Sadly, not many animated movies are dubbed in Hindi, because many people in India  know English, and animated movies are not very popular.

However, overall, your options are pretty limited when it comes to finding movies or TV shows in a language such as say, Russian or Portuguese. You can find a lot of Disney movie songs in other languages, but not always the movie itself. You’re not going to be able to get Aladdin in Russian very easily in the US, unless you import it.

If anyone finds a site that shows films in other languages, please post it in the comments!