Tag Archives: Second Language Acquisition

Embracing Subtitles; the Road to Fluency

This is not your mother’s pair of jeans, nor your father’s Oldsmobile… this is language learning in the 21st century! It’s pop culture, y’all. It’s slang and everyday language, it’s the fun path to fluency.

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Don’t let subtitles scare you! Get over your fears and hesitations; don’t be too cool for this kind of school.

Films use language in real-life situations enabling the learner to grasp the meaning and sounds of colloquial expressions at the heart of everyday language while experiencing cultural contexts… all while entertaining!

Sit Back and Enjoy the Amusement of Subtitles!

Subtitles can uniquely create humor, adding a pure comedic touch. Take this clip from the comedy Airplane for example with two men speaking jive, obviously English… but is it? Check out the video to see what all the hoopla is about!

Subtitles are humorous! Enjoy… and embrace them!

When learning everyday jargon in a foreign language, we can’t all go about faking it like Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds! Watch as Brad Pitt is thrown off entirely by the fluency with which Christopher Waltz’s character speaks Italian; subtitles enhance the comedic effect.

To Swear or Not To Swear? No Matter, It’s Idiomatic!

To go about one’s day, one needs an understanding of common lingo, or street talk. Don’t tell your mother we told you, but swearing is a huge part of cultural context, colloquial language! Every language has modern slang that defies literal meanings. For example, non-native speakers of English wouldn’t know the flexibility of using swear words such as *hore, bi*ch and *ss without watching films such as this American high school parody, Mean Girls in their native language subtitles.

Embrace, even if you choose not to personally swear like a (bilingual) pirate!

Similarly, we see the French word putain used everywhere, rarely in a literal context.  But we would not know that without seeing how it’s used in everyday language, ie… scenes in films! With film, we grab the cultural meaning behind the language. Watch this clip of Jean Dujardin accepting his Oscar for Best Actor. Did you catch that slip at the end? “Ouah, putain, genial, merci, formidable, merci beaucoup, I love you!”

French films teach us quickly that putain, a high-frequency swear word (but harmless, really) appears just about anywhere in most French sentences.

Global Speak; It’s all Relative

We, as Americans specifically, need to get over our fear of subtitles. People use them all around the world for varying purposes.

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Subtitles carry the potential to be an international game-changer in poverty, status and education.

Millions of people in countries around the world embrace subtitles with no hesitation as a means to improving their everyday life. See this NY Times article on how learners use subtitling to further their education and career and to make global connections.

Even in the realm of entertainment, the entire world seeks to connect to Hollywood and Bollywood films and they do so with subtitles in their native language!

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Let’s eradicate the misconceptions we tend to have while dealing with subtitles in film; they’re useful and globally accepted!

The Science, The Backbone Behind It

Acquiring language through a medium such as film is not only fun and entertaining, but multiple studies have shown it’s a driving force for second language and culture acquisition.

As renowned linguist and second-language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen once said “language needs to be fun!” Language acquisition works best when the input is interesting and compelling to us, so much so that we forget we are immersing ourselves in another language!

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“The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear.” -Krashen.

Rod Ellis, a leading theorist in 2nd language acquisition, elaborates:  “Successful instructed language learning requires extensive 2nd language input…where 2nd language needs to become the medium as well as object.” Film is the medium, and an entertaining one at that! SO, pull yourself out of the humdrum routine of hours with flashcards and intensive studying. Although these methods help in retaining information, the delight and entertainment of film best supplements them.

Plenty of science revolves around it, but the ultimate goal is to have fun while you’re learning; your brain will do all the work! While watching foreign film, in the midst of having fun, you increase your metalinguistic awareness, unbeknownst to you. Qu’est-ce que c’est  metalinguistic awareness? It’s simply the ability to think of and be aware of language in relation to its cultural context, that language has specific functions and rules. Furthermore, multiple viewings of a foreign film also increase awareness of important paralinguistic elements: body language, gestures, facial expressions, loudness, tempo….all features highly important to communication in another language.

One of the most renown (and local!) language specialists, Dr. Garza, Director of the Texas Language Center of the University of Texas, provides an important pedagogical framework for the use of video and film in the classroom. See Dr. Garza as he explains how video and film, as authentic texts, contain the possibility to develop language learners into “active learners”. He states that the application of technology such as video, film, internet, etc. may hold the key for language learners to go from competence to proficiency, i.e. to make great strides along the road to fluency!

The Freestyle Way

Freestyle’s unique methodology incorporates foreign film in our curriculum in a step-by-step process that allows significant realization of linguistic and cultural meaning. We study relevant vocabulary themes and intermediate to advanced grammars entirely in the context of a specific, chosen film; here’s a quick break down of our process:

1. Watch the film in target language with English subtitles; this provides semantics (meaning)

2. Work thoroughly through target language subtitles and/or transcribed dialogue of film over the session; this provides lexical and syntactic information (vocabulary and word order)

3. Watch the film in segments with no subtitles;  this provides phonetics (sound/pronunciation/listening)

4. Witness a significant boost in listening, comprehension and speaking ability!

Additionally, Freestyle is proud to incorporate Austin’s own ITAL in our classes! Transmedia specialist Sergio Carvajal-Leoni, in collaboration with Austin-Based Filmmaker Romina Olson and UT Award-Winning Italian instructor Antonella Del Fattore-Olson, created ITAL, a digital channel that blends entertainment and education to teach Italian language and culture. The entertaining ITAL videos are intended to expand students’ knowledge of contemporary Italian culture while helping them to increase their vocabulary and oral competency. As you can see in the video that follows, part of ITAL’s instructional component is reflected in the use of subtitles – sometimes in English, others in Italian – to emphasize how new vocabulary is used in everyday conversation.

HINT: This fall, intermediate Spanish students will be studying Spanish through Volver, intermediate French through the romantic comedy Heartbreakers, Portuguese through the comedy The Man Who Copied, Italian through the dramedy The Last Kiss!  Come visit a class for FREE.

Additional Tip! 

Try practicing with subtitles by choosing a tv show/film you enjoy watching in your native language with your target language subtitles. For example, the American hit romantic comedy, Two Weeks Notice (Sandra Bullock / Hugh Grant), like many U.S. shows and films, offers both French and Spanish subtitles.

We hope you see the many varied reasons to embrace and enjoy subtitles so that your road to fluency will be smoother and more enjoyable.

Happy Trails on Your Journey to Fluency

Accepting subtitles in foreign film will allow you to grasp a whole new realm of knowledge  that would otherwise only be receivable via physical interaction in the actual country.
Seize the power of film to help you obtain the gift of gab in your target language and join us at Freestyle to further develop your language learning in a relevant, fun and social context!

The idea that language learning is rote and boring is defunct in the 21st century!

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Language Learning is the Swiss Army Knife of Knowledge…

For when you don’t have a Galactic Hitchhiker from whom you may borrow a Babel Fish…

Han Solo understood Chewbacca’s Wookiee language and the speech of Greedo, a Rodian (Thank goodness or Han would’ve only had a bit part in A New Hope!).  Jabba the Hutt understood English (but still didn’t heed Luke’s warning!). And C-3PO, that loveable goldenrod, was fluent in over six million forms of communication!

Image Copyright Stanley Chow

John Malkovich and Johnny Depp know more than English.  Emma Thompson does, too.  Penelope Cruz has made a career in both Spanish- and English-language films.  Gérard Depardieu makes films in France and Hollywood.  Samuel Beckett, an Irishman, Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian, and Milan Kundera, Czech, all wrote in French, their second language.  And Haruki Murakami wrote the first lines of his debut novel in English, then translated them back into his native Japanese, finding his voice along the way.

It’s what separates the Fleming Bond from the Hollywood Bond.  It’s what makes Jason Bourne way cooler than both.  What’s “it,” you say? Why, speaking more than one language. Being a polyglot.

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You know the old joke: What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. Three? Trilingual. One? American.

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Mandarin is spoken by over 1 billion people.

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According to CBS news, Barack Obama, at a town hall meeting in 2008, said, despite having spent part of his childhood overseas, “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!”  Days prior he was reported saying, “It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?”   When Mr. Obama championed the idea of Americans learning another language, his opponents jumped to criticize, deride and worse.  His response?  “You know, this is an example of some of the problems we get into when somebody attacks you for saying the truth, which is we should want children with more knowledge.”

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Skittles.

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G. Tucker Childs, in his 2003 An Introduction to African Languages, declares that there are more than 2100 languages spoken on the continent.

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Whenever I’ve told someone that I speak French, I’ve never been met with, “Holy Cow! Are you kidding!?  Why on earth would you want to speak another language?”  Very often there is the refrain of “Oh man, that is so cool!  I wish I spoke another language.”  Sometimes a rousing chorus of “Wow, I studied [insert language here] in high school but I don’t remember anything except [insert “hello” or “please” or random curse word from previous language].”  There is the occasional stunned silence, usually for people who aren’t sure how to respond, but they often follow up with a question about how I learned it, or where or why.  And then there are those who, despite having no background in learning another language, still try to relate:  “Wow, that’s great.  I have an uncle who had a step-daughter from his second, no third, marriage, who took French in junior high.  She really liked it.”

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Did you know that Spanish is the de jure or de facto language in some 23 countries around the world, on four continents? 

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There are a million reasons (I know because I’ve counted—#1, to communicate) to learn another language.  Gaining cultural competence and awareness, and improving one’s ability to think and reason notwithstanding, learning another language allows us to better know our mother tongue (Oh, how many students I’ve had who didn’t understand English grammar until we studied French grammar.).  It leaves us with the ability to travel far-off with the magical power to experience a more authentic Spain or France, a more personal Senegal or Columbia.  It bestows upon us even more ways to express ourselves and, better yet, know and understand ourselves.  For music fans, it is your gateway to an exponential number of new favorite bands that you won’t ever hear on the radio, so no  more listening to the same misses over and over and over.  For movie buffs, your DVD collection will grow, your bank account shrink, and Friday Film Nights will never, ever be the same.

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French is the official language (or one of several) of 30+ countries around the world, used unofficially in even more, spoken on five continents, and figures among the official languages of dozens of international organizations.

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Living in Austin, I find myself in the car quite often.  By which I really mean, all the time.  When I’m not listening to KUT, the local NPR affiliate, I have CDs constantly playing music.  You may not think this terribly unusual, save one detail.  Almost without fail, those discs are playing French music.  Or African Music.  Mostly likely hip hop.  In my mind, the soundtrack of Austin isn’t Sara Hickman, Alejandro Escovedo or Brownout (though I listen to them!), but IAM, Saïan Supa Crew, Magic System and Sexion d’Assaut.  And, full disclosure, listening to what surely seems out of place to everyone but me, I always do two things.  One: At stoplights, when the weather’s nice, I open the sunroof and the windows and turn up the music.  When people stare, I know I’m cool, and I secretly wait for them to ask me what I’m playing. Two: Every time I hear a Sonic ID on KUT, I automatically imagine it’s me on the radio, talking about how my soundtrack to Austin goes back and forth between Morning Edition, All Things Considered and French Hip Hop.  Other drivers will listen to this same Sonic ID and think, “That guy must be so cool.”  The ID ends with me singing along to something fun, like Magic System.

My therapists say my delusions completely lack grandeur.

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Learning languages is a Swiss Army Knife for knowledge.  It makes you smarter; it makes you cooler.  It opens the world to you in ways you haven’t even imagined.  It bridges cultures and continents; it links one human to another.  And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, that link turns romantic, then you woo someone in their language, and they you, in yours.  That’s probably worth the price of admission right there.

An Attempt at Internet Dating

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I’ve got Japanese and Arabic on my list. What language do you want to start learning today?

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