If you've ever wanted to read every book in the library, maybe you should rethink that.

Tag Archives: 30 day challenge

Phew! The month of foreign language media only has ended. This past week was the most difficult because I found myself tempted by more English media than usual.

During my last hours of the challenge, I snacked on a movie in Hebrew and Arabic called The Attack, and before bed I read some of a children’s novel called Der Verzauberte Garten. For dessert, as I always do before going to sleep, I practiced some language flashcards.

Although the challenge is technically finished as of now, I’ll be happy to continue some of these habits. The German novel isn’t going to read itself, right? As I mentioned before, I’m starting a less intensive challenge in which I watch all the foreign films made available to me by my library. I’m still on A. (I’m not sure yet whether I’ll write about it here.) Of course, there’s also the Korean TV drama I’ve been watching forever.

Many activities left over from the challenge remained the same today. I did a short French lesson in the morning, watched Scrubs, and worked on The Novel. The only difference is I’m doing most of this in English. It feels better on my brain.

On to the post-challenge Q&A!

bannerbaseWas it ever surreal experiencing things in another language? Was it surreal experiencing things in English when the challenge was over?

For both questions, Yes and No.

Subtitles were a big help during the challenge, but sometimes I felt I didn’t need them. Since I’ve been getting to know Korean through television shows, I often forget I need to look at the subtitles at all. Especially for very simple dialogue, such as “Thank you” and “That’s right.” In a well-made drama, get so acquainted with the characters that dialogue seems unimportant. When watching a movie in Korean, however, I strained more to see the dialogue because I didn’t know the plot as well. One time, though, I didn’t need the subtitles when someone said, “감사합니다.” Needless to say, I felt smart.

It was more surreal watching The Attack because I currently know no words in Hebrew or Arabic (or Hindi, for the record). When a character said a simple “Yes,” it confounded me!

Basically, watching anything in another language sounds a lot like the following video. You know what they’re saying probably makes sense in some form, and eventually you forget about the words because you’ve been sucked into the drama that is human existence.

Since the challenge ended, I’ve had moments of awe when I realize, “You mean I can read this without straining to remember vocab?!”

I’d been listening to Scrubs in German all month, so this morning was a little weird. There was a moment in an episode today (auf Englisch) where JD shouted, “That’s my pudding, Omar!” in Turkish for the sake of the joke. I had to stop my DVD and ponder over my breakfast. “He spoke another language, right? I’m not having a language hangover, right?”

Did you ever find yourself thinking in another language?

A few times, yes.

Sometimes, when I was really tired, my brain babbled French sounds.

For a week or so, my thoughts began with German sentences. Some days, I expected to speak this language accidentally to a poor, unsuspecting person. To my dismay, it never happened. I’d like to continue confusing my inner monologue, though, so I’m going to continue taking in more German.

The day after I wrote about Wings of Desire, I had “Als das Kind Kind war…” in my head. Every time I looked at a children’s book, Bruno Ganz decided to follow me everywhere.

Did you get tired of any particular language or form of media?

I got really tired of French movies and serious movies, particularly the serious French movies. I don’t usually watch a lot of films, so maybe I simply burnt out on them. My preference tends to lean toward action and comedy anyway.

What did you learn from this challenge?

English is difficult to ignore. Even if you live in a country where people don’t commonly speak it, it could still pop up. It could be quoted for fun in a TV show, it could be used for advertisements, American movies may be available anywhere, and then there’s the internet. English is rampant on the internet.

Why did you cheat a little?

I’m addicted to Starcraft! *breaks down crying*

Did you learn anything specific about a culture?

Antardwand was perhaps the most eye-opening culturally. It’s about people who are forced into a marriage neither one desires, which, according to internet research on the film, may still happen in some parts of rural India. This was by far the saddest film I saw this whole challenge and I never want to see it again. On the plus side, it shows the visual beauty of India and its people much better than any Bollywood film I’ve ever seen.

Which were the best films of this challenge?

Here’s a list of all the movies I watched (alphabetical order) along with my picky 1-4 star rating (4 being supurb, 3 being good, 2 being meh, and 1 meaning I couldn’t even finish it) and the languages they were in:

**** Adam’s Apples (Adams Æbler) – Danish
*** Alias Betty – French
*** Amador – Spanish
** Amarcord – Italian
**** Amores Perros – Spanish
*** Amour – French
*** Antardwand – Hindi
* Apna Sapna Money Money – Hindi
*** Après Vous – French
*** The Assailant (Besouro) – Brazilian Portuguese
*** The Assault – French
*** The Attack – Hebrew and Arabic
** Augustine – French
*** The Host – Korean
**** Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) – German

Apologies to the Fellini fans. I just wasn’t into it.

You’ll notice most of the above are in European languages. (Only 5/15 of these movies weren’t from Europe.) I took every foreign film available at one of my libraries. Films in other languages may have been checked out at the time. It all depended on what was there the day I visited the library as well as where I was in the alphabet. (Right now, I’m on Au. Oy vey.)

These are the TV shows I made some good headway in (alphabetical order and languages, no ratings):

Attack on Titan – Japanese
Big – Korean
Sailor Moon – Japanese
Scrubs – German dub

Now let me tell you something about my absolute favorite movies, Wings of Desire, Après Vous, and Adams Æbler. They have good balance between comedy, drama and general intrigue.

Everyone should see Après Vous for the lobster scene alone. Do it for the lobster! This movie had such wonderful situational and physical comedy that subtitles aren’t even needed.

Wings of Desire, as I wrote before, is part of me. You should take this film every ten years or so. Like medicine.

I neglected to write about Adams Æbler in earlier posts because I was, for the longest time, on the verge of a long rant. I. Loved. This. Movie. It looks like a situational comedy, and it kind of is; a neo-Nazi must serve parole at a parish only to join a priest in denial, a vengeful Middle Eastern, and an alcoholic klepto in shenanigans as violent as they are Biblical. This isn’t your American, feel-good Christian movie. This has lots of swearing, impure events, guns, and violence. It’s also one of the best representations on the difficulties and rewards of Christian love that now all my feels are returning and I need to stop writing about it. If you practice any sort of monotheistic religion, simply believe in God, or don’t believe in God at all, you’ll enjoy this movie. It’s hilarious, shocking, and thought-provoking. Just watch it.

What did you enjoy most in this challenge?

Big, a Korean television drama I was going to watch with or without this challenge, has been the most enjoyable. As of today, I’m only 75% of the way through it because I keep forgetting how intense these shows are. A lot of K-dramas I’ve encountered pack an entire series in a single season.

I highly recommend this show, even to people who aren’t accustomed to K-drama. It’s on Viki.com and Hulu.com. The Gong Yoo’s (male lead) acting has gotten so much better than I last saw him in Coffee Prince, and Lee Min Jung (female lead) is my new darling. Each of these actors are able to show and excellent mix of comedy and drama.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed packing on more German vocabulary. I can’t burn out on this language as easily as French. It’s really, really cool encountering this vocab in real life situations. The same day I added the word “überhaupt” to my flashcards for Der Verzuberte Garten, I found it in an online comment. The same day!

Much of my other vocab was found in Wings of Desire. I don’t know what’s more adorable than a child saying, “Ich glaub, er ist besoffen.” (I think he’s drunk.) “Drunk” was the word I’d learned. Hooray!

What did you dislike most in this challenge?

I’m a little burnt out on movies. Sooooo many movies.

I’m also disappointed at how little material I read in other languages. Next time, I’ll do better.

Also, never combine wine with Doritos. Don’t.

Did your own foreign language skills improve?

I want to believe my French is improving. (It’s not.)

My German listening improved! My speaking confidence, however, is still terrible. Speaking happens better with practice, not so much from watching movies.

What did you read?

Well, I didn’t get to read as much foreign language as I wanted. Most of the time, I was reading my novel. (Editing’s a bitch.) Books made for German learners was a treat because I have the basics down. It was good for my ego.

Otherwise, I splurged on lanuage learning blogs (listed as an exception in the intro post). Sooooooo many blogs. I’m tired of them.

While at work one day, I made a fantastic discovery.

Mr. Wuffles!Mr. Wuffles is a children’s picture book about a bored cat who finds intruders in his house. Most of the dialogue is in an unknown language. If you can read this book without thinking, “WTF? This is so stupid,” then I think you would enjoy doing your own version of this challenge.

What music did you hear?

Oh, right. Music. Music was the least-stressful part of the challenge because I have plenty of it. I’m also more accustomed to hearing a great variety. (Your author has been known to rock out to European Renaissance music in Latin.) After ranting about not finding anything hip in week 2, I came across a compilation of Italian pop/rock and a publication of lullabies from around the world. Those were the best finds.

Here a good representation of what I’ve heard and liked overall. (I had to squeeze Balkan Beat Box in here somehow!)

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/zJCBgUSs27w?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

You wrote that you wanted to see a change in how you perceived the world. Did this come true?

After watching all the drama movies lifted above, everything seems depressing. On the plus side, my own life seems happier in comparison.

One feature of any foreign drama that I noticed was silence. Silence has much more meaning when the best social cues available to you are visual, not spoken. When there were silent moments in my own life, the mundaneness was highlighted and I paused to find meaning. There was no meaning. I was, perhaps, only having a Truman Show moment.

Will you do this challenge again sometime?


I hope to do this again when I’m no longer living with my family. Their own television habits didn’t stop on account of me, and at times it was frustrating to hear English when I didn’t want to.

I could see doing this for shorter spurts, as well, like one or two weeks. Perhaps when I need to get a head start on editing. I loved the brain scrub this challenge gave me.

Do you recommend this challenge to others?

I do recommend this challenge if you…

  • are learning one or two languages and want to make some improvement
  • can’t decide which language to learn and want to sample everything
  • think your life/country is boring and want to experience something different
  • have been told you need to be more sensitive to other cultures
  • are working on a big project and have trouble clearing your mind
  • like doing strange, themed reading challenges

How difficult was this challenge?

If you have a public library and the internet, it’s incredibly easy to find foreign language material. You simply have to WANT to experience it.

I would also like to give you two links from language learning blogs. In It’s Time To De-Bullshitize What Language Immersion Means, we read about how the concept of immersion isn’t so narrow or controlled as you want to believe. In The Not So Fun Side of Language Learning, we’re reminded of the effort it takes to learn anything, whether it’s fun or not.

What’s next for you?

What has two thumbs and a crap-ton of season premiers to catch up on? Bob Kelso.

My next challenges won’t actually be written about on this blog. Basically, I’ll be preparing for NaNoWriMo, participating in NaNoWriMo, and cleaning up all the shit I wrote during NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo.

Thanks for reading! If you make your own Foreign Language Only Month, tell me all about it!


Today, another migraine was upon me. Instead of blaming everything I ate last weekend, I’m going to blame French subtitles.

bannerbaseOne fun experience I had planned for this month was to watch an American-made movie dubbed in French. Because I’m intrigued by the idea of a French Jack Sparrow, I chose Pirates of the Caribbean. To heighten the experience, I also chose French subtitles. As it turns out, the dubbing doesn’t completely match the subtitles word-for-word. I’m only a little disappointed; subs and dubs shared the same idea behind the dialogue, and the same nouns were used within both. I’ve seen POTC a few times, but not recently enough to remember most dialogue or the sequence of scenes. Despite my awful vocabulary, I was able to understand what was going on.

I remembered the following random quotes from the original:

Elizabeth: I can’t breathe. (falls off the balcony)


Jack: Easy with the goods, love.


Will: My blood.

I have no idea whether Jack is funny en français, but the physical comedy is still good. All of the actors in this film who have speaking roles are still quite good. I can’t say so much for the extras. Watching POTC in a foreign language certainly separates the talented from the cheap. I made it one hour in before my brain began to melt. I likely won’t watch this again in French, but the nostalgia trip was fantastic.

Speaking of nostalgia, I finally got to rewatch Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)! This movie/film is terribly sentimental to me, and I had no idea how much until I experienced it again after leaving behind high school German class living with its fleeting memories. I’d remembered how the story followed angels who listened to people’s thoughts, and how one angel fell in love. I remembered the circus, the black and white filming, and the wings of the Siegessäule. If the following trailer tickles your fancy the slightest bit, please find it and watch it.

With some movies I’ve seen this month, I’ve watched them in chunks, at night, just before going to bed. It took me four days to see Wings of Desire. With some movies, the mood is gone when I return the following night. Watching this one, however, for even ten minutes gives one a sublime sense of peace. It makes one almost feel pure. The scene at the library is, by far, my favorite. The choral music best describes what I, or perhaps any book-lover, experiences at a library. After having studied dance, the character Marion’s efforts are dear to my heart. The best part of all, besides Damiel’s real-life experience, is seeing Cassiel close his eyes and rest is head on a human’s shoulders.

Something odd happened halfway through watching. I realized I’d begun to write down intriguing quotes, just as the angels were writing about the humans. When Damiel finished, it was the biggest déjà vu moment of my life. I’d written the same quote, somewhere, in my notebook in high school after seeing this movie for the first time.

Ich weiss jetzt,

Was kein Engel weiss.

I remembered exactly the pacing with which he said it. I remembered repeating the phrase in my mind after writing it. I remember physically writing it! It’s an understatement to say Der Himmel über Berlin is a part of me. This isn’t just a movie. It’s a film. A documentary. A visual journal. A single stream of many lives. I could go on!

To help me hone in on this point for you, here is a publication of articles (in .pdf) about Point of View within this film. Don’t be jarred by the scholarly print; it’s a good read.

Is this challenge over yet? I’m spent. On the 16th, I’ll return for the conclusion of this challenge.

Before this challenge began, I had weekly nightmares about vocabulary. The plots of these dreams usually entailed not knowing enough of one language to save my life, knowing so much of one that I couldn’t speak another, and even being attacked by words. (German, I’m looking at you.)

These dreams have since stopped. I believe immersing myself in some of these languages I’m learning (or want to learn) has given the vocabulary somewhere to go. My brain is finally able to put some of them to use. The first two weeks, I was even able to add a buttload more German flashcards without being overwhelmed. (I swear, if I’m chased around by Kolibris one more time I’ll forget all the animal words on purpose!)

bannerbaseWeek 3’s passing has filled me with sadness. That’s not to say It wasn’t a good week. I enjoyed Après Vous, a French comedy, with ma mère. I also found a Brazilian Portuguese action flick about Capoeira called The Assailant (or Besouro). Yesterday, I even indulged in some K-Pop.

I’m sad because there’s only one week and two days more of this challenge and I have so much left to do! My Norwegian language pile hasn’t been touched. I’ve only now gotten into a French groove. My adventure with the Foreign Films at my library will be another challenge on its own. I thought it would be fun to go in alphabetical order, depending on what they had that day. Three weeks in and I haven’t made it out of the A’s yet! I’ll work on it.

A good example of my month.

A good example of my month.

The last week will have to be more tailored. Norwegian might need to have its own week. (Week 5, anyone?) I’ll skip around in the films department to watch one of my favourites, Wings of Desire.

French will take a better part of my time. Grammar lessons en français seem to get along well with my morning-brain. I’ve learned the hard way German is bad for me when I’m still mumbling into a coffee cup. This could be on account of my synaesthesia. Because I consider French to be a vowel language, it sounds better in the morning than German, which is more of a consonant language. It’s like the difference between alarm clocks. I can’t wake up to “KREEQ. KREEQ. KREEQ.” It never works for me. My current, chosen alarm is gentle and sounds more like, “Woolabolo. Woolabolo. Woolabolo.” (Disclaimer: I’m not saying German is loud and/or obnoxious. I’m saying it’s easier for me to pay attention to it when I’m definitely conscious.)

This reminds me of an idea I’ve been wanting to mention. Language is music. I especially feel this is true when comparing Korean with Japanese, and French with Italian. They sound different (duh) because they’re like different styles of music. They produce different sounds, different rhythms, and instill different emotions in us depending on how we’ve been exposed to it. Susanna Zaraysky can perhaps explain it better. I haven’t read her book (and I’m not endorsing something I haven’t read myself), but she’s my favourite polyglot simply for this reason.

Any confessions this week? Yes, there was one hour where I watched English TV on purpose. I had a migraine after work and my mood can best be described as: “Sit me on the floor in my pajama hoodie and don’t talk to me.” I had dinner with my family while we watched The Nanny and some world news. I have also played a little more Starcraft, but at least I’m avoiding other English-media video games. I have also watched a little more of the world news because knowledge is power! I can’t escape!!

I’ll be back next week with more goodies. Before I go, enjoy some Capoeira.

Foreign films are your friends. No, really! There seem to be negative thoughts on foreign films in general, or any movie that involves subtitles for its entire duration. In my short life, this is what I’ve gathered. Why is this so? It could be the actual act of reading subtitles. It could be the separation of text/speech and action. It could also be a false idea that foreign films are uber (über?) serious or abstract.

After watching Amador, I begin to wonder if all movies from other countries had depressing people and plots. Where are the storylines that make you feel good? Is Hollywood so different from everyone else? No. There are plenty of intense films everywhere.

If we’re intelligent enough to read this post, we can surely read a few subtitles. If subtitles become tedious, watch the acting and the body language. If everything looks too serious, remember that sometimes sarcasm is lost in translation.

Alias Betty was pretty darn good. As it was somewhat of a thriller, of course it was a little serious, but one needn’t read too many subtitles to understand both the basic and complex human instincts. The night after seeing it, I had a dream about finding a place to live with little José, except, instead of Betty, I was Ledger’s Joker sans make-up and we had to hide in Gotham. (Your author need not go at length to explain how she needs to lay off the Batman. It’s becoming evident that a whole month of other media will not help her brain be cleansed.)

bannerbaseJust like last week, this one has passed too quickly. The difference, however, is my experience with language altogether. While working on my novel, I’m able to concentrate better. It’s as if shoving English materials into my closet (quite literally) for the time being has given my thoughts a reboot. That’s not to say there aren’t still temptations.

I have weaned myself off of Starcraft for the twentieth time this year. There are some nights when my brother finds no end to funny images to show me via Imgur. I’ll have to make him postpone these showings for a few weeks.

Language is everywhere, and it’s not always a good thing. Advertisements will always be annoying and, for some reason, we believe it makes them inescapable. Not so! I’ll listen to them in Spanish instead, suckers! Wait, but… but then… damn, they still got me.

I’ve already become bored with my library’s selection of “foreign” music. Most of it consists of compilation CDs that are supposed to represent an entire country. Many of these songs are in English. I’ll have to now rely on Classical or Spanish radio in the car and unofficial Youtube videos at home.

Speaking of videos, let me show you one more. This is an instrumental piece from Gangs of New York. I first saw this movie in high school, after I’d been a fan of Irish music for several years. Buying the sound track and listening obsessively introduced me to fusion-like music from other parts of the world, particularly Africa. (Afterwards, I got into folk and everything else went downhill.) Since then, I’ve learned that each bit of music is the gateway to other styles. This song popped up on my FLOM playlist today.

Next time I do this challenge, it will have to happen when I’m not living with my immediate family. Their habits fill the house, and so I’d like to try this again without the constant flow of muffled Dragnet, Perry Mason, and The Nanny. Not that I’m saying these shows are bad. They just seem like a dull nuisance right now. I would also like to watch an entire movie in one sitting without hearing my mother complain about what the characters are doing. “Why are they yelling?” Because their Italian. Or because they’re cops chasing a bad guy. Or because they’re Italian cops chasing a very, very bad guy.

I’ll be reading more novels. See you next week!

%d bloggers like this: