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3 must-see films in a foreign language

Adam Allen

I found myself in Lugoj, Romania one Sunday morning and decided to attend the local Greek Orthodox church. On the steps was a small boy, maybe 8 years old, who struck up a conversation with me and the other Americans I was with. "How on earth," I thought, "could this boy, who clearly isn't the most affluent kid in town, have such fluent conversational English?" We soon learned that he had learned his English from American cartoons.

Watching foreign media can clearly be a great way to supplement language-learning. It's enjoyable, for one. Context and body language provide clues to what the actors are saying. If we're watching a familiar video with a foreign language dubbed over, we can likely recall what the actors are saying in English and be listening for the foreign translation (especially for short, oft-used phrases). 

In addition to the language-learning benefits of watching foreign films, another great reason is to simply be inspired. The three foreign films below opened my eyes to the foreign cultures, life stories, and languages they so beautifully depict. If you're looking for some inspiration on a weekend night, check these out.

"Les Choristes" (French)

"Les Choristes" is the story of an endearing, ingenious musician who finds himself a job as the teacher of some unruly boys. Taking place in post-war France, the film portrays how one man lives up to Goethe's truism: "If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

"To Live" (Mandarin)

"To Live" follows the story of one Chinese family as they somehow survive the upheaval of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. After watching portions of the film in class, my Chinese professor (who had grown up in China under Mao) stated bluntly that the film was no exaggeration. I gained a deeper appreciation of the realities that nearly every Chinese family lived through, and that the West was so completely unaware of for decades.

"Life is Beautiful" (Italian)

After hearing that the film "Life is Beautiful" centered around the horrors of the Holocaust, I was at first hesitant to watch it. Amusing and powerful at the same time, this film depicts how a father's love, humor, and ingenuity carry his family through the worst atrocities this world has known.

What are some other inspiring films you've seen in a foreign language?

7 Ways to Help your Child Succeed in an Immersion Program

Alexandria Scott

Has your lucky little one made it into an immersion program this year? I bet when you got that notification, it felt like choruses of angels started singing all around you. You did the research, made the family decision to enroll your student in an immersion program, survived the lottery, made the commitment and… you’re in! Whew. School’s starting. Now what? For little ones without a degree of proficiency or familiarity with the language of the program they’ll be starting, it can be a bit of a shock. Here are 7 ways to help your child succeed in an immersion program.

1. Try to teach key words: For some kids, entering kindergarten can be a scary time! New routine, new place, new friends, new teacher, new language? Some children may feel a degree of trepidation or stress if they think nobody can understand them and they can’t communicate their needs. I team-taught a summer immersion preparation camp for incoming kindergarten Mandarin immersion students. In the beginning, I remember one boy had cried (poor thing) because he needed to use the bathroom and thought that nobody could understand him because myself and my team teacher were only speaking Chinese. What a stressful experience for that little boy! If possible, before school starts or at the very beginning, try to teach your student a few important words in the language like bathroom, sick, hungry, and water. Add any other words that are specific to your child’s needs.

2. Learn with your child: Parental involvement and support is critical for children entering immersion programs. Once you make the decision with your child to enroll them in an immersion program, parents should begin a degree of language study themselves. As a non-native parent teaching my chid, I know that there will most likely come a day (or at least I hope!) when she surpasses our language skills (let’s be real- I don’t understand chemistry in English, it’s not going to happen in any other language)… but for time being, model a positive and enthusiastic attitude toward language learning and make it a fun family project to learn together! Games such as Smart Canary card games are a great way to engage your child in a fun way while practicing reading, listening and speaking skills in the target language!

It’s also important to note that many schools will provide resources for parents of children in immersion programs, specifically designed to help parents keep up with their students. Talk to your child’s teacher as she may be able to provide you with some resources.

3. Plan ahead for language needs: Parents have so many different balls in the air, and even if language learning is a priority for you and you’re trying to keep up with your child, you may just simply lack the time to learn at the same pace as your child. Speak with your child’s teacher about what vocabulary is most important for you to know, based on your students strengths and weaknesses. You can also ask her about future curriculum and vocabulary, and start learning ahead of schedule.

4. Don’t force your child to “show that they can speak” the language to friends, relatives or peers: As proud as you will undoubtedly be of your budding linguist, forcing her to speak or putting too much pressure on her to “perform” for others can cause her to associate negative or uncomfortable feelings with the language. Learning a second language through immersion can be stressful enough! Who wants to be suddenly put on the spot to say something in a language they’re just learning? That’s nerve-wracking and awkward! Resist the temptation to do this, even if it’s for grandma!

5. Engage in activities in the target language outside of school: For some kids in immersion programs, the only interaction they have with the language is in school and with their homework. Pick a couple activities that your child loves (like soccer or an art class) and see if you can’t find that class in that language! If you live in a large metropolitan area, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find something. Check with your city and close by counties, social websites like Meetup.com, or check out local newspapers or magazines in the language you’re looking for (you can get someone to help you read, if you need). Our family attends church in French and sometimes in Mandarin, and it’s a wonderful experience and also a good resource. If you’re in an area like DC, NYC, London, or Paris, check with the local embassy! For example, Alliance Française is very active in many cities and has loads of resources for families, even a small library with French children’s books! Many immersion schools also have vibrant after school programs in the target language, which could be a great answer for you, especially if you work outside the home and need after school care anyway. Finally, your child’s teacher may also know of some resources, so don’t be shy about asking! Remember, one of the best things your child can do is to develop friendships in the target language!

6. Support your child’s teacher and school: Being an immersion teacher requires extra work, time and expense. Resources and curriculum are scarce in languages outside of English in the US. While some major cities, are getting started on developing common core curriculum in Spanish (like New York City), the reality is that your child’s teacher has to go the extra mile and beyond to create lessons. This expense is probably coming out of her own pocket. Advocate for your child and her teacher- become an active member of the PTA and help raise funds to support your schools immersion programs. Sincerely ask her what she needs and try your hardest to involve other parents and help her out!

 The family behind the blog  "Jack and Jill See the World" - a guide to traveling with kids. 

The family behind the blog "Jack and Jill See the World"- a guide to traveling with kids. 

7. Immersion travel: Instead of the regular vacation this year, why not take an immersion vacation? By showing your child that her language skills are not theoretical and that there are millions of other people who speak that language, you could help a fair-weather student see the relevancy in their lives. Bonus: you get to travel somewhere other than an amusement park, perhaps, say the south of France? Some places, like Quebec even have immersion camps for kids learning French, but you don’t have to find a camp necessarily. Head anywhere you like! If you can’t afford to leave your home country, there may still be options for you. Places such as Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota offer immersion programs in 12 different languages with some programs starting as early as age 2, and some that include the entire family. They also have adult immersion programs, as well. If you live in a major metropolitan area, chances are there are also immersion summer camps right in your own backyard.

I hope these tips were helpful for families at any point in their child’s immersion education journey! What’s been useful for helping your child succeed in their immersion program?

What Are Your Language Learning Goals? 5 Questions to Further your Study

Alexandria Scott

Getting ready for a trip abroad? Studying to communicate with family or community members? Fascinated with a particular language? Whatever the reason, becoming multilingual is an absolutely incredible journey! And wherever you are in your journey, chances are you're always on the lookout for inspiration to help you reevaluate your goals and keep you driving to the next level.

Here's a few questions that can help you evaluate your ability and cement your language learning goals:

making-language-learning-goals.jpg

1. Why are you learning the language? This seems like a bit of an obvious question, but so much of the "why" determines what you'll focus your study on. Whether it's for work, travel or home life- learn the vocabulary for the situations where you'll need to use it. Want to learn for that fabulous French cooking class you're planning on taking? Focus heavily on cooking words! Learning Chinese to communicate with your in-laws? Focus on the vocabulary you'll need to tell your mother-in-law all about the kids. Do you work in healthcare and have a lot of Spanish-speaking patients? Focus on the medical terminology necessary for your field. General textbooks aren't going to be perfectly tailored to your individual language needs. So, ask yourself exactly what you need to learn to communicate in specific situations today, tomorrow and the next day and plan your study around your life!

2. Who do you intend to communicate with? Many language learners select a language and start going full steam ahead without really considering exactly who they need to communicate with. Widely spoken languages like Mandarin, French or Spanish vary in vocabulary, grammatical structures and pronunciation depending upon the country, region or culture where they're spoken. If you've decided to learn French, do you intend on communicating with speakers from Paris, Haiti, Geneva, Cote d'Ivoire, Quebec or Reunion? French has differences in each of these places, and as a beginner or intermediate learner, it may be tricky to adapt your French on the fly. If you're planning a trip to Cameroon, look for language study materials that will teach you French as it's spoken in Cameroon, not just the default Parisian French that most are taught. 

3. Speaking, Listening, Reading or Writing? Language learning is a challenge, but when we get something down, that awesome feeling that comes from it can really motivate us to keep studying! That being said, it can be easy to shy away from our weakest areas- the skills that take the most work and what we probably need to be studying most. If you've been avoiding a tough language skill and want to motivate yourself to dive in, consider leaning on the support of a skilled tutor or friend to help you out! 

4. How much time during the day do you want to set aside for language study? How many words/grammar structures/phrases do you want to learn each day or week? Every one is learning languages at their own pace- it's all in the journey! Really understanding how much time you want to put aside each day to learn will help you pace yourself without getting burnt out or bored. If you need to speed up, try adding components to your language study like changing the language on your devices, listening to podcasts such as News in Slow French, and scheduling conversation sessions with native speakers. If you need to slow down, relax and take a while to study the aspects of the language that are most enjoyable to you for a few weeks!

5. And finally, are you having fun? Learning a language is so rewarding, but if you're not having fun, it's going to be a bit more difficult to retain what you already know and get excited about learning more. Smart Canary has card games in English, French, Spanish and Chinese to help get you and your family and friends excited about learning your target language, all while having a great time! 

Hopefully, these questions have helped you to refocus your existing language learning goals and to make some new ones! We'd love to hear all about it. Share with us in the comments section about the language you're learning and what steps your taking to further your study!