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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?