iPod & MP3 Earworms Rapid French Volume 1 Review

An independent language course review by Andrea Lainé

earworms rapid french language coursesNow this is a new learning experience for me: learning a language through the use of music. This is an interesting concept and something that Earworms calls an  ‘accelerated learning technique’. The idea behind it is to listen to words and phrases in a rhythmic way set to melodic music . You feel at ease as you listen and somehow the phrases become catchy and easy to recall.

I tried Volume 1 of the Earworms Rapid French language course which is the downloadable version (it is also available on CD). It is audio only (although a phrase book is included – more on this later). It is just over an hour long (70 minutes) and covers subjects that you might encounter whilst you are abroad such as ordering things, asking for things, asking directions, telling the time, numbers, days of the week, greetings and other useful expressions. You also cover verbs such as to eat, to order, to buy, to rent as well as asking questions such as ‘do you like?’, ‘what’s this?’ and ‘how much is it?’.

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IPOD & MP3 EARWORMS RAPID FRENCH: VOLUME 1 REVIEW

An independent language course review by Andrea Martinsaudible-earworms-rapid-french

Now this is a new learning experience for me: learning a language through the use of music. This is an interesting concept and something that Earworms calls an   ‘accelerated learning technique’. The idea behind it is to listen to words and phrases in a rhythmic way  set to melodic music .  You feel at ease as you listen and somehow the phrases become catchy and easy to recall.

I tried volume one of the Earworms Rapid French language course. It is just over an hour long and covers subjects that you might encounter whilst you are abroad such as ordering things, asking for things, asking directions, telling the time, numbers, days of the week, greetings and other useful expressions. You also cover verbs such as to eat, to order, to buy, to rent as well as asking questions such as ‘do you like?’, ‘what’s this?’ and ‘how much is it?’.

The first track deals with ‘je voudrais’ – I would like. Before you know it you are ordering drinks, as well as saying other expressions such as ‘parfait’, ‘de rien’ and ‘merci’ – all good conversation fillers and useful pleasantries!

Each sentence is repeated at least three to four times, but each time it is said at a slightly different pace and with a slightly different intonation. The sentence is then broken down into parts. So, for example ‘I would like to eat something’ is broken down into its components and then the word order is compared to English:   ‘I would like’, then ‘to eat’, then ‘something’ then ‘to eat’ again and then ‘something’ again and then the whole sentence is said in full once more. This idea of breaking up an expression and reconstructing it reminds me vaguely of the Michel Thomas method. But the Earworms method uses music and rhythmic repetition to great language learning effect!

The music varies from techno to funky jazz, guitar and ‘lift’ music (musak)! Each type of music denotes a different chapter so learning doesn’t become monotonous and allows you to associate certain language with certain music. At the end of each chapter track, a challenge is set for us, although the male English language speaker answers the questions. The female French speaker asks us ‘how do you say…..?’ with something that we have just covered in the chapter. It’s a good exercise and nothing too challenging.

In fact, this is what I enjoyed most about the Earworms Rapid French; I found the whole experience not too challenging or exhausting and yet I remembered quite a bit of the French. This particular course comes with a useful downloadable booklet. It gives more information into what the accelerated learning technique is about. It also lists all the phrases and words found in the course. This is useful for those (like me!) that like to see the written language and associate it with hearing the language at the same time. You even get a list of the English, the French (along with the audio of the sound) and its ‘memory hook’ – something which helps you associate the French to a visual memory and familiar words in English.

Overall, I thought that this course was fun, entertaining and I was under no pressure to memorise words. I later found myself humming one of the tunes and remembering the repetition of the French words! This method really does seem to work! C’est parfait!

Learn a language on your iPod ® with Earworms Rapid French Volume 1 [UK and Europe]>>

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FRENCH LANGUAGE FILM REVIEWS

La Marche de L’empereur (2005)
March of the Penguins

An independent  language advantage film review by Emmanuel Lainé

After a long summer of feasting, the emperor penguins of Antarctica begin to march inland to the breeding grounds where each of them were born. Walking in a long single line, they all know where they are going, even those making the march for the first time, and when they get there they carefully choose their mates.

From the director Luc Jaquet, ‘The March of the Penguins’ is a new type of documentary, closely related to fiction. This movie describes the long and cruel reality of being a penguin in the harshest environment of Antartica. The impressive scene of the males protecting their eggs against the freezing cold blizzard adds to their reality. It is like some kind of Hitchcock suspense: will the females come back on time to take their turn to protect the eggs?

In a few words, The March of the Penguins is a beautiful movie. It’s moving, and emotionally charged. Perfect for an hour and a half with your family and provides a very simple ecological message. Its simplicity is portrayed by the incredible beauty of the harsh landscape and the survival instinct of an extraordinary species.

In  easy to understand French  with english subtitles , it is  ideal for beginners. This film is also available in English with Morgan Freeman as the voice-over.

To buy The March of the Penguins  and other French language films>>

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De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (2005)
The Beat that my Heart Skipped

An independent  language advantage film review by Emmanuel Lainé

At 28 years old, Tom (Romain Duris) is a property developer with a business that is gradually falling deeper and deeper into illegal dealings in order to generate more profit. A meeting with someone from his past will force him to believe that time is still on his side, that he will become someone else, but more specifically, to become the concert pianist he once dreamt of being. Continuing with the illegal dealings of his job, he gets ready for an audition.

‘The Beat that my Heart Skipped’ won best movie at the Cesar awards 2005 and is a typical French movie. The story enables the actors to show their full potential in which Tom (Romain Duris, also in L’auberge Espagnole and Les Poupees Russes), Robert (Niels Arestrup), Chris (Emmanuelle Devos, also in Read my Lips) and Miao Lin (Linh-Dan Pham, also in Indochine) excel. Directed by Jacques Audiard (also Read my Lips), ‘The Beat that my Heart Skipped’ is an astonishing journey into the familiarity of French society through the eyes of a family.

The French language is easy to understand and I’d recommended this film for beginners. In French with English subtitles.

To buy The Beat that my Heart Skipped  and other French language films>>

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A la Folie, Pas du Tout (2002)
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Carroll

The title and cover of this French film suggest a beautiful love story set in picturesque France. But be ready for an entertaining, and sometimes morbid, journey through obsessive and unrequited love as Angélique falls in love with her older man, Loïc. Sadly for her, he is happily married and his wife is expecting a baby. An interesting insight into a story told from opposite sides.

Angélique is played by Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame and is accompanied on screen by her love interest played by Samuel le Bihan also in Brotherhood of the Wolf. First film from new Director Laetitia Colombani. In French with English subtitles. Rated 12 in the UK.

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La Pianiste (2001)
The Piano Teacher

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

La Pianiste is a tale of the limits one man is willing to go to be with the woman that he loves and the relationship between teacher and pupil.

Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is a piano instructor at a famous music school in Vienna. She is a highly respected musician but a harsh teacher. She lives with her mother (Annie Girardot) and does not have a husband or a lover in her life. Erika satisfies her sexual appetite by watching extreme porn videos and voyeurism which sometimes involves pain and self-mutilation. She discovers that she has attracted the attentions of Walter ( Benoît Magimel), one of her students. When Walter stands up for one of his fellow students after a recital Erika is angry and storms off to the bathrooms where Walter follows her. Erika approaches Walter in a sexual way and refuses to fully satisfy him unless she can have complete control over the relationship. Once Walter realises what Erika’s control will involve he refuses to go ahead with it. He then decides to turn the tables and give Erika a taste of her own controlling attitude.

This film is shockingly violent in places but also very watchable. You are drawn into the controlling relationship and the messed up characters. You want to understand why these things are happening but are given no explanation. Michael Haneke has directed a film which is very shocking at times but also extremely thought-provoking.

In French with English subtitles.

To buy The Piano Teacher  and other French language films>>

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Amelie (2001)

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Carroll

Amelie, born of a distant father and an eccentric mother, has been sheltered by her parents. As she leaves home she leads us through her fantasy life while she works as a waitress in Paris. She makes a surprise find and then discovers that she must spend her life helping others find love and happiness. Until she falls in love herself, that is! This movie leaves you laughing, crying, captivated and often perplexed – but after all it is a French film, and a great one at that.

The director of this French film is Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Amelie is played by Audrey Tautou. In French with English subtitles.

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Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

An independent  language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

The storyline of this film is very intriguing and gripping. Set in 1764, it is based on the legend of a monstrous beast that apparently lived in the Gevaudan region of France. The story follows the investigations of Gregoire de Fronsac (played by Simon le Bihan) and his side-kick Mohawk (played by Mark Dacascos) into the murders of women and children who seemed to have been hunted down and killed by this savage beast. Their investigations lead to several rendez-vous with a beautiful prostitute (Monica Belluci) who helps them to find the beast. The beast, as it turns out, is not all that it appears to be…

This film has some amazing action scenes and some even more amazing martial arts fighting that add to the enjoyment of the story. It is beautiful to watch and although a little ridiculous in places (martial arts in France in the 1700’s?!), it is entertaining and worth watching. I recommend you watch the extras as it gives more information about the legend and the beast.

The (French) language is easy to understand and although you can watch this film with the dubbing switched on, I would recommend that you watch it with the subtitles to have a more complete experience of the Gevaudan legend. In French with subtitles.

To buy Brotherhood of the Wolf   and other French language films>>

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Trois Couleurs Bleu (1993)
Three Colours Blue

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Three Colours Blue is the first part of Kieslowski’s trilogy and demonstrates the first element of the French Republic – freedom.

It is set in Paris, where Julie (Juliette Binoche), wife of the famous composer Patrice de Courcy (Benoît Régent), must cope with the death of her husband and daughter in a car accident which she survives. During the film, Julie cuts herself off from her past and her friends. She falls in love with Olivier Benoit, her late husband’s helper and she discovers her late husband was having an affair.

In my opinion, this part of the trilogy is the best of the three. I am slightly biased as I love Juliette Binoche and Benoît Régent, but this has got to be one of the best films I have seen this year. I would recommend this to anyone with a knowledge of French (or even without any French) as it is absolutely fantastic. If you are going to watch a French film soon I would definately make it this one.

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Trois Couleurs Blanc (1993)
Three Colours White

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Three Colours White is the second part of Kieslowski’s trilogy and illustrates the second element of the French Republic – equality.

The first part of the film is set in Paris, where we meet Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), the main character who is pleading with a judge in a divorce court. He is a Polish immigrant and is getting divorced from his wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy). His divorce leaves him as a beggar. He has a chance meeting with a fellow Pole, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos) who takes him back to Poland and they set up business together. In Poland, Karol changes and becomes ambitious and focuses on making money with Mikolaj. He uses his new ambition to create a scheme to win back Dominique and ultimately ruins her life with his actions.

The second part of Kieslowski’s trilogy doesn’t let him down. I enjoyed this part a little less than the Three Colours Blue (only due to the cast) but would definitely watch it again and it is great if you want to watch a French film with or without the subtitles.

The French accent is reasonably easy to understand as simple French is used and you can also choose whether you want subtitles or not, which is useful as you may want to test your French out and if you are struggling you can always add the subtitles on later. Overall this film is fantastic; I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to absolutely everyone, regardless of whether you can understand French or not. In French with subtitles.

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Trois Couleurs Rouge (1994)
Three Colours Red

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Three Colours Red is the final part of a trilogy by Kieslowski.

The film is set in Geneva, Switzerland and follows Valentine Dussaut (Irène Jacob), a young model and Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a retired judge, who meet by chance after Valentine accidentally hurts his dog. The film is primarily concerned with Joseph’s eavesdropping on his neighbours telephone calls and through this the relationship between the two main characters is formed. This friendship is the central theme of the film; along with the concept of fraternity – the trilogy is based on the three elements of the French republic, freedom (blue), equality (white) and fraternity (red).

A parallel story runs through the film, focusing on Valentine’s neighbour Auguste, Auguste’s conversations with his girlfriend, Karin are monitored by Joseph and play an integral part to the film as a whole.

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Delicatessen (1993)

An independent  language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

From the same director of Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, creates a surreal yet entertaining story of a butcher and his customers living in starving France. The film is set within a tumbledown house where its inhabitants survive via the butcher’s cannibalistic tendencies. For every new assistant that arrives for work and board, dinner is served for the butcher’s inhabitants.

The French is quite easy to understand as the conversations are often one-to-ones – but look out for what can only be French spoken with an American accent at some points!

This was the first film from Jean Luc Godard. In French with English subtitles. Rated 15 in the UK.

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A Bout de Souffle (1959)
Breathless

An independent  language advantage film review by Sarah Carroll

This is what you think about when you think of a foreign language movie! A beautifully shot black and white movie with amazing close-ups and intense conversations about life and what it means. Michel is on the run in Paris at the end of the 1950s and you follow his trail, including his love affair with an American in France. So classic is this film, that it was remade in the US in the mid-1980s, but don’t go with that version, stick to the la version originale.

His daughter Julie, changes the chain of events when she falls in love with the next new assistant Louison, a circus performer. Only an underground group of vegetarian freedom fighters can help save both her and her man from her father’s meat cleaver.

This is a very dark but funny film with beautiful staging and cinematography. It shows the small-town France where its inhabitants are neurotic and slightly deranged in their own individual way. It was nominated for the Bafta Film Award in 1993 and won several awards throughout Europe before that.

Beware of the French accent: it’s simple country French which some French learners might find challenging to understand initially. In French with English subtitles.

To buy  Breathless and other French language films>>


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ITALIAN LANGUAGE FILM REVIEWS

Malena (2000)

A language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

From the writer and director of the award-winning film Cinema Paradiso, this film is the story of a boy’s journey to manhood amid the chaos and intolerance of World War II. Monica Bellucci plays the most beautiful woman in a small town in Sicily who becomes the subject of malicious gossip and jealousies from the men and women of the town. The young boy Renato is the only one who understands her and feels sympathetic towards this woman whom everyone else thinks is a whore and a disgrace.

Through the eyes of Renato we see his sexual awakening and watch him become a mature and independent young man. This is a compassionate yet disturbing film in places. There are some scenes that are distressing, but it is compelling viewing as it evokes the restrained and religious culture of the time and the old Italian way of thinking.

It was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Musical Score.

Some Sicilian is noted within the film but the bulk of it is in Italian that is easily understandable if you’ve been learning it. In Italian with English subtitles.

To buy  Malena and other  Italian language films>>

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Life is Beautiful (1999)
La Vita è Bella

A language advantage film review by Tess Bentall

Set in 1939, Italy. The hero Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), who has a gift for making people laugh, and his friend Ferruccio come to a new town to stay with Guido’s uncle Eliseo. Guido meets the beautiful schoolteacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) by accident. He nicknames her princess. They encounter one another several times by surprise in amusing circumstances. Eventually he wins her heart and takes her away from her disagreeable fiance.

Years later Guido and Dora are happily married and have a young son Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). Since they are Jews Guido and Giosue are taken to a concentration camp. Dora, a gentile, follows them there voluntartily. In order to protect Giosue’s innocence and to shield him from the dangers and brutality of life during the Holocaust, Guido tells Giosue that they are part of a role playing game where they have to obtain a thousand points by obeying camp orders and coping with camp life in order to win first prize. Will Guido succeed in protecting his son and will the family ever be reunited?

Life is Beautiful is an absolutely adorable film. It is moving, uplifting and extremely amusing. A deserved winner of three Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor and Best Original Score. The film gives the viewer a unique insight into Italian history, the Italian way of life and Italy’s family values. It is also a celebration of the power of the imagination and the beauty of the human spirit. The interaction between Guido and Giosue is delightful. The romance between Guido and Dora is entirely believable and all the more touching when the viewer knows that Benigni and Braschi are happily married to each other off-screen. The key triumph of this film is to make one truly believe that life is beautiful. A joy to watch. Five stars.

In Italian with English subtitles.

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The Postman (1994)
Il Postino

A language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

This is a wonderfully charming story of an almost illiterate man, Mario Ruoppolo, played by the late Massimo Troisi. He decides to leave his life as a fisherman and become a postman on his native island in the Mediterranean Sea. Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Poet (played by the French actor Phillipe Noiret also in Cinema Paradiso) has found a rustic home on the same island after he is exiled in 1952. Mario is in charge of bringing Pablo his packages and mail and their friendship develops over time. Like everyone else on the island, Mario is impressed by the foreigner. In trying to imitate his poet friend, Mario becomes aware of all the beauty around him and discovers love with a beautiful local girl, Beatrice Russo.

Poetry is the connection between the two men, as Pablo helps Mario to woo the lovely Beatrice using poetry. It’s a simple film but gloriously filled with poetry and tango music reminiscent of the Chilean culture at that time. Although the English Director Michael Radford directed this film, he shows well the stunning scenery of the Mediterranean island and the very slow, simple way of life of its people. The Italian language is generally easy, although – at times – it is difficult to understand the ramblings of Mario in his thick Italian!

This film won an Oscar and a BAFTA award in 1996 as well as many other nominations for Best Foreign Film and Best Leading Actor for Massimo Troisi. In Italian with English subtitles.

To buy  The Postman  and other  Italian language films>>

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Mediterraneo (1992)

A language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

This film is directed by Gabriele Salvatores and set in Greece during World War II. Mediterranneo is a comedy about eight Italian soldiers who are sent to guard a small Greek island. The soldiers ship is sunk and their radio breaks down so as far as the army is concerned the soldiers no longer exist. They start to form a small Italian/Greek community with the locals and their past is soon forgotten. The soldiers’ characters start to change and they begin to adopt the island’s way of life with no desire to return to war.

This film is lovely; a real heart warmer full of passion and romance. A film about human nature, stereotypes and relationships during the war. It’s an Italian love story with a dash of comical genius. Definitely a must for any Mills & Boon fan and anyone who wants to experience an Italian romance with a ray of Greek sunshine.

In Italian with English subtitles.

To buy  Mediterraneo and other  Italian language films>>

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Cinema Paradiso (1989)

A language advantage film review by Andrea Martins

This has to be my all time favourite foreign movie. It is the story of a young boy called Salvatore who grew up in a small Sicilian village in the forties and fifties. As an older man and successful film director, he returns home for the funeral of Alfredo, an old friend and his surrogate father, who was the projectionist at the local cinema in the town throughout his childhood. Salvatore remembers his childhood and his friendship with Alfredo. We are taken back in time and into his memories of love and understand why it took the death of his old friend Alfredo for him to return to his home after 30 years.

This film by director Giuseppe Tornatore, who also produced Malena in 2000. It is a film which is stunning, charming and utterly absorbing. It not only vividly shows life in a small village in Sicily during the 1940’s but also shows the passage of time and how progress, industrialisation and technology can change people’s lives and not always for the better.

It won an Academy Award at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, five Baftas, a Golden Globe and several other nominations and awards. It is also currently one of the most bestselling dvd’s on amazon.co.uk. This is a definite must-see movie that will have you watching it again and again.

Some Sicilian is noted within the film but the bulk of it is in Italian that is easily understandable if you’ve been learning it for a while. In Italian with English subtitles. Rated PG in the UK.

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GERMAN LANGUAGE FILM REVIEWS

Die Letzten Tage (2005)
Sophie Scholl

An independent language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Based on actual events, Sophie Scholl is about a tiny group of German students known as The White Rose, who joined together in their mutual hatred of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. They aired their views by printing leaflets and passing them to German citizens. The film focuses on Sophie (Julia Jentsch), a 21-year-old member of The White Rose.

Set in Munich in 1943, Sophie and her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs), co-founder of The White Rose,  distribute leaflets on their campus. They have until the bell rings but Sophie decides to distribute a leftover stack of leaflets and consequently gets caught, arrested and accused of high treason. Sister and brother are separated and the film primarily concentrates on the interrogation of Sophie by Mohr (Gerald Alexander Held), a Gestapo interrogator who is convinced that Germany needs Nazi policies. Sophie denies everything and is offered a deal by the Gestapo, she must name the other members of the White Rose and incriminate them. She refuses which leads to an appointment with a Gestapo judge (André Hennicke) who sentences Sophie, Hans and another member of   The White Rose, Christoph Probst (Florian Stetter) to death.

Sophie Scholl is tragic yet an insight into what was a tragic and almost unbelievable time for all those involved. Never has a film made me think more. With fantastic direction and superb actors, this film is a definite  must for both history lovers and language film fans alike.

In German with English subtitles.

To buy Sophie Scholl and other German language films>>

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Der Untergang (2005)
Downfall

An independent language advantage film review by Emmanuel Lainé

Berlin, April 1945. The Third Reich is holding its last breath. Berlin is under fire from the Russian Army and Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz) is hiding in the depth of his bunker. Those left by his side are his wife to-be, Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler), his secretary Traudl Junge, as well as the surviving part of the Third Reich Army. Together they will live the last few days with Hitler and the downfall of the Nazi regime.

Based on the true story novel by Joachim Fest ‘The last days of Hitler’, this representation of Hitler on the cinema screen has been described as the most unique and truthful experience of the real man. Bruno Ganz (as Hitler) worked for months on mimicking Hitler’s voice and is magnificent in his role, giving the character real substance and authenticity. The last days are a condensed and concentrated description of the falling apart of the Third Reich but where their atrocious beliefs still persist. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (‘Das Experiment’ – 2002), ‘Downfall’ is the fruit of authentic German cinema making no judgement and without cynicism or arrogance. As Oliver Hirschbiegel said himself: ‘Nobody can forbid German people to talk about their own history, apart from ourselves’. This movie is a definite must-see.

BAFTA winner 2005 Best Foreign Movie. In German with English subtitles.

To buy Downfall and other German language films>>

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Goodbye Lenin! (2002)

An independent language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Goodbye Lenin! is a film depicting the relationship between love and politics.

The film begins in 1989, a young man, Alex (Daniel Bruhl) protests against the capitalist regime and consequently gets arrested. His mother (Katrin SaÃ?) seeing this suffers from a heart attack and falls into a coma. Eight months later she wakes from the coma completely unaware of the changes that East Germany has experienced. As  any form of shock is likely to make her relapse into her coma,  Alex creates a false Germany where socialism has won and the Berlin wall is still standing. As the film develops so does the lie and consequently turns into a major scam to keep his mother from finding out the truth about the things she believes in so much.

Goodbye Lenin! is a fantastic portrayal of a political love story, showing the protective relationship between mother and son, and how far people are willing to go to protect the ones they love. Goodbye Lenin! was the winner of the Best European Film award at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival.

A must see for everyone, German-speaking or not! In German with subtitles.

To buy  Goodbye Lenin!  and other German language films>>

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Lola Rennt (1998)
Run Lola Run

An independent language advantage film review by Sophie Paterson

The pounding techno soundtrack adds a good dose of hardly-needed adrenaline to this fast-paced and clever thriller about a girl who has 20 minutes to run – literally – against the clock to get her petty-criminal boyfriend out of some serious trouble. It’s punky, funky, shot like a music video for MTV, and edgy. It’s also told three times; each version hinging on something so very slightly different, thus igniting a new chain of events involving the same characters, incidents, objects and places – and a different set of outcomes. If any film demonstrates how our lives are all woven inextricably together or how our fates are governed by half chance and random moments, this is definitely it. The tagline for the film summarises this: ‘Every second of every day you’re faced with a decision that can change your life’.

The German is not too difficult, particularly as this is not a particularly  talky film. Having said that, some viewers might have trouble with the rapid-fire German young people-speak at the beginning.

In German with English subtitles.

To buy  Run Lola Run  and other German language films>>


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CHINESE LANGUAGE FILM REVIEWS

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

A language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Set in the 1940’s in a pre-revolutionary China, Kung Fu Hustle is a film about gangs. In particular the story of a small time thief called Sing (Stephen Chow) who wants to become a member of the ruthless Axe Gang, led by Brother Sum (Kwok-Kwan Chan). A slum called Pig Sty Alley is the only safe area from the gang as it is so poor there is nothing that the gang could take. Sing attempts to extort money from one of the locals but the slum holds a secret and the locals are not all that they appear to be.

Sing attracts the gang to Pig StyAlley which in turn leads to the inhabitants fighting for their lives. The fight between the gang and the neighbourhood unearths some legendary martial arts Masters. Sing must make the decision  between becoming a killer and joining the Axes  and helping the slum and saving the day.

This film is everything rolled into one: action, adventure, comedy, crime and fantasy.Stephen Chow is fantastic and the slapstick comedy is some of the funniest I have seen in a long time. Thoroughly enjoyable, and you can brush up on your Mandarin!

In Chinese Mandarin with English subtitles.

To buy  Kung Fu Hustle  and other  Chinese language films>>

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House of Flying Daggers (2004)

A language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

Directed by Yimou Zhang, House of Flying Daggers is set during the reign of the Tang dynasty in China.  A secret organisation,’The House of Flying Daggers’ opposes the government. Leo (Andy Lau), a police officer sends officer Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to investigate Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a young dancer whom he believes is part of this secret organisation. Leo arrests Mei and Jin breaks her out in order to gain her trust and lead him and the government to the mysterious new leader of the secret organisation. What consequently happens is a tale of romance and intrigue, of action and adventure.

Before I sat down and watched this film I thought I would hate it. I am not one for martial arts movies but House of Flying Daggers is so much more and has managed to change my view on the martial arts genre. It combines action, adventure, fantasy and romance which in my opinion is a fantastic combination which produces a fantastic film.

Language is Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2002)

A language advantage film review by Sarah Carroll

A beautiful film from start to finish, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is really absorbing. It is a tribute to amazing martial arts displays as well as a beautifully shot film.

You can see why this film has won so many awards with its combination of language, love, action and adventure. It has won over 40 awards including the Best Foreign Language Film Music at the Oscars and four BAFTAs.

Wonderful as it is, it is best to see it in its original language version, you have to concentrate on the English subtitles unless your Mandarin is fluent, but it is well worth it!

The director of the film is Ang Lee. In Chinese with English subtitles. Rated 12 in the UK.

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Hero (2002)

A language advantage film review by Sarah Maddocks

It is hard for anyone to say that this film is not fantastic. Directed by Zhang Yimou (who also directed House of Flying Daggers) and produced by Quentin Tarantino, it already has two of the biggest names involved from both the Chinese and American film industries. Jet Li stars in this movie.

Hero takes place in feudal China before the warring kingdoms were united into a single country. The Nameless warrior (Jet Li) has been brought before Qin (Chen Daoming) the King of the northern province to receive a reward for killing three assassins who threatened Qin’s life. The Nameless warrior tells the King how he killed Long Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung), and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). The King challenges his story and tells a completely different version full of conspiracy and mistrust.

The visuals of this film are stunning and contribute largely to what Yimou is trying to achieve through the characters and script. The fight scenes are amazing: the use of colour really adds to the film’s intensity. The only thing to remember when watching this film is to watch it in its original format with subtitles rather than the dubbed English version in order to add authenticity.

The film is in Chinese Mandarin with English subtitles.

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TEACH YOURSELF ONE-DAY GREEK REVIEW

teach-yourself-greek-one-dayAn independent language course review by Sarah Maddocks

The Teach Yourself One-day language series is great if you are off on holiday and don’t want to learn the full ins and outs of a language. It’s a 75-minute CD with a small vocabulary booklet for back up containing the 50 most needed words for your trip. With One-day Greek, the help of characters Liz and Andy and the vocab booklet, you can learn the basics of holiday lingo in just over an hour.

There are 10 sections on the CD and each of them has vital vocabulary lists which are also available in the booklet. I found that the CD would be especially useful for holiday-makers, as the series took me back to the days when learning how to ask for something in a shop was a chore and directions seemed so confusing.

When I first started the CD, as a complete beginner to Greek, I found it daunting. In the first section, Liz asked Andy about Greek words he already knew. This made me feel slightly apprehensive, as I had assumed the course would be for pure beginners and not beginners with a prior knowledge of the language. It turned out that the words he knew were only words he would have picked up from holidaying in Greece once – such as hello! Apart from this he was actually a pure beginner.

Towards the middle of the CD, Liz begins to introduce the sections with everyday role play situations. These are very fast and difficult to understand at first, but the good thing with this is that you can hear Greek at a proper speed and adjust to a real Greek accent. Liz then goes on to explain exactly what was said and how you would pronounce it. I found that I had to repeat the CD a number of times in order to hear the pronunciation and really take it in.

The format of the CD is effective, but some of the scripts seem to be forced and it was often hard to answer the questions as Andy’s answer was often said straight away. It is therefore a good idea to pause the CD once Liz has asked the question, think of the answer yourself, say it out loud and then check it against the answer that Andy gives on the CD.

At the end of the CD, there is a recap section going back over the whole course or the “one-day Greek challenge” (which sounds a lot more fun than recapping!). I found this a great way of actually discovering what I had learnt in Greek and what I had managed to remember. The challenge works in a way that makes it easy for you to skip back to the relevant section if you have forgetten any of the words. So you can keep revising and repeating the course until you can do the challenge standing on your head.

I found the vocabulary easier to remember by doing the series over a few hours rather than cramming it in to just one 75 minute session. For me to listen to Liz and Andy continuously for 75 minutes would have been a slight drag, but with breaks it is bearable and you can actually get the corny ‘gag’ that Andy has said out of your head!

This CD is a fab way of learning the local language and maybe even managing to socialise, having a conversation with the locals and jumping onto a bus and knowing what you have to say.

Bearing all this in mind, this CD is a fab way of learning the local language and maybe even managing to socialise by having a conversation with the locals and jumping onto a bus and knowing what you have to say. It is also excellent value for money as it only costs £6.99 in the UK.

The only thing left for me to do now is go holidaying in Greece and really put this learning CD to the test.

Adio!

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TEACH YOURSELF JAPANESE CONVERSATION REVIEW

teach-yourself-japanese-conversationAn independent language course review by Sarah Maddocks

Teach yourself Japanese Conversation is a 3-hour, 3 CD, all-audio language course which is aimed at complete beginners or people who want to refresh their Japanese. Don’t even think about trying to do the course all in one go – it would be near impossible not to mention brain frazzling!

The CDs follow a couple called Chris and Sarah (I know, original names!) whilst visiting an ex-colleague in Japan. The idea of the CD is to learn the language through 20 conversations that Chris & Sarah have with native speakers. The course is accompanied by a booklet containing transcripts of the conversations; the key vocabulary is in bold.

The content of the CDs differ. CD1 & CD2 have 10 real-life conversations about things that you’d be doing on a weekend break or a short holiday or business visit to the country. For each conversation, there are two dialogues in three sections: the first section is listen and repeat, the second section is using the language in context and the final section is practising the conversation again. The CD3 is a recap session and gives you lots more real-life conversations.

When I first started listening to CD1, the first thought that sprang into my mind was ‘why on earth had I decided to even attempt to learn Japanese’. I stupidly (stupidly as in for future reference don’t do this) made the mistake of opening the booklet before I pressed play and thought I was way out of my depth. Still, I carried on and am glad I did. From the start I knew I had made the right decision with this course. The narrator is not irritatingly bland like on some courses – in fact quite the opposite as she is reassuring and easy to listen to.

The fab thing about the CDs is they are repetitive (in a good way) and the narrator often advises you to pause the CD which is easy to do. Throughout the sections some basic grammar rules are explained, as well as when to use and when not to use certain constructions.

CD2 continues on from CD1 and the level remains the same throughout, which is great as it doesn’t progress too fast or too slow (in other words just right).

CD3 is what would be called the revision CD. All the conversations in the booklet are replayed at normal speed and then a different version is played, with a kind of question time at the start. I found this a great way of recapping and actually testing what I had learnt (seeing as in the past I think I have mastered a self-study tape but in actual fact I really have no idea about the language!).

The booklet offers explanations of what to do in certain cultural situations. This is particularly handy if you go to Japan. The last thing you’d want to do is blow your nose, offend the whole room and have no idea why!

This 3-hour course is absolutely fabulous (excuse the quote from the television programme!). To me it seemed like a great 3-hour exam preparation course. Instead of boring me slightly (GCSE German memories flooding back!), it was very entertaining and made me feel that I would be able to handle myself in any one of the situations played out in the conversations and more importantly understand what was being said back to me.

I especially recommend this to people who have done language courses before and found them dull and uninteresting, as this is completely different. You actually come out of this course with a real sense of achievement.

I would recommend this to everyone who wants to learn a more adventurous language and who isn’t scared of challenges along the way. I especially recommend this to people who have done language courses before and found them dull and uninteresting, as this is completely different. You actually come out of this course with a real sense of achievement and a feeling that you could now go to Japan and find the train station, and more importantly order a beer and a sake!!!

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TEACH YOURSELF ITALIAN VERBS AND ITALIAN GRAMMAR REVIEW

teach-yourself-italian-grammarAn independent language books review by Andrea Martins

Whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced learner, the Teach Yourself language books are a must. I used the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar and Teach Yourself Italian Verbs books whilst studying for a GCSE * Italian course last year. Although we had a text book as the main learning tool for the course, I chose to buy these books as extra aids for my studies. Even if you are not taking classes, the Teach Yourself books’ purpose is to do exactly that – Teach Yourself.

There are over 300 titles in the Teach Yourself range and they are advertised as being extremely functional, simple and easy to use and cover languages from Afrikaans to Zulu. Most of the language courses have CDs or a cassette with them, but with the verb and grammar series, there are no cassettes; just you, your Teach Yourself book and your interest to learn.

It’s just you, your Teach Yourself book and your interest to learn …

There are 22 units of functional grammar in the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar book; functional in that each unit covers a basic communicative function such as ‘Ask someone else’s opinion’ or ‘Talk about events and actions in the past’. Each unit is laid out in a very clear and non-technical way. There is, however, a Grammar Appendix which lists any grammar points not explained in the book as well as a list of the common irregular verbs. The Index also lists specific grammar points.

Each unit begins with a brief synopsis of what the unit contains highlighting the particular language points covered. You are then introduced to a few examples. These are explained with some individual points being given additional coverage (this section is called Language Plus). A particularly useful section of each unit is ‘Language in Action’ which comprises of up to four exercises as revision based on what has been covered in the unit. Exercises include: fill the gap exercises, reading and writing exercises, translating and so on. I found this useful not only for grammar revision but also for communicative use as the exercises show you how to use the language and grammar in the context of everyday life.

But it’s not all verbs, grammar and verb endings. There are some pictures, postcards, maps, letters and written dialogues which all enhance the grammar being covered giving you examples from spoken and written language. I personally found it helpful to work through each unit only after I had completely learnt and understood the previous one. You do not have to have completed one unit to begin the next one, although I did feel that this helped me with my own greater understanding and fluency. You are given the choice of systematically working through each unit like I did or work at the grammar points that most interest you. It is entirely up to you.

One disadvantage of this book is that the pronunciation of the Italian is not explained as you might find in other language learning books. I feel that this could lead to confusion for the complete beginner.

It’s not all verbs, grammar and verb endings

The Teach Yourself Italian Verbs book is a great book for learning that aspect of language learning that we all love to hate…verb conjugations! You can consult this book about any verb as each one is presented in their full conjugation under each tense (including the conditional and subjunctive tenses). Not all the verbs in the Teach Yourself Italian Verbs are listed though. The book would be huge otherwise! Instead, 200 of the most commonly used verbs are presented in the verb tables and many more are catered for in the glossary at the back of the book. Here you can find the verb that you want and the glossary directs you to a verb in the book that behaves the same way as the one that you want to use.

Each of the 200 verbs are set out one to a page and at the bottom of each page is listed the basic uses of the verb with examples, and well known phrases and expressions using that verb. Whilst taking the GCSE course last year, I found this book really useful for learning verb endings and verb uses. Each verb is set out clearly and with some hard grafting and memorizing, you too will understand how the tenses are formed and use the formulae for each new verb that you come across in your language learning.

For the complete beginner or advanced learner using this book for revision, the first section of the book ‘What are verbs and how do they work’ clearly explains the formation and tenses of verbs together with their grammatical uses. It is a really useful book to use alongside the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar book.

The only disadvantage to this collection of books is that you do need a lot of self-discipline to use them and be determined to complete the units (especially those in the Grammar book). Depending on how self-motivated you are you may find it difficult to continue using these books on a regular basis. Unfortunately, grammar and verb conjugations of any language can be the crux for fluent language learning and therefore some attention does need to be made on these language points.

Grammar and verb conjugations can be the crux for fluent language learning.

I would also say that the language learner would have to have learnt some Italian in order to have a go at learning the verb conjugations in the Teach Yourself Italian Verbs book as many of the verbs are not looked at even at GCSE level. This could seem daunting for complete beginners. However, the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar book states that ‘you need no knowledge of grammar terminology to use it’ – an advantageous point as grammar can be a very complex and boring subject at any level and even for language enthusiasts!

As an independent learner myself, self-motivation is the key to using these books. It may be best to use these books in conjunction with your own tapes and a course book (if you are taking classes) in order to hear the correct pronunciation and get an all round Italian language learning experience. Grammar and verbs and the way they are used are essential to learning any language but cannot be used alone. The great thing about these particular Teach Yourself Italian books is that they give you the freedom to choose whatever grammar point or verb you want to learn allowing you greater flexibility in your learning.

So give these Teach Yourself language books a try…..and see how motivated and enthusiastic you really are!!!

to buy Teach Yourself Italian Verbs or Italian Grammar [UK]>>
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TEACH YOURSELF INSTANT GERMAN, GREEK & ITALIAN REVIEWS

teach-yourself-italian-instantAn independent language course review by Lisa Zealey

The Teach Yourself ‘INSTANT’ language series from Hodder Arnold is a must if you’re off to another country for your holidays or work and have little time to study. The INSTANTS are a way to learn the ‘get-by’ essentials without being bogged down with heavy grammar and confusion.

I have studied Greek, Italian and German using this series and have found the results amazing.

I have studied Greek, Italian and German using this series and have found the results amazing.
   

The Teach Yourself Instants are available in eight popular languages (and four for learners of English from French, German, Italian and Spanish), but each one is made up of the same structure and designed to be completed in only 6 weeks with 35 minutes of study per day. The book is divided into six sections with an accompanying cassette. This way you can mimic the speakers to get the perfect pronunciation!

At the beginning of each chapter the week is divided into individual days with instructions telling you which exercises to do each day. You have a set day-by-day study programme to follow of just 35 minutes each day which really gets you into the discipline of learning your new language every day. You can cross out the exercises you have done and test your progress at the end of each week, so you really feel that you’re getting somewhere. The great thing about these is that they are flexible and you manage your own time – if you miss a day, do an hour the next day!

You have a set day-by-day study programme to follow of just 35 minutes each day which really gets you into the discipline of learning every day.
   

On the first day of each section there is a short dialogue between Tom and Kate who are travelling in the destination country. You can listen to it and read along with the English equivalent on the opposite page which is translated ‘literally’ into French-speak or German-speak, so it is easy to become familiar with the different word order. Then you have a list of all the new words of the week for you to read through and then test yourself on what you’ve learnt. There is one page per section called ‘GOOD NEWS GRAMMAR’ to cover the basic points of the week and a passage to learn by heart. Even though this is tricky it is really worth doing because it is great for your fluency.

Each week you are given questions to answer in your chosen language to give you added practice of writing. These packs contain only the most useful words and phrases and are an incredibly useful tool for any lover of travel. They have the added bonus of FLASH CARDS with the English on one side and your chosen language on the other so you can really see how much you know. I found these really helpful, especially if you are learning with a friend and you can test each other.

The first pack I tried was INSTANT GREEK before going on a beach holiday to Zante with a friend. When I managed to tell the taxi driver where I wanted to go, where to stop and ask how much it cost, I felt a real sense of achievement because it is nothing like the languages I am used to leaning. It is worth noting though that if you are learning a language like Greek or Japanese which has a totally different alphabet the real written form is not used. Instead the foreign words are written with English script so that you can just focus on the pronunciation. I didn’t find this a problem with Greek because all I wanted to do was get by in the country but a little knowledge of the script would have been useful to recognise the written form. However, just a basic knowledge of the language is a great way to start conversation with the locals!

When I managed to tell the taxi driver where I wanted to go, where to stop and to ask how much it cost, I felt a real sense of achievement.
   

Secondly, after finding the Greek so helpful I learnt INSTANT ITALIAN for a tourist holiday in Rome. I found my new found Italian extremely useful when I was lost with a friend late on the evening of our arrival, trying to find our hotel! It was also great for ordering meals and getting information about trains etc. The INSTANTS just make it simple.

I completed INSTANT GERMAN at the end of 2001 for a New Year’s party in Germany. I was with some friends who spoke a little English but a basic knowledge of German was essential to introduce myself, communicate with them and wish everyone a ‘Frohes Neues Jahr’ (Happy New Year).

One minor disadvantage that I found was the fact that each pack contains the same set of six chapters so, if you have completed one INSTANT course and then go on to try another, you are faced with the exact same scenarios. This has the problem of being a bit repetitive but at the same time I can easily see how the stories are carefully structured to contain all the useful vocabulary which is great to know in any language.

So go on, before you go on your next travels get the INSTANT language advantage and give it a go!

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