Want to Test Your Language Progress?

You’re making progress with your language acquisition and feel like you’re grasping it better. However, you’re running out of ideas to keep the learning fresh and you’re fed up of taking mini tests and quizzes.

There is a way.

Take a scene from a film you know extremely well (remembering the dialogue will make the task easier); best to use Youtube because then you can easily replay the scene. Pretend you’ve been tasked with providing subtitles in your chosen language. Grab a dictionary, grammar book and notepad: it should be challenging enough to keep you interested. If you struggle to find ways to translate, then you know you have a long way to go.

I used this scene from Suite Francaise and did well up until a certain point. It showed me that I could translate easier sentences/every day phrases but had gaps in my vocab. Then there’s the enjoyment of watching favourite scenes repeatedly (for educational purposes, of course * wink *).

Give it a go!

Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) – A Simple Premise Delivered with Careful Purpose (Spoilers)

When one hears Yash Raj Films, titles such as
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara and Fanaa spring to mind. Feel-good, tragic, warmth-inducing icons of Indian cinema. So, when I read the synopsis for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I had to double-check the production company. Here’s the trailer with English subtitles.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha couldn’t stand out more from the crowd. While couples in the films mentioned appear to overcome the odds, Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) really don’t look like they have a chance at all. Firstly, they’re drawn into an arranged marriage that Sandhya appears to look forward to, at least. Secondly, and the stickiest point, is that Sandhya is “plus-sized”. Bollywood (Hollywood, too) heroines, even if they’re oddballs, are still too glamourous. There’s pressure for viewers everywhere to conform. That’s why Dum Laga Ke Haisha is an important film: it dares to be different. It may subscribe to Bollywood’s slice-of-life, feel-good style at times, yet it has an independent film feel.

The beauty of the film lies with Sandhya, which is an ironic statement to make given the film’s premise. She knows she doesn’t live up to standards looks-wise but she carries herself with confidence. A lot is asked of prospective brides: certain caste, educated, social-standing, culinary skills,
beauty, fair skin and obedience. It’s Sandhya’s prospects as a teacher that’s a large draw for Prem’s family. Notice how I said family. Practically the minute after their marriage, his family nit-pick at Sandhya, mostly behind her back but Prem’s aunt is catty enough to fling insults Sandhya’s way about her weight. Thankfully, Prem’s father counters this by highlighting his son’s less-than stellar qualities. She could be – is – a good-natured woman with her head screwed on right. Also, even with her figure, Sandhya is quite lovely – especially with her hair out. Unfortunately, her husband and his family aren’t willing to realise that. Until the climax of the film, she takes what they deliver, illustrating her inner strength.

The most heartbreaking moments of the film are in scenes involving the married couple. Not only is Prem visibly displeased during the marriage ceremony, he avoids being seen with Sandhya in public. She clearly relishes exploring local streets on the arm of her husband but he finds every opportunity to put space between them. He goes on about her weight, worst of all: he bursts out loud that he finds her physically repulsive to sleep with. Viewers feel a punch to their own stomachs, especially as she witnesses this. She smacks him (many would say right on) and he retaliates. At this point, things are spiraling leaving viewers wondering if there is any going back after this. The scene that evokes the most emotion is when Sandhya is forced to explain why she’s back at her parents’ home. She has to not only re-live the awful moment she was publicly insulted, but is forced to admit that society finds her undesirable. This once again emphasises the pressure Indian women are under, especially as carriers of their family’s honour. The delivery of this brings tears to viewers’ eyes.

With a family such as his, it is easy to understand why Prem just can’t get going. His father is overly-strict, pushing him into a box Prem doesn’t fit in, while his mother and aunt spoil him and overlook his flaws. That’s not to say he’s not responsible for his actions in the film, it just explains why he is so. It may be difficult to witness his lacklustre life, however Prem’s depressive state and his father’s treatment of it opens eyes. The message is to try to look beneath the word lazy and examine what has caused it. Prem’s family represent how not to handle mental health problems.

There are comedic moments that leave the audience either snickering or full-on cackling. Moments such as Sandhya putting on an erotic film to get her new husband in the mood, to his aunts overhearing his eventual bedroom exploits. ‘My son has become a man’ his mother declares. It’s difficult not to lose it at that point. Moreover, Sandhya’s brother is a little brat with his insensitive remarks towards his sister. Sandhya gives as good as is delivered, which adds to the humour.

A few more unsavoury actions from Prem towards Sandhya and he finally demonstrates some change. He accepts she deserves better than him and wakes her up to his family’s deceptiveness. While his transformation towards loving Sandhya during the couple’s race seems a bit sudden and out-of-the-blue, it’s definitely satisfactory to watch them both reach a level of happiness. After a struggle to adjust to marriage to each other, Prem and Sandhya are finally happy. The song and dance sequence during the end credits is an example of Bollywood conventions done right: the focus has been on the storyline, now that it’s resolved, it’s time to celebrate. Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a film to be celebrated, itself.

The Mystery of Rey: Clever Marketing from Disney

Following the revitalisation of the Star Wars franchise with Episode 7: The Force Awakens, one question emerged out of many: who is Rey?

Scores of articles appeared on Google daily, litigating Rey’s parentage. Some championed Luke Skywalker as her father, attributing similarities in character arcs, while others suggested Han Solo or even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or some other theory entirely. The debate borders on fierceness, but one thing has gone unnoticed. The question of Rey’s background has sustained our interest in the upcoming Episode 8, and the franchise itself.

This isn’t just because they can’t cram everything into one film, this is because they want to hook us and keep us hooked. And it’s worked. Not only do we look forward to finding out what culminates following the drama of the Solo family, we itch to receive more hints (because we know the writers wouldn’t just have a character blurt out that they’re someone’s Father – oh wait…hehe) about Rey’s backstory. They have fed us tidbits in the form of the lightsabre discovery scene, which tells us that Rey was left with Unkar Plutt for her own safety. That entire montage has inspired countless minds to go into thinking overdrive.

In this way, Disney can be rest assured that this unrelenting ‘Who is Rey?’ question carries most of the marketing weight. All they need is a tantalising teaser and an exciting official trailer, and they’ve ensured that the Disney coffers will always be filled up. Conventions also provide the opportunity for fans to present their questions and theories: those end up making news.

Still don’t believe that story-crafting is more than just creativity? I present Exhibit-I’ve-forgotten-which-number: J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box. In Abrams’ view, the mystery box symbolises opportunity; it’s imperative to keep it closed until the right time. Think delayed gratification. Whether you think the mystery box is gimmicky or lazy, in the case of Star Wars, it has worked. The number of articles, blog posts and youtube videos attests to that.

So, don’t have much money for promoting your film? Hold back on key details and promise to unveil them at the right moment. Then the reveal pays off. That applies to novels, too. Don’t worry about boring your readers and stuffing exposition all at the beginning. Toss a meat drumstick with the promise of a massive feast.

1st Person POV in Writing – Remove “I”s and Eyes

I came across this gem: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/most-common-mistakes-series-is-your-2/ and my perspective on 1st Person point-of-view changed for the better. 

As we know, 1st Person involves heavy use of the word “I”, as well as a deeper understanding into the main character. Many people dislike 1st Person narrative, because it can feel like the reader is being bogged down with description rather than action. The temptation to explain everything results in readers knowing practically everything and not being given the chance to solve some mysteries, which is a point K.M. Weiland makes in her post.

Personally, I feel that, when done correctly, 1st Person can swallow the reader whole. We can immerse ourselves in the story.

Writing in 1st Person inevitably produces commentary, because you’re putting yourself in the character’s shoes. Sure, you have private thoughts, but you don’t mentally narrate backstory or exposition; you’re experiencing the moment. This doesn’t make you a bad writer if you recognise this during your drafts. Instead of being the centre of scenes, 1st person narrators should be the witnesses. The purpose of 1st Person is to become the character, whereas with 3rd Person it is to follow them. 

A way to do that is to remove the eyes. Your character is already “seeing”, so there’s no need to emphasise that the character has eyes. Imagine a line where the reader is standing at the back, next is the point-of-view character, then the eyes, and finally the action. For example: instead of saying ‘I could see the sun dipping below the horizon’ (or a better example than that!), use ‘The sun dipped below the horizon’ and just leave it at that. Highlighting that the character has vision is just surplus and bogs the writing down. We already know the character is spectating this, because they’re relating it to us: the reader.

 

Featured Image by George Hodan

The “I’ve Forgotten My French!” Survival Post

Consider this like Regaine, only instead of it stimulating hair, we’re going to re-grow your French. Regaine for False-Beginners.

The French is there still, buried inside your memory, you just need to find ways to draw it back out. There is hope. You just have to overcome the block that is making you feel like returning to your old ability is impossible. Et voila:

Music:

Je Sais Pas, Celine Dion. This doesn’t have English subtitles, but an English version exists so you’ll get the gist (although the lyrics deviate from each other, somewhat).

Mea Culpa, Enigma. A hypnotic track using chanting, Mea Culpa contains some interesting sentences that may stick.

Sadeness Part 1, Enigma. OK, so Latin features more prominently in this song, however it’s a great way to ease your way in, starting with a few repeated sentences in French. It’s a great song to relax to, so you hardly feel like you’re listening for the sake of it. This particular video contains the lyrics in Latin, French (and Polish) with the English translation.

Disney in French! Find the songs on Youtube, close your eyes, and enjoy the beautiful, stylish French lyrics. The best part is, you’ll enjoy them so much that you won’t feel like you’re trying to study.

TV/Film:

Mafiosa, 2006. For UK citizens, it’s currently available on 4OD. Set in Corsica, a female barrister becomes head of the clan when her uncle dies, which causes much discontent in the ranks. Occasionally some Italian is spoken which is a bonus. If you are watching via 4OD, subtitles are attached to the video so, if you want to test your listening skills, you’ll have to ignore them. It’s 5 series long, which is plenty of immersion.

No Second Chance, 2015, Netflix. A doctor wakes from a coma to find that her husband is dead and her baby daughter is missing. Very twisty-turny, so it’s best to watch with subtitles even though lack of subs would be beneficial.

Divines, 2016, Netflix. A surprisingly magical find on Netflix, Divines takes you on a journey of a young woman with dreams to escape her life and make it rich as a wannabe gangster.

Scout your DVD/Blu ray collection. There’s a chance that many have French either as a subtitle option or, if you’re lucky, the dub. Be brave, select French early so that your menu is in it as well. Get used to seeing French in different situations. You know the plot already, so turn off the subtitles and just get lost in the language.

Books:

The best way is to start with familiar stories, so that you can focus on testing how much language you remember. The French edition of Macbeth is free for the ebook version and extremely affordable in paperback. Or perhaps bilingual books with short stories.

The Rocket French Quick-Start Guide. Another free resource, this resource is a little heavier on the discussion side, nonetheless it does ease you in.

French Self Taught, Franz J. L. Thimm, Archive. This is ancient (OK, very ancient), but it’s free and offers endless vocabulary. There is also an audiobook version on Youtube. The book just cuts out explanations and you dive straight into sentences and verb tenses. It’s worth copying them down repeatedly in order for you to get your worth.

Online:

Memrise French Course. The most important resource because, wait for it, it helps you Mufasa Voice remember. This will drill vocabulary into you until you’re hearing the audio tracks when you go to sleep. Sessions are timed, which is excellent as it forces yourself to work harder. You’re also pitted against other users; if you’re a competitive person then this is your calling.

Duolingo French Course. Use this in combination with Memrise, as its focus on grammar and translation will complement the latter. It’s not timed so you can take your time, and the Discussions section offers further support. To really test what you remember, you can try the English for French speakers by switching. Note: this discussion.

Read newspapers like Le Monde or watch news broadcasts online. They offer short bursts of information which shouldn’t be too taxing. French radio stations are also a (daunting) way to try to tune your ears to native level speaking.

In addition, snoop around for some French-speaking celebrities. Serena Williams has a few videos of interviews on talk shows as well as the French Open. There is even a hilarious one where she’s outed as a Rafael Nadal fangirl. Because she is a learner, her pacing might be more attractive. If you’re feeling really brave, try native speakers such as Marion Cotillard and Lily-Rose Depp. At least that way you’ll be interested. If you’re feeling geeky, try to write down what they say to compose a profile on them.

Finally . . . :

Invent scenarios which stretch your vocabulary and encourage you to use everyday phrases (flashcards if you don’t feel like writing a lot). If you’re feeling particularly enthusiastic, maybe even labelling furniture in your house so that when you spot them, you immediately associate the sight with the names in French. That’s if you don’t irritate the people you live with.

It’s going to take time, but with the right attitude and motivation, you can regain what you used to know.

Featured Image by Alex Borland.

We Need to Talk About The Keeping Room (2014)

Racking up just 2 1/2 stars on Netflix (as of 10th January 2016), The Keeping Room‘s quiet, unappreciated presence is puzzling given its hook. Three young Southern women left to defend their land against, well, anything, during the American Civil War. Two sisters and their slave. That in itself should prove a draw for some positivity as American Civil War films tend to focus more on the men going to war and the effects on their families, rather than isolating the story on female survival. To be fair, Gone With the Wind does feature Southern women coping while the men are at war, however it is overshadowed by the tempestuous relationship between Rhett and Scarlett. The fact that Augusta (Brit Marling), Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and Mad (Muna Otaru) are the sole focus of the film, allows us to hone in on their situation without distraction.

Thankfully, their dynamic isn’t rosy; it’s raw. Augusta is the elder daughter who has taken charge and is calmly dominant, Louise is a teenager who wants to be Lady of the Manor rather than get her elbows dirty, and is bigoted towards their slave Mad, who carries out her tasks as she has always done. Mad always appears as if she wants to spit some truths out, but is unsure despite the somewhat equal status the three are beginning to share. An heiress (by lack of men), her demanding teenage sister and their slave sounds almost like “they walk into a bar”. It’s rather fascinating that without the backdrop of the Civil War, there’s little possibility of the trio being so united despite their positions in society.

The film, being independent, is in no hurry to press on with the plot, savouring everything going on in the scene: the pace matches the slow, hostile surroundings. This shouldn’t put anyone off from viewing, as  For such a barren land, danger hangs over them like a promise. It’s almost apocalyptic. The region is tense and the viewer becomes absorbed in that the-keeping-room-1tension. Uneasiness settles into the audience when they await the masculine violence on the horizon. On the hunt for medicine for Louise’s raccoon bite, Augusta is warned by a tavern owner that it’s not safe for her to be there, cut to two Union soldiers in the corner drinking and eyeing her up. With hardly any men present (the tavern owner seems to be the only man in the area), any woman is fair game. Any traditional gender conventions are non-existent at this point.

In the opening credits, William Tecumseh Sherman is quoted: ‘War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.’ There’s a hardened statement if ever spoken; a justification for all-out violence. Moses, one of the Union soldiers, parrots this in a stand-off with Augusta to explain his thirst for pain and destruction. They’re both right: war is cruelty, yet I can’t agree with the level of cruelty dictating its status. The heavier the atrocity, the more likely the retaliation. Retaliation doesn’t necessarily result in finality. Well, in order to survive the three women have to resort to delving into violence.

The Keeping Room itself provides warmth, food and domestic cohesion (which ends up being cathartic), however it’s not immediately considered as a place to arm and guard themselves. Despite being associated with female domesticity, it doesn’t serve as protection against masculine violence, therefore they can only seek sanctuary by barricading themselves in the house once belonging to men, and arming themselves with the guns of their menfolk as well. Additionally, the women don men’s clothes knowing full well that they will be able to carry out their subversive duties with little harassment.

Could the film benefit from a little more backstory? Of course. I also felt that, despite voicing their reasons for committing their appalling acts, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) are never fleshed out. Villains are villains, and yes, their actions speak for their thought processes, but even villains need some backstory. Although we know the-keeping-room-2they’ve broken off from the impending Union Army to forge their own path, we never really get a sense of who they are. The subtle difference: Henry is a drunkard who enjoys the company of women (whether they like it or not), but is also unpredictable. As for Moses: he’s composed and more controlled. He has the ability to mess with your head in the way that you don’t know whether you’re safe or in danger in his presence.

Thankfully, The Keeping Room has received positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes,  as it deserves. Its indie status shouldn’t deter lovers of fast-paced, action thrillers (guns, cars, international gangs and the like): this can invoke the same thrills felt watching the latter. At (reaching) 1 hour 50, a further 10 minutes could’ve been better spent with the villains in order to increase our fear of them even more, thus making their presence more devastating on the viewer. A 2 hour film would undoubtedly not be taxing for audiences.