An Introvert’s Guide to Language Learning- How to Learn a Language While Watching TV

I love learning foreign languages. For a couple years I tried learning on both Spanish and French but my time was so divided I didn’t really learn much of either. Now I just focus on Spanish. 


When I’m proficient enough to read books and watch shows in Spanish – without subtitles or intensive vocabulary study – I’ll start back on French. I maintain my French by watching a TV show a week dubbed in French with English subtitles.


I love using TV to build my foreign language listening comprehension. It’s fun, so I watch often. I also learn a lot of slang and practice understanding at normal conservational speed.


I find I won’t watch as much if I don’t have English subtitles. Since the more I watch, the more I learn, English subtitles are a must for me. I tried using Spanish dubbing with Spanish subtitles but the translations often weren’t the same. Often, in the dubbed version an idiomatic phrase would be translated for meaning, but in the subtitled version, it would be translated word for word. Strange, but true.


(Note: Be sure to check the DVD or Netflix’s language info to make sure the edition you’re buying or renting has the dubbing and subtitle features. Not all editions have them.)


The following DVDs offer English subtitles and dubbing in Spanish and/ or French in at least some editions:

Seasons 1-4: French and Spanish

Season 1: French and Spanish

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Seasons 1-2: French
Seasons 3-6: French and Spanish


Sex and the City
Seasons 4-6: Spanish

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Seasons 1-4: French and Spanish
Season 5: French

Six Feet Under

Seasons 2-4: French and Spanish
Season 5: French


Dark Angel
Seasons 1 & 2: French and Spanish

The Simpsons
Season 2: French
Seasons 3-11: French and Spanish


Seasons 1-3: French and Spanish

Season 1: French


(Good for learning
slang and curse words)

Seasons 1- 4 French and Spanish

Ugly Betty

Season 1: Spanish

Season 1: French and Spanish

Seasons 1-6: French
Seasons 7-9: French and Spanish

Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb

Author: Kirsten Miller

Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2007

Pages: 369

For Ages: 9 – 14

Rating: *** ½



Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb is a worthy sequel to Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, with just as much adventure, mystery, and fun girl power as the original. As an added bonus, there are even a couple male characters this time.


The Irregulars are back with even more worries. Someone has been freeing animals in pet shops and zoos and leaving giant squirrel murals that credit their acts to Kiki Strike. While Kiki denies the acts, she’s late and distracted at meetings.  Annaka’s parents, worried about her academic underachieving, threaten to send her to boarding school if she doesn’t shape up. Oona seems grouchier than usual and has important news she keeps forgetting to tell the group. Betty might have a secret admirer, Luz’s mother still won’t let her out of her sight, and Dee Dee and Iris think they may have discovered a perfume that will help the girls with the long list of enemies they’ve made.


Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb is another fun read for upper elementary and middle school girls.

Interesting Reads from October 2008

I stopped feeling guilty about my blog reading addiction and decided instead to put it to use posting a list of monthly links I like.


Here’s my list of October posts worth checking out:


1.      Genre-Bending– Laurie Halse Anderson (who wrote Speak and other YA and MG books) explains how she’s able to write and sell books in more than one genre.


2.      Cold Hard Facts About the Writing Life– Anderson links to this excellent post she wrote this summer that answers the question all writers want to know: Can I live off my writing?


3.      Late Bloomers– A reassuring article from the New Yorker on artists who were late bloomers. I read about it on the Verla Kay discussion boards.


4.      Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? – Anita Silver’s Newbery question started a flurry of online discussion. My favorite responses are Liz B’s, The Newbery Means What?, and Fairrosa’s, The Recent Newbery Debate.


5. Cybils– Liz B. also has a question-answer post on the two-year old Cybil Awards—a cyber children’s book award that packs in more fun than the Newbery.


6. Promotion Gold in Them Thar Links– Laura Purdie Salas and Fiona Bayrock post a helpful list of book promotion idea links on their new micro site, Bubble Stampede!



7. A Nice Gal’s Guide to Online News and Politics– I started this blog in September to make my addiction to reading progressive political blogs useful too.  This is my favorite post, so far: 5 Progressive Sites for Busy People.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life

Author: Twyla Tharp, with Mark Reiter

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2003

Pages: 243

Rating: *** ½


Famous dance choreographer Twyla Tharp says there is a “perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on your brow that allows you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.”


Tharp comes “down on the side of hard work” and thinks “creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.”


According to Tharp, the film Amadeus “dramatizes and romanticizes the divine origins of creative genius. Antonio Salieri, representing the talented hack, is cursed to live in the time of Mozart, the gifted and undisciplined genius who writes as though touched by the hand of God.” 


“Of course, this is hogwash,” Tharp says, “There are no ‘natural’ geniuses.” Mozart’s “first good fortune was to have a father who was a composer and a virtuoso on the violin, who could approach keyboard instruments with skill,” and then Tharp tells the reader that “nobody worked hard than Mozart. By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose. That’s the missing element in the popular portrait of Mozart.”


Building on this reassuring theme, Tharp leads the reader through the trials of every artist, discussing such topics as:


Rituals of Preparation

Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box


Accidents Will Happen

Ruts and Grooves

An “A” in Failure

The Long Run


Reading about Twyla Tharp’s work habits, successes, and failures was reassuring and inspiring for me. If creating is difficult for even the most successful artists, then suddenly hard work seems meaningful and do-able.

Questions and Answers About TV Watching

What role does TV play in my life? Stress release, company, information, entertainment, etc?

I use TV as a mental health entertainment/stress release buffer. I like to have several engrossing, fun stories flitting around in my head to think about. It’s like my own version of chewing gum so I won’t grind my teeth or smoke kind of thing. If I have several good stories tumbling around in my head, I think about them, instead of obsessively worrying or being overly critical of myself.  I use book reading and story writing the same way. It makes for a really cheerful life.

What limits do I put on my TV watching?

I try to limit myself to approximately 10 hours a week. Research shows watching more than 10 hours a week of TV adversely affects a child’s academic achievement. I’m not a child anyone—at least chronologically—and I don’t go to school anymore, but it seems reasonable to conclude that watching more than 10 hours of TV a week might affect my growth as a person too.


Since the research shows there’s no difference between kids who watch no TV and kids who watch 10 hours of TV a week, I aim for 10 hours because watching TV is enjoyable and gives me mental food thoughts to chew on.


What kinds of shows do I prefer?

Mostly I like shows that are well written, have intriguing characters, and make me both laugh and think. Here’s my list:

The Leads (Shows I Watch Regularly and Rather Obsessively)

1.      Supernatural– (CW) season 4

2.      The Big Bang Theory & How I Met Your Mother– (CBS) season 2 & season 4

3.      Pushing Daisies– (ABC) season 2

4.      Friday Night Lights– (Direct TV) season 3

5.      Fringe– (Fox) season 1

6.      Mad Men– (AMC) season 2

7.      Skins (BBCA) season 1 & 2

8.      Daily Show (Monday & Tuesday) (Comedy Central)

9.      Daily Show (Wednesday & Thursday) (Comedy Central)

10. Gossip Girl (w/ the daughterling or I probably wouldn’t watch for just myself)

11. The X-Files (season 1 on DVD in French w/ English subtitles to practice my French)


(Without the commercials this list adds up to about 10 hours)


The Understudies (recorded and stored on Tivo for instant fill-in when my leads have a repeat)

1.      The Office [only ½ hour] (There are a lot of Daily Show repeats, so I get to watch this pretty often.)

2.      Heroes

3.      Bones

4.      Gavin & Stacey [only ½ hour]

5.      True Blood

6.      Chuck

What do I do when I watch TV?

Just watch, though sometimes I eat my lunch while I watch a show, and sometimes I end up writing down favorite quotes from the show. I’m really picky about what shows I watch. Basically a show has to be so engrossing that I want to only watch it. If I find myself wanting to surf the web, clean, or fold laundry while I watch a show, that’s a sign I’m probably going to stop watching soon.


And You? What are your TV watching habits?

Millicent Min, Girl Genius

Author: Lisa Yee
Publisher: Scholastic
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 248
For Ages: 9 – 14
Rating: *** ½

You know a book will be fun to read when it starts like this:


“I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things. My disposition probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am technically a genius. Unfortunately, this label seems to precede me wherever I go.”


I read the first paragraph of this book, cracked up, and instantly knew I had to read the rest. Although Millicent is “technically a genius”, in many ways she’s just your typical eleven-year-old girl who longs to have a best friend. When her parents force her to join a summer volleyball team, Millicent meets her first real potential friend (other than her grandmother) and for the first time in her life, Millicent has no idea what to do next. A sweet, funny read for precocious elementary schoolers.

October Question

If you could have any “super power”, what would your first choice be? Second choice?





First choice- The Power of Speed Reading with total comprehension (like the character Data had in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Then I could read all the books on my list!


Second choice- Invisibility. I’d use my invisibility powers to go to high crime areas to take notes for stories.



What “super powers” would you want most? Strength, mind reading abilities, mind controlling abilities, the ability to fly, the ability to breathe under water,….?