August 2010: In Brief

The Boyfriend List, by E. Lockhart (****) – [2006] Fifteen-year-old Ruby Oliver never thought of herself as the type of person who might have panic attacks or need to see a shrink. Now here she is writing a list of all the boys she’s ever dated, kissed, or thought about, trying to figure out what they have to do with the unfortunate events of the spring dance that led to her first panic attack.

This is another of my favorite YA books.  Ruby Oliver is a charming–but very real– teenage girl trying to figure out how to navigate the tricky path of dating and friendship in high school while also learning to voice her own true feelings.  Audiobook reader Mandy Siegfried’s talent for teen speak makes this audiobook an especially good choice.  [Young Adult Fiction for ages 12 and up]

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan (****) – is an utterly charming book about two very different high school boys –each named Will Grayson– who meet by chance in downtown Chicago.  Their story is told in alternating chapters.  One Will Grayson is reconsidering his rule about not caring too much about anything, while the other Will Grayson is starting to admit he’s gay and cares so much about what others think it’s destroying him.  Add to the mix their new mutual friend, the very gay and proud of it, Tiny Cooper, the football team’s best offensive linesman and the author/composer/star of the new high school musical, "Tiny Dance" and you have one very fun story.

This was an especially good book to listen to in audio form.  The two different narrators make each Will Grayson easy to identify, plus one of them does an excellent separate voice for Tiny Cooper, which is great for the musical scenes.  [2010] [Young Adult Fiction for ages 14 and up]

My Bodyguard (*** 1/2) – [1980] A clever teen in a rough high school tries to enlist the school’s loner to be his body guard.  Somehow I missed seeing this film when it came out 30 years ago.  It was fun spotting well-known actors in their first movie roles.  Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) plays the loner, Matt Dillon is the school bully, and Joan Cusack plays a friendly classmate.  Jennifer Beals is even in the film with a non-speaking role as another classmate. [Watched on Netflix Instant]

Kamikaze Girls (***) – [2005] A colorful, quirky movie about the unlikely friendship between two eccentric teen girls, biker chick Ichigo and dainty Momoko, a girl who wears frilly dresses and dreams of living in 18th century France. [Watched on DVD from Netflix in Japanese with English subtitles]

Mad Men (season 4) – I think this is my favorite season of Mad Men, so far.

Online Language Learning:
Mi Vida Loca – BBC online has an excellent foreign language webpageMi Vida Loca is their latest and most ambitious program.  It’s a 22-episode beginning online Spanish program with videos and interactive lessons, for free.

It uses a story format with you, the viewer, as one of the characters.  You’re a British student on holiday to visit your friend Theresa in Madrid.  Unfortunately, Theresa can’t make the trip at the last minute, so you’re on your own, staying in Theresa’s flat in Madrid with her friendly, but busy, journalist sister, Merche.  Merche’s dangerous story investigation ends up adding a lot of excitement — and Spanish practice — to your trip.

Mi Vida Loca is a fantastic free Spanish program that’s well worth checking out.  There’s enough meat that even intermediate Spanish students will learn new vocabulary, but still introductory enough for beginners.  (As an added bonus you’ll pick up some British vocabulary too.)

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

Brush Up on Your French

I love the Internet, reason 572: Ma France. The BBC has free online foreign language materials for seven different languages: French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Greek.  The best of their programs is Ma France.


Ma France is designed for people who studied a year or two of French before and want to brush up and learn more.  There are 24 units.  Each unit focuses on a topic on daily living in France.   There are three short videos, comprehension quizzes on the videos, a vocabulary list, a grammar section, and half a dozen other activities to help you learn the unit material.  It’s a fun way to practice French, for free, right online.  

The video topics range from using directions to find a hotel, buying a house, shopping at the grocery, and even going speed dating.  You have a choice of using French and or English subtitles while you watch the video. (You need to have a high-speed connection to see the videos.  Transcripts and low-speed activities are available for dial-up connections.)


This is a great program for improving French.  The videos are interesting and short.  The unit activities are carefully crafted to help you learn the new material.  Did I mention it’s right online and free?  Wow!  I love the BBC.

Book Review for: Learn Any Language

How to Learn Any Language by Barry Farber,© 1991

Genre: Non- Fiction

Who Might Like It: Anyone interested in learning a language from middle school on up.

Summary: Farber focuses on how to learn a language on your own. He begins by talking about his own experiences with learning languages and what he learned from each. He then moves on to specific advice on learning a language using “The Multiple-Track” approach. This means that you use different materials from different companies to help teach you, (i.e. text book, language tapes, newspaper, phrase book, etc.) He says this method keeps you from getting bored and helps reinforce vocabulary because you end up seeing it in more than one context. The author lays out exactly what materials you might want and how to use this approach, recommending that you use several different audio courses because “you no more want to limit your hearing of the language to one cassette course than you’d want to confine your tennis playing to one partner.” He also describes how to make and use flashcards and how to use mnemonic devices to better remember vocabulary. At the end, there’s even a review of each language you might want to learn written just like a restaurant or movie review.

What’s to Like: This book is like having my own personal coach to give me pep talks and advice. The author so enthusiastic about learning new languages, I wanted to start learning 2 or 3 right away too. I also found his multi-track approach idea very helpful. Gathering lots of different materials really did make language learning much easier and more fun. I learned a whole new way to make flashcards that takes less space and time, and yet is perfect for easy learning. His mnemonic devices were helpful too. Plus the language review guide was a lot of fun to read.

Other Info: The edition of the book I read is a little old so the author doesn’t mention anything about all the new computer programs out there. A new edition of the book just came out but I haven’t read it.