Recently I’ve been watching a few Danish movies and learning a bit about the culture here in Denmark. There’s a couple of movies which I’d like to write about today, ‘Adams Æbler’ and ‘Valhalla’. They heavily contrast each other, with one being an extremely dark comedy and the other movie being a cartoon.
I used to think that watching movies were a brilliant way to learn a language until I read this convincing article by Olly Richards explaining that they are, at best, a way of consolidating what you already know in a language and good for maintaining motivation. I watched these movies mainly for entertainment, but also to get a feel for Danish culture, and I watched them with English subtitles.
This is a movie about a Neo-Nazi gang leader, Adam, who is granted parole from prison by being in a rehabilitation program. As part of his rehabilitation program he lives in a church community and is tasked with a project of baking an apple pie using the apples growing from the trees on the church grounds. The story quickly takes a turn for the worse as Adam starts progressively tormenting and terrorising the kind and well meaning church priest.
It is a grim and harrowing movie, with no strong cues that it is a comedy movie at all… parts of it are quite graphic and extremely offensive. Despite all this, I did find myself laughing at the movie because there were moments so shocking that they created a suspension of disbelief.
In terms of comprehensible input this movie was almost all ‘noise’ to me, and I would have been absolutely lost without the English subtitles. It took me more than half of the movie to realise that one of the characters, a Saudi Arabian guy spoke really broken Danish, missing out all sorts of words in his sentences.
This was an 80’s animated Danish movie about Vikings and Norse Mythology. I recognised a lot of characters and places from recent Marvel movies – Thor, Loki, Asgard, Midgard, etc. With this movie being a children’s cartoon, the tone was certainly a light more light hearted than Adams Æbler!
Although there were English subtitles, to my surprise I could recognise almost half of the Danish words! That was massively motivating for me, as the majority of Danish that I overhear in my everyday life really just feels like noise to me.
As I mentioned earlier, the main purpose of watching these movies were for entertainment first, and then familiarising myself with Danish culture. I do hope someday that I’ll be able to watch Danish movies without any subtitles at all, but for now I’m happy to do immersion.
As a final note, although I don’t personally feel that watching movies and languages in a target language is a substitute for studying and practice, I do have a friend who is (and has been) doing the exact opposite and making some brilliant progress with it. His blog Thai Without Study is all about how he immerses himself in Thai tv shows, movies, radio and real life observations. He’s a very patient and consistent language learner, and a talented writer, so if you are curious to see what it’s like from the other side of the argument I would recommend having a look at what he’s doing!