One metric that shows how the world is getting more interconnected and global (and we’re definitely glad about this) is media and entertainment. The beauty of the modern age is that through platforms like Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Tiktok, etc., content can expand its reach far beyond its native borders and find a broader and more international audience. Various media tools and practices help making content accessible for its audience: subtitles/closed captioning, dubbing, alt-text, etc. As a result, viewers have access to more media than ever before — which is great news if you’re a language learner or cultural enthusiast. However, you don’t need to be a polyglot to enjoy a show in a foreign language.
The benefits of honing your language skills by engaging with native content have oft been discussed, and for good reason, but another dimension to engaging with foreign-language film and TV is just for the sake of it. Sure, you can dive into foreign media as part of a multi-pronged strategy for tackling the four main language skills all at once, but you can also simply watch foreign media for the sake of novelty and exploration – even if you can’t understand the language. Foreign media is a way of exploring the world from our screen and there is a lot of joy to be found in the process of this exploration.
Media representation of common themes like family, romance and coming of age differs across the globe. A culture’s particular sense of humor could be wholly novel to your own sense of taste, kicking off a surprisingly delightful experience. Or maybe there’s just a fantastic actor or director that you would not ever have heard about outside of a particular context. Expanding the scope of our media consumption, then, becomes a way of expanding our perspectives. And to start your multicultural media exploration off, here are four foreign language shows that you definitely have to check out:
1. Something in the Rain (Korean)
Something in the Rain (alternatively titled 밥 잘 사주는 예쁜 누나 or Pretty Sister Who Buys Me Food) is a 2018 drama and a big-time comfort watch for me. I’ve watched this series around 4 or 5 times within the span of a year between doing my personal re-watches and sharing it with friends and family. Here we’ve got a romance between two childhood friends who meet again later on in life and fall into each other’s orbit fighting the circumstances and societal expectations that threaten to keep them apart. Something in the Rain deals in a brand of realism that you don’t often see in romantic K-Dramas, or even other romances across cultures, reveling in the beauty of the mundane. It might be a little slow to get into because the style of the show doesn’t give an inch, but once you start the journey, I bet it’ll be hard to turn back.
Watch the Something in the Rain trailer:
2. Transfers (French)
You’ve probably heard of Lupin already so here’s another French series that you should definitely dive into. Transfers or Transferts is a gripping 2017 sci-fi thriller that really makes an impact. It explores body-snatching and fountain of youth tropes through the lens of main character Florian Bassot who wakes up in a stranger’s body after having his consciousness transferred against his will. Themes such as family, identity and autonomy are explored as the explosive ramifications of a new technology is measured within the society, calling into question the internal and external realities that make us who we really are.
Watch the Transfers trailer:
3. Invisible City (Brazilian Portuguese)
Invisible City or Cidade Invisíel is a 2021 fantasy-mystery series that invites its audience into the myth and folklore of Brazil. From the start I found myself intrigued by the rich cast and vibrant lore which peel back the layers of Rio de Janeiro to show the audience all the magic that lies beneath the surface. The show follows a bereaved detective on his quest to find meaning in the death of a loved one, all while spiraling deeper and deeper into the underworld of magical creatures. Environmentalism and cultural preservation are huge themes present in the series and will give you a lot to think about regarding your own personal community.
4. SKAM (In seven languages)
SKAM is a 2015 teen drama that definitely made an impact on the international scene through its lovable cast and innovative use of technology in its narrative. Originally broadcast and produced in Norway, and created by Julie Andem, in SKAM, the viewers are given a peek into the life of a group of Norwegian teenagers as they navigate the ups and downs of their interpersonal lives and grapple their various ‘shames’ (‘skam’ is Norwegian for ‘shame’). Each season centres a different character, focusing on the themes most pertinent to their experience, ranging from infidelity, sexual assault, religious discimmination, sexuality, etc.
What made SKAM unique in its debut is how they released episodes in ‘clips’ online and in ‘real time’. Example: there would be a scene in the show that takes place at Friday 2PM CST and the clip would come out on Friday 2PM CSTin real life that week as if the show was actually running concurrent to reality. Each character also had an Instagram page that was updated in ‘real time’ too (a move that other shows, like the Gossip Girl reboot, have been adopting).
Lastly, SKAM is particularly apt for language learners as, since the original Norwegian series, the show has beenre-produced in different languages and cultural contexts. To date there have been 7 re-makes: SKAM France (French), DRUCK (German), SKAM Italia (Italian), SKAM Austin (US English), SKAM España (Spanish), SKAM NL (Dutch) and wtFOCK (Flemish). Some of the re-makes have even gone further than the original 4 seasons of the original. So, pick your language and get cracking!
Watch the SKAM France trailer:
Watch the SKAM Italia trailer:
Watch the DRUCK trailer:
Watch the SKAM NL trailer:
Watch the SKAM España trailer:
Watch the wtFOCK trailer:
There are countless other foreign language shows that are just as captivating. Stay tuned, because we will dive into them in our posts. Which foreign language show is close to your heart? What did you like about it?