Netflix: How to stop your language languishing

MMLLers share their fave foreign language Netflix shows

With the looming prospect of a ‘virtual year abroad‘ coming on top of at least one term without much exposure to our languages, Cambridge MMLLers are using Netflix and other sites to keep our language ears.

Of course, series and films don’t offer the same level of interactivity that true immersion, language supervisions or even an online intercambio would. But watching shows is more enjoyable, doesn’t feel like work, and is much easier (you can always just turn on the subtitles).

I spoke to Cambridge MMLLers to find out what was worth watching, and what would be une flop.

Spanish: Elite and Velvet

Photo—  Netflix

“Like Gossip Girl if Gossip Girl was a murder mystery.”

Elite is a Spanish-language Netflix series: “When three working-class teens enrol in an exclusive private school in Spain, the clash between them and the wealthy students leads to murder.”

Kasia Pendlebury, a first year French and Spanish student at Robinson described the show as “scandalous, sexy and unbelievably bingeable”. And hey, now the sociology department doesn’t seem to think class is worth studying anymore, HSPS students can use this instead.

Also found on Netflix is Velvet, a drama/romance story set in a Spanish department store in the 1950s/60s. “The heir to a fashion house romances a beautiful seamstress […] despite the objections of his family.” According to Kasia, this is farfetched and fun although admittedly it seems to leave out any trace of Franco.

French: Marseille, Juste un regard, Into the Night

Photo Gevevieve Holl-Allen

“Full of intrigue and a sense of jeopardy.”

Genevieve Holl-Allen, a third year French and Russian student at Emmanuel, has been watching Marseille on Netflix. “The longtime mayor of Marseille is preparing to hand over the reins to his protégé when a sudden and ruthless battle emerges for control of the city.” This series features famous Frenchman Gerard Depardieu in a struggle for power that includes corruption, violence and romance along the way. As a French drama set somewhere other than Paris, this show has made it onto Genevieve’s list.

“An endless web of secrets and some rather juicy on-screen murders.”

Photo – Lidija Beric

Juste un regard, Channel 4 on-demand, is a thriller based strangely enough on an American novel, about a 15-year marriage that becomes a 15-year lie. “Hardly light lockdown viewing,” writes Lidija Beric, a second-year French and German student at Trinity, “but definitely stellar escapism.” Lidija does not recommend bingeing this six-episode series but instead watching with liberal sprinklings of your favourite rom-com to comfort yourself after the “mildly disturbing” ordeal.

Personally, this author has been watching Netflix’s Into The Night. The premise is very odd – something is wrong with the sun, causing its light to kill everything it shines on. This is discovered by a passenger plane departing from Brussels, Belgium mid-flight, and the captain and remaining passengers must all keep their cool (and stay alive) while constantly flying West to escape the sun’s deadly rays. Most of the show is in French, but there are the odd bits of Flemish and English that emerge when the plane lands at an RAF base in Scotland to refuel. Refreshingly, (spoiler alert) for once the Brits are bad guys, and watching the team dynamics slowly disintegrate is the best form of schadenfreude.

German – Deutschland 83, Deutschland 86 (Deutschland 89 in progress)

“100 per cent educational and probably ‘academic rigour’ approved.”

Also a favourite of Lidija’s, the Deutchschland shows tell a coming-of-age story in the days of the Berlin wall. They are full of genuinely astonishing twists and lots of “good old revolutionary feeling” as Germany is the stage for an epic Capitalist V Communist showdown. As the sequel to Deutschland 83 and with another series (you guessed it- Deutschland 89) looming on the horizon, it’s definitely not binge-risk free. But, with its solidly historical setting, capturing the tensions between East and West Germany as the Mauerfall approaches, it is 100 per cent educational.

Russian – Silver spoon (Мажор)

Photo – Netflix, Silver Spoon

This Netflix crime-thriller centres around a cocky playboy-become-apprentice-cop, who realises a knack for police work. Third year student Cecilia Hobbs who studies at Gonville and Caius stumbled across the series and was initially unimpressed, but stuck out the first couple of episodes to watch the macho protagonist evolve into “a male character who appears sensitive and vulnerable.” This was apparently refreshing to see in a series produced in a country where open discussion around gender roles is still very much a taboo subject.

Of course, French, Spanish, German and Russian are only a few of the languages offered by the MMLL faculty. I’ve only included a snapshot of what I’m sure is a myriad of entertaining shows to suit every gusto, geschmack, goût, вкус, γούστο, smaak or gust. But hopefully, now we can (slightly) allay our fears and anxieties about next year in a massive guilt-free Netflix binge.

(Cover image – Erin Hudson/Kasia Pendlebury)