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As I watch detectives on my screen solve their cases, their foreign language pours into my headphones, and I read the text in English at the bottom of the screen. I believe when I do this, foreign language lessons take place.

Learning languages is good for the brain. Studies show that bilingual students are more inclined to concentrate on their studies than those who only speak one language. Senior citizens who learn a new language improve their cognition, and evidence suggests that such mental activity fights off dementia.

 I may not become fluent in any of the languages I hear, but picking up bits here and there and playing connect the dots with the new information has to exercise the gray matter. And it does so in an entertaining venue. Reading is also recommended to keep the brain working properly, so the mere act of reading subtitles is brain-stimulating. It forces the viewer of the show into a more mentally active role.

Try though I did, I was never a strong foreign language student, and I managed to master as much Spanish as I did by growing up in the Panama Canal Zone. French and Italian are languages derived from Latin, as is Spanish. Listening to them while reading subtitles causes me to pick up words and phrases and make connections. For example, Happy New Year is “bonne année” in French and “buon anno” in Italian. In one New Year’s Eve episode of “Inspector Montalbano,” the titular Sicilian detective said “buon anno” so many times I could not help but remember it.

Because Italian and Spanish share many words like “sí” for yes. “casa” for house, and “vino” for wine, I have moments while watching Italian gumshoes solve crimes when my brain momentarily shifts from the text of the subtitles to the content of the auditory dialogue. I think anyone who took French in high school or college would be able to do the same with my favorite French detective show, “Murder In,” which has not only great stories but the added benefit that each episode occurs in a different part of France and provides spectacular panoramas of the country, thanks to drone technology. One can see so much of this beautiful country without leaving home.

Western European shows are longer than American television programs, typically 1 hour and 40 minutes. This allows for more characters and intricate plots. On the downside, it means fewer episodes per season, but one of the great things about streaming these shows is that there are no commercials.

What appears in these shows with regularity is references to things considered part of American culture. Take, for example, the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. This originated in the United States with the 1966 Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. It now applies in France, Italy, and Germany and is often in the script of their detective shows.

The zany French detective Capitaine Marleau frequently mentions Colombo and references Star Wars characters. In an episode of Murder In, the City of Lourdes is called “The Las Vegas of Catholicism.” Such references would not be in the script if French viewers did not recognize the names.

Watching shows from other countries in their original language is enlightening. However, one cannot make a sandwich during the program. Unless already fluent in the language, the thread of the story will become lost once the eyes are no longer on the screen. Therefore, I appreciate another invention of our modern era: the pause button.

The streaming station I use for this is MHZ Choice, and their URL is https://watch.mhzchoice.com/browse. The cost is $8.00 a month.

Steve Bailey grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, was educated in Minnesota, and taught middle school for thirty-two years in Virginia. He can be contacted at vamarcopolo.com.

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