Aged 35 He Speaks 11 Languages – Luca Lampariello’s 11 Tricks To Learn Any Language

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Aged 35 He Speaks 11 Languages – Luca Lampariello’s 11 Tricks To Learn Any Language

This article is a wake-up call for all those who dream of becoming multilingual: just do it! Luca Lampariello talks about where he finds the motivation for learning languages, and how he’s learned 11 so far.

When people meet someone who speaks many languages fluently, the first reaction is often one of slight bewilderment. Multilingualism is generally considered cool yet difficult to achieve, especially if second, third and fourth languages are acquired later in life. As an advocate of language learning, I of course agree that it’s cool, but I challenge the assumption that it’s difficult.

My name is Luca Lampariello. Here I would like to deviate from the well-trodden route to how I learned 11 languages and concentrate on why I learned these languages. Seasoned language learners will all tell you that motivation is fundamental, so where can one find this motivation and how can it be bolstered?

Language learning is about much more than heaps of books and hours of study. It’s about travelling to marvellous places, meeting inspiring people, enjoying delicious food and embarking on innumerable journeys of self-discovery. I derive my motivation to learn more languages from these experiences; the experiences that these languages make possible.

“I agree that language learning is cool, but I challenge the assumption that it’s difficult.”

Learn English English

Lesson learned: Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned. Having someone or something to aid with the process is of great benefit. Find a guide, not an instructor.

English was already a world language by the time I turned 10 in 1991. Its study was mandatory. I struggled at first. I didn’t like the teacher, grammar explanations confused me, and the material was monotone. I thought I’d never learn it. Then my parents decided to hire a private English tutor. I was 13 and she was wonderful. She didn’t simply instruct me in the language, but helped me discover it – she set me on the right path to learning and, most importantly, learning to love language.

I started reading a lot of books in English. My aunt bought me The Hardy Boys for my birthday and after that there was no looking back. The combination of reading books, watching movies every day and talking to my tutor once a week for two years worked wonders. By the age of 15 I was fluent in English and in possession of a thick American accent.

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” ‒ Chinese Proverb

Learn French French

Lesson learned: A language is a door to an entire world which is wholly worth exploring. So let your guard down and fall in love! With the language, with the country, with a person, or even with the food. There’s no greater motivation!

I started learning French around the same time as I started learning English and encountered many of the same problems. That all changed at the age of fourteen, however, when I discovered that I could watch French TV. I started watching two hours every day after dinner. By the age of 15 I was fluent in French. A few hours of television a day did more than the previous three years in middle school. In 2010 I moved to Paris. Living there for three years enabled me to gain invaluable insights into French culture: history, traditions, jokes, cultural references, and a respect for French pride in their cuisine and language.

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going” – Rita Mae Brown

Learn German German

Lesson learned: If you find a method you like and which works for you, you can start learning any language by yourself. There is no one best method to learn a language. Find something that is effective for you. And above all, experiment!

German was the first language I started learning completely on my own. I don’t remember exactly why I embarked on this journey, but I remember I had no idea how to learn German. I spent a couple of months using a dusty grammar book dislodged from my grandmother’s bookcase. Gothic letters cascaded down the page imploring me to repeat vacuous grammar drills. I quickly became disheartened.

Then I saw a commercial on TV about a language series in 4 languages and decided to give it a go. While using it, I came up with my method: a special technique to absorb the basic patterns of any language in a light, natural and fun way. This method came to me organically, and I quickly realised that it was effective for me. After using it for a year and a half, I met a bunch of Germans while on vacation. I will always remember their faces as they repeatedly asked in bewilderment,“Wie kannst du so gut Deutsch?!” (how can you speak German so well?). This reaction and the resulting, privileged connection were enough to fuel my passion to perfect my German. From that moment on I started reading insatiably. The language had become an integral part of my life.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” ‒ Nelson Mandela

Learn Spanish Spanish

Lesson learned: Language learning offers you profound insights into your own, native language. If you learn a language similar to yours, speak it from the beginning. It’s easier than you perhaps imagine.

Spanish and Italian are like two sisters; different and yet similar at the same time. One common myth in Italy is that Spanish is easy: that you just have to speak Italian and add an “s” to every single word. The overall structure of the two languages is similar, but there are a fair few disparities in terms of pronunciation, intonation and idiomatic usage. In 2007 I did an exchange in Barcelona. Although I was immersed in a predominantly Catalan environment, I was living with a lively Spanish girl from Malaga and often went out with a lot of other Spanish people. The language simply rubbed off. By the time I came back to Rome, Spanish had become a part of me.

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.” ‒ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Learn Dutch Dutch

Lesson learned: There is no such thing as a useless language. They will all come in handy sooner or later, so don’t let others determine what you learn. Allow yourself to be guided by your own interests and convictions.

I met Lotte, a Dutch girl, whilst camping in Northern Sardinia. She didn’t speak much English and we both became frustrated at our inability to communicate. We still had a great time together, but something was missing: a sense of incompleteness kept nagging at me, so I decided to learn Dutch. Lotte and I lost touch, but the language stayed with me. People insisted that Dutch was a completely useless language – they all speak English – but I stuck to it. I read books and magazines that my friends would bring back from the Netherlands. I knew I would use the language sooner or later, and have been proved right. Now I speak Dutch every day with my Dutch housemate. Speaking and expanding Dutch has become easy, effortless and interesting. The old adage that one must move to a country to learn the language is simply not true.

“Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.” ‒ Sarah Caldwell

Learn Swedish Swedish

Lesson learned: Start working on pronunciation from the very beginning to avoid developing bad habits. Be flexible. If a language has an idiosyncratic feature, work on it more from the start.

I had been thinking about learning a Scandinavian language for quite some time when my Italian girlfriend at the time bought me a Swedish course for my birthday. Swedish sounds incredibly musical to my ears due to its peculiar intonation, but I found it quite difficult to grasp at the beginning. In 2004 I went to Stockholm for the first time and was immediately enamored by Swedish culture. I kept speaking Swedish, mostly with Norwegians, and watched movies and read books – mainly thrillers, as the Scandinavians are excellent at that. And the best thing of all? If you know Swedish, most Scandinavians will understand you, and you suddenly have access to a fascinating culture and way of thinking.

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” ‒ Charlemagne

Learn Russian Russian

Lesson learned: If you are about to give up on a language, actively search for something that reignites your desire to learn. Go to the country, meet someone, watch a movie, make a YouTube video. Anything goes.

After a few Romance and Germanic languages, I wanted to learn something new. Russian seemed exotic to me: incredibly rich, elegant and intriguingly complex. Thinking in Russian was tantamount to solving a mathematical conundrum for every sentence. My mind boggled as to how native Russians deal with it every day. I had nobody to help me and after 8 months I began to think that it had perhaps been a mistake to learn Russian. I had barely made any progress. I didn’t do much for 3 long years, and then I posted a video on YouTube speaking Russian. The response astonished me. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine so many people would leave such enthusiastic comments. Russians think that their language is difficult and inaccessible, so when they hear somebody uttering a couple of sentences they explode with joy. I subsequently started speaking Russian on a regular basis and slowly began to navigate my way confidently through Russian’s grammar maze.

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” ‒ Chinese Proverb


Lesson learned: You can learn two languages at the same time provided that you organize your time and energy well.

I started learning European Portuguese at the exact same time as Mandarin. I had never learned two languages at the same time, and so I gave myself very precise guidelines. Portuguese, like Spanish, came very naturally to me. I focused on pronunciation, which can be tricky. Unstressed vowels are barely pronounced and sentences often seem like an uninterrupted sequence of consonants. Portuguese can even sound like Russian to untrained ears as a consequence. I often get asked why I opted for European Portuguese and not Brazilian Portuguese, which is much more widely spoken. The truth is that I often don’t choose a language. I let languages choose me.

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.” ‒ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Learn Polish Polish

Lesson learned: Travel is a truly great motivator. Travel as much as you can, whenever you can. It will open doors and push you to learn languages.

I visited Poland in 2012 for the second time in my life and simply fell in love with the country and its people. Other than using my bilingual translation technique, I also started speaking it from the very beginning by setting up a weekly language exchange with Michal, a Polish guy I had met in the summer of 2012. I highly recommend this approach if you are learning a slavic language and you already speak another one. Although Russian and Polish are quite different in many ways, the overall structure is the same, and knowing one helps enormously with learning the other. After a year I was relatively fluent in Polish and I made a video on YouTube with Michal on a visit to Poland. The video didn’t go unnoticed. A journalist interviewed me for a magazine and I ended up on Polish TV one year later.

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” ‒ Frank Smith

Mandarin Chinese

Lesson learned: Don’t be intimidated by a language’s reputation.

I had heard that Chinese is notoriously difficult, and that’s why I had never contemplated learning it. Pushed by the unexpected success of my first YouTube videos, I wanted a new challenge. I started learning Mandarin Chinese in my own way, but I faced completely new challenges.

If somebody tells you that Chinese is impossible to learn by yourself, as I once heard someone say, I can assure you that it is absolutely not true. It has its own complex aspects, but also some refreshingly easy ones as well. If you know how to tackle tones and Chinese characters the right way, Chinese is, in the long run, not harder than any other language, and the reward of speaking it is immense. You come into contact with an incredible culture, and the Chinese are often pleasantly surprised if you speak their language well.

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” ‒ Ludwig Wittgenstein


Lesson Iearned: Some languages have completely new features, so be flexible and adapt your learning method to the language. If your approach is not working, change it! Don’t give up. Don’t give in.

When I started learning Japanese, I wanted a new challenge, but I didn’t imagine it would be so hard. I couldn’t even build simple sentences because the structure in Japanese was so completely different from any language I had ever learned. I initially thought that this problem was just temporary and could be solved by speaking more regularly, but this simply wasn’t the case. Japanese feels like my biggest challenge yet, but I’m confident that I will get there. I just need to recalibrate my approach and live the language.

“A different language is a different vision of life.” ‒ Federico Fellini


Discovering a method to learn foreign languages is, without a doubt, one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Learning languages is an exhilarating experience. I didn’t do it by simply spending time at home staring blankly at verb tables. I did it by getting out there and living.

Speaking multiple languages is not and shouldn’t be an intellectual performance. It is an act of love towards yourself and others which helps you discover the amazing diversity of human nature as well as discovering the multiple facets of your personality. To those who ask me why I like learning so many languages I always reply: “I don’t live to learn languages, I learn languages to live a better life”.

Motivated to learn another language?

Start learning today!

Box Office: ‘Jason Bourne’ Eyes $55M-Plus Bow; ‘Bad Moms’ Could Crack $33M

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The Hollywood Reporter Fri, Jul 29 1:57 PM PDT

Yes, This Amazing Star Trek Delta Coin Is Real Currency in Canada

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Yes, This Amazing Star Trek Delta Coin Is Real Currency in Canada

Yesterday 3:55pm

On paper the Canadian dollar is struggling to keep up with US currency and doesn’t seem like a wise investment. But when you discover that the Canadian Mint now makes an entire line of Star Trek-themed collectible currency, including this delta-shaped gold coin, how could you possibly resist buying them all up?

Made from 99.99 percent pure gold, this coin, shaped like the Starfleet insignia worn by everyone serving about the USS Enterprise, has a face value of $200, but it will actually cost you $1,300—in Canadian funds. It’s legal tender, though, which means you can spend it anywhere (in Canada) you like, but only as $200 in currency.

But if a $1,300 gold coin isn’t quite in your budget, the Canadian Mint actually has an entire line of Star Trek coinage for you to collect, starting at $20 for a $20 silver coin featuring the USS Enterprise firing its phasers. In recent years the Mint has also developed a way to print full-color imagery on its coins—including ones used in circulation—so if you’d rather have Spock or Uhura rattling around in your pocket, there are a couple of cheaper coin options featuring them as well.

[Canadian Mint via The Trek Collective]

Here’s the Lowdown on All Four New Ghostbusters

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Here’s the Lowdown on All Four New Ghostbusters

Each of the new Ghostbusters has received their own introductory video, meaning we’ve received a ton of new film footage, along with details about the characters and the plot.

We know that Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin (Kristen Wiig) used to be partners, with Abby still believing in their work but Erin leaving to teach at Columbia. Abby publishes their book without Erin’s permission, Erin visits Abby, sees a ghost with her, and ends up believing again. And, as in the original Ghostbusters, loses her place at Columbia in the process.

We also see Patty (Leslie Jones) join the team because of a ghost encounter of her own, and that her knowledge of New York and its history is important. The final piece is Holtzmann, who is clearly the engineer/inventor of the group. But other than her being weird, we still know nothing about her background or why she’s on the team.

Katharine is a staff writer for io9 and Gizmodo

If You Give Peace a Chance on Game of Thrones, You’ll Regret It

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If You Give Peace a Chance on Game of Thrones, You’ll Regret It

Rob Bricken

Yesterday 10:06am


There was an inevitable sense of things falling into place on “The Broken Man.” Sure, the seventh episode of the season is usually when Game of Thronesstarts putting its endgame in motion, but there was an extra sense of finality to it, making it a gut-punch of an episode. Hmm. Maybe gut-stab is a better word.

Yes, a lot of fateful decisions were made on last night’s episode, the first of which may be the strangest—the show’s choice to give us a scene before the opening credits. Has it ever done that before? Other than the pilot? I don’t think so, because if it happened I’m sure it would be just as jarring as it was last night, when we cold open on a church being built.

It’s overseen by the always incredible Ian McShane, who’s playing a more-down-to-Westeros preacher than we’ve seen so far in Game of Thrones. (He’snot, however, playing Septon Meribald, about which more below). As various smallfolk cut wood and hammer things and make food, a group of men start carrying logs to the site. One man is carrying a log all by himself. The camera pans around… and it’s the Hound. And then credits.

It works—I mean, the Hound is a major character who’s been gone since the end of season four—but it works more because it’s so unnatural to have a pre-credits scene, more than because it’s the Hound, or because he seems to have given up his murderous ways to build a church. However, he doesn’t look any happier than he was when he was running around the Eyrie with Arya, so don’t assume he’s found salvation yet.

The Hound is the focal point of “The Broken Man,” so we’ll return to him anon. Let’s catch up with the major machinations that are slowly falling into place, namely, Jon Snow and Sansa Stark’s bid to oust Ramsey Bolton from Winterfell, and Cersei and Olenna Tyrell’s similar bid to oust the High Sparrow out of King’s Landing. We begin up North, where Jon, Sansa, and their loyal advisor Davos Seaworth (the partnership is official) have traveled to Bear Island, to ask Lady Mormont for her support in the war to come. Lady Mormont is a 10-year-old who is a terrifying badass.

Seriously. Li’l Lady Mormont puts up with exactly zero of their bullshit compliments and demands a damn good reason why she should send Bear Island’s men to fight another Stark war. Let’s be clear: This is a very silly scene.I’m sure some of you will disagree, and certainly the actors all play it perfectly straight, but in this “real” fantasy world where 99% of children act like children, it is hilarious to see this tiny BAMF basically own Jon and Sansa. Luckily, Davos steps up to convince her that the dead are coming, and only a united North can stand against them, and the North can only unite under a Stark. The Li’l Lady agrees, and pledges… 62 men.

The tragedy is that’s about as good as it gets for Team Stark. (Turns out a lot of people hold “marrying a foreign woman and getting himself and his entire army butchered” against Robb.) By the end of their tour, they only have a few hundred more troops to add to their 2,000 Wildlings. Sansa (probably accurately) points out that this isn’t close to enough men to take back Winterfell, but Jon (also probably accurately) explains they have to attack before another giant snowstorm buries them all like it did Stannis’ army. So Sansa grabs a piece of parchment and a raven and gets to writing.

Given the circumstances, I think we can safely assume that Sansa is writing Littlefinger, who just so happens to have the soldiers of the Eyrie standing nearby. How lucky is that?! Look, let’s not pretend that Sansa really trusts Littlefinger here. She knows he has an ulterior motive, and she knows she’s playing into his hands, and there’ll be some price to pay. She’s not dumb. But she also realizes there’s no way Jon’s army can take Winterfell without them. It’s either certain defeat now, or deal with Littlefinger’s scheme later. It’s the only choice she can make. And this is likely exactly how Littlefinger planned it.

Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, the High Sparrow’s battle is pretty much won. With Margaery converted and King Tommen pledged to the church, the High Sparrow effectively rules the Seven Kingdoms by proxy. It’s the level of power where he can basically order Margaery to return to Tommen’s bed—“a woman does not need desire, only patience” he says, with a paternal smile and zero empathy—and insinuate to Margaery that he’s going to kill her grandmother, Olenna Tyrell, if she doesn’t quit causing trouble.

Regardless of the Sparrow’s evil, there’s a real sublime beauty in the scenes of devout Margaery and the holy High Sparrow talking together, because they’re both putting on an act of piousness, more or less for the other. The only difference is that the High Sparrow likely knows Margaery doesn’t truly believe, and he doesn’t care because it doesn’t matter—as long as she acts devout and follows his orders, he gets his results either way. Again, I think there’s a good chance that the High Sparrow is doing all of this because he’s a fanatic, and for him the ends justify whatever horrible means he achieves them. Either way, his kind demeanor is without any doubt a lie. The question here is whether Margaery realizes how much sin he’ll commit to “save” the Seven Kingdoms.

But for now, all Margaery can do is secretly pass a note to her grandmother to get out of King’s Landing while keeping up her pious act in front of another impossibly stern septa. Olenna, realizing she can do nothing more for Margaery and Loras in the city (or if she’s dead) starts to pack, when Cersei approaches her, like Sansa, to make a desperate deal with someone she hates. It’s genuinely tragic to see Cersei essentially forced to beg her former opponent for help to save Tommen. And while it’s satisfying to watch Olenna utterly deny her—reminding her that the Faith Militant is entirely her fault, and saying that Cersei’s unhappiness is basically “the only joy I can find in all this misery”—it’s sad to see Cersei admit this, and still beg for help, knowing the danger her son is in. Again, thanks to the prophecy she received as a child, she knows (or thinks she knows) that all her children will die before her, and she’s trying desperately to cheat fate anyway.

While Cersei tries to avoid what fate has in store, Jaime rather surprisingly tries to avoid a war. He and the Lannister army arrive at Riverrun to find the Frey forces are… well, to call them a mess would be to insult messes. (As Jaime puts it, they let an army of 8,000 men sneak up on them.) The Freys only plan is to drag the captured Edmure Tully, Lord of Riverrun, groom of the Red Wedding, and noted nitwit to a makeshift gallows and demand the Blackfish surrender the castle or watch his nephew die. The Blackfish tells them to go right ahead. It turns out the two Freys in charge were bluffing (they are also clearly nitwits) but it seems abundantly clear that Blackfish truly does not care whether his nephew lives or dies. It’s certainly clear to Edmure, who is not pleased.

When Jaime arrives, he immediately takes charge, gives Bronn (he’s back!) control of the camp, and asks for a parley with the Blackfish. It does not go well: Jaime asks the Blackfish to surrender, telling him he’ll spare all his men; the Blackfish comes out mainly to say he’s got two years of food, he’s going nowhere, and since Jaime failed to fulfill his oath to bring Sansa and Arya back to Catelyn (made way back in season two) he can more or less go to hell. And so the siege begins.

In Braavos, Arya tries to book passage back to Westeros. She has a very strange amount of money (did she pickpocket it? Was it from begging? Does the House of Black and White have a petty cash jar?) and buys a cabin on a boat bound for Westeros, even paying extra so the captain sets sail the next day. If this seems like an oddly ostentatious thing for a girl who knows she’s being hunted by face-changing assassins to do, well, I agree. But Arya wanders through Braavos in what is a truly bizarre mix of optimism and obliviousness. She even stops on a bridge to admire the sun setting on the giant Titan when the Waif, disguised as an old crone, walks casually up to her and stabs her in the gut. Repeatedly.

All Arya can do is toss herself over the bridge into the water; she swims away, and pulls herself out later, walking through the narrows straight in shock, hands gripping her bleeding stomach, paranoid that everyone she sees is a Faceless Man come to kill her which is exactly what she should have been doing in the first place. Now, however murderous George R.R. Martin and/or the showrunners may be, I have zero expectations that Arya will die. I also feel this proves my theory that if you join a school for face-changing assassins, you should learn how to change your face before quitting the school for face-changing assassins. It certainly would have helped Arya last night, although it still wouldn’t have explained why she was acting like she was in a damn Disney movie instead of Game of Thrones.

Certainly the Hound would have been disappointed in her foolishness, even though he seems to have given up the sword for an axe (well, I should probably specify a woodcutting axe) to help build Brother Ray’s church. This week’s “Inside the Episode” has David Benioff and D.B. Weiss talking about how the Hound’s near-death experience left him a changed man, but on the show he’s still very angry. He has no illusions about how the world is, and when three members of the Brotherhood Without Banners ride up to the congregation and start making not-particularly-veiled threats, the Hound sees the danger for what it is. Brother Ray does as well, but he also believes violence “is a disease”—and you don’t stop a disease by spreading it to other people.

This being Game of Thrones, I think you know how this was always going to end up: with the Hound returning to the congregation after a bit of wood-chopping to find every single member slaughtered, and Brother Ray hung from the beams of the church that will never be finished. So Sandor Clegane picks up his axe, and we all know he’s done chopping wood with it.

So here’s the thing. Having your entire community wiped out is like fantasy trope 101—it was used for basically every 1980s barbarian fantasy movie—so it’s jarring to see it used so blithely here. On the other hand, I like that the Hound didn’t suddenly turn into a religious zealot after his near-death experience, because I think that’s a tired trope, too. I like that he wants to not pick up a sword again, but he doesn’t think he can avoid it. This is what Brother Ray tries to convince him is possible. It’s the world that proves Ray wrong and Sandor right.

Since the show has decided to portray the Hound as a man on the brink of transition, not a man of repentance, it was a spectacular decision to hire Ian McShane to play the role of Brother Ray, short-lived as it was. Sure, it’s a great idea to hire Ian McShane pretty much 100% of the time, but I can’t imagine very many actors who could pull off being a devout holy man, and a common, down-to-earth person, and have the gravitas to portray someone the Hound would actually listen to. McShane is perfect, and all you need to do is hear his sermon about the time as a soldier he murdered a child in front of its mother. It’s crazy, but McShane makes this work.

But all that aside, it really feels like things are clicking into place for the finale. The war for the North is about to begin. The war for King’s Landing looks like it’s imminent, too. The battle for Riverrun could prove decisive for either of these battles, as it’s preventing the Lannister army from returning to King’s Landing and the Tully forces from joining Jon and Sansa. And let’s not forget poor Arya, walking the streets of Braavos with several holes in her stomach, or the Hound, who has an axe and a thirst for vengeance.

Brother Ray said violence begets violence. I believe a whole lot of begetting is about to begin.

Assorted Musings:

  • We do get a brief check-in with Yara and Theon, who have taken their boats and pirates to a Westerosi equivalent of Hooters. I mean, I’m sure it’s yet another whorehouse, but like EVERY SINGLE WOMAN is just hanging out topless, and it seems to be primarily a place where people eat and drink. To be fair, the nudity does serve a purpose in that it all emphasizes how vastly uncomfortable and ashamed Theon is. It doesn’t help that even his sister keeps mocking him for having his penis cut off by a madman.
  • Yara also gives her brother a bit of a pep talk, which basically involves 1) forcing him to chug ale and 2) telling him if he going to keep moping about all those months of torture and being castrated, he should go ahead and kill himself. Theon manages to look her in the eye by the end, but it’s worth noting that this is pretty much Yara—and probably most of the Iron Islanders—at her most compassionate. They are a terrible people.
  • Jon has a brief talk with the Wildlings to convince them to join his fight against the Boltons. They’re a little reluctant until Tormund Giantsbane reminds them they’d all be dead without Jon, so it’s time to pony up. When Wun-Wun stands up and simply utters “Snow,” it’s pretty amazing.
  • Olenna has basically the Top 5 lines of the night, all slamming poor Cersei. Number 1 with a bullet: “I wonder if you’re the worst person I ever met.” (To be fair, she never met the Boltons.)
  • Bronn has the #6 line of the night, before Jaime can finish telling him, “A Lannister always pays his debts”: “Don’t say it. Don’t fucking say it.”
  • Hey, where the hell is Melisandre? Is she just hanging back at Castle Black, freaking out the members of the Night’s Watch? Was she not interested in hanging out with the guy she literally brought back to life? It’s weird, especially given all the importance the first episode of the season placed on her.
  • I would like to repeat a question I had much earlier in the season, but with more urgency: What the hell, Dorne?! What is happening there? Why did they bother giving us that one scene if we were never going back? Why did we have to watch any of it?

Warning! Assorted Musings That Contain Spoilers From the Books:

  • So I’m completely bummed that McShane didn’t end up playing Septon Meribald, who is the monk who finds the Hound in the books. He’s given what is very likely the most important speech in the entire series. It’s too long to quote here, which I suppose means it’s too long to include in the TV series, but damn, what a shame. I thought McShane would be perfect to deliver this, but now I don’t even think the show will include it. If this is true, it would literally be my least favorite deviation from the books.
  • Someone posited in the comments that Littlefinger wrote the Pink Letter that spurred Jon to take arms against the Boltons on the show, and it seems like such a Littlefinger move I feel like it could likely be true in the books as well.
  • I am now almost completely convinced that Lady Stoneheart is arriving this season. The Brotherhood Without Banners is butchering people. Clearly the noble Beric Dondarrion isn’t leading them anymore, and someone far more callous is in charge. And we know Thoros of Myr is due this season, and I literally can’t think of any reason he’d need to show up except to help explain how she came to be. I’m putting my money down.


Rob Bricken is the Editor of io9, and we are all just going to have to deal with that in our own ways.

Wait, Is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Sequel Actually… Good?

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Wait, Is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Sequel Actually… Good?

Germain Lussier

Friday 10:00am



The Turtles hang with their famous human friends, April O’Neil and Casey Jones. All Images: Jessica Miglio/Paramount Pictuers

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows plays like a greatest hits of everything iconic you know and love about the Turtles. Good guys, bad guys, ninjitsu, party wagons, everything; it’s all there to make a movie that’s—surprisingly—very entertaining. It’s also borderline nonsensical but, in a movie with talking turtles, it works.

Directed by Dave Green, Turtles 2 starts off with a bang. We’re instantly flying through New York City with the Turtles, watching them banter like four teenage brothers would, and you can immediately tell this movie gets it. The original did its best to hide the stars of the film in favor of the humans, but not so much in Out of the Shadows. That’s the title for several reasons, and the Turtles being front and center is the biggest one.

By spending almost every scene with the Turtles, Green sets a very distinct tone. This is a silly movie. A campy romp down memory lane aimed quite specifically at fans of the franchise. It’s super CG-heavy, packed with action set pieces all tailor made to fit in all those aforementioned greatest hits. What that does is create a movie that has lots of momentum and fun, but requires you to forgive a great many things.

Michaelangelo eats a lot of pizza in Out of the Shadows, because that’s what Michaelangleo does.

Almost from that first scene, the script by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec just goes for it. It feels like a wishlist/checklist with a loose story that crams it all together. Most of the narrative connections don’t hold up under any scrutiny. So Shredder goes through a portal? Okay. That portal leads him to Krang? Sure, why not. Krang gives him ooze that turns people into animals? Perfect, that’s Bebob and Rocksteady. We’re going to say “Cowabunga” here for no reason? Let’s do it. Can we fit the word “Shadow” into this script enough times we could make a drinking game out of it? Yes. Will people laugh at this dialogue? Who cares.

(Here’s something I thought a lot about after seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. If everything in a movie is absurd and devoid of logic, does that inversely make the whole thing cohesive and logical? In most cases it probably does not. But when it’s a nostalgia-heavy family blockbuster that’s a sequel to a film that was based on a cartoon, which was based on an older cartoon, which was based on toys, that was originally derived from a comic book about talking mutant turtles? I think the argument can be made it does.)

A mid-air plane sequence is one of the film’s best action beats.

Besides the personalities of the Turtles shining throughout the movie, the action is also a huge positive. The filmmakers have come up with some very exciting, very big, slightly familiar scenes that are tweaked to give the characters extremely “Turtle” moments—moments where the characters can use their shells, individual weapons, personality traits, all that stuff. Along the way, there are definitely times when the CG aesthetic is distracting, but they’re few and far between. In fact, the CG of the alien villain Krang in particular is outstanding.

If the Turtles are the strongest part of the movie, the humans are the weakest. New and old, they’re little more than set dressing. Megan Fox and Will Arnett reprise their roles and try to bridge many of those huge jumps of logic in the narrative. Laura Linney and Tyler Perry are new additions who do the same, but with a total awareness the movie they’re in is not serious. Then there’s Stephen Amell as Casey Jones; Amell starts strong but his sporadic use in the story makes him feel insignificant, and the performance suffers for it.

This image sums up everything the human actors add to Out of the Shadows.

Another place the movie suffers is the soundtrack. The score by Steve Jablonsky sounds almost identical to his score from the first Transformers film and, if you happen to notice that, it creates a huge disconnect. The Turtles deserve their own musical identity and this score fails to do that in a big, big way. Every time the music crescendos to an emotional moment, I felt like I was watching a different movie.

Green also peppers Out of the Shadows with lots of catchy, but super obvious music choices. “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis during a heist? “War” by Edwin Starr during a tank scene? Very on the nose. But, if you go by the mantra that this movie is designed to be campy and crazy, those choices fit. It all depends on whether you’re either along for the ride or not.

Then there’s the finale of the film. We won’t spoil anything, but if you had a split screen of the first movie along side this sequel, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate between the two. Both are in broad daylight, on New York City rooftops, with the Turtles battling some great big silver thing. It’s a letdown after the film’s great early action scenes.

Mikey and Leo are about to meet Krang.

All of major caveats aside, if you are a fan of the Ninja Turtles you are most likely going to find Turtles 2 enjoyable. Does it qualify as a good movie? Depends on your definition. It’s got a great tone and lots of pleasing fan service, with a mostly weak narrative and dialogue. The stars of the film have strong personalities; the supporting characters do not.

However, I think the film is undeniably admirable for how much it loves its subject matter and just embraces what it is. That alone makes me like it. For better and worse, this is the live-action Turtles movie you always expected Hollywood to make.


Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

Everything You Need to Know About Warcraft Before You See the Movie

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Everything You Need to Know About Warcraft Before You See the Movie

The Warcraft movie is nearly here, and if you don’t know your Gul’dans from your Garonas, everything in the trailers probably looks monstrously confusing. Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Here’s what you need to know about the weird world of Azeroth before you start your journey (into a movie theater).

That Inn is totally in the movie though. No, really!

It’s not actually based on the hit World of Warcraft video game.

There is only one reason we’re getting, of all things, a Warcraft film in the year of our lord 2016: World of Warcraft. Whether you’ve never touched it or sunk hundreds and hundreds of hours into the insanely popular MMORPG over the past 12 years it’s been running, odds are you have heard about the pop culture phenom at some point (or seen that South Park episode about it). And yet, surprisingly, Warcraft the movie is not based on World of Warcraft or its various story expansions.

Neither is it based on the more obscure but iconic-amongst-gamers Warcraft III, the third game in the franchise that told the story of a human prince named Arthas Menethil, who became corrupted by evil and fell to the forces of villainy, rising as the terrifying Lich King—the story most fans would love to see told on screen, and even expected when the film was getting under way all those years ago.

Instead, the movie is based almost entirely on the story of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, the original real-time strategy game that started the franchise in 1994. The film isn’t a direct translation; some things change simply for the film, others are the product of Blizzard Entertainment, who created Warcraft, tweaking and retconning their franchises origins over the years to better serve World of Warcraft. But odds are even if you’ve heard of WoW before, you probably aren’t going to be all that familiar with some of the heroes and villains that show up in the movie, set in a world 30 years before the events of the wildly successful MMORPG.

It’s a story of two worlds.

Warcraft, at a first glance, looks (and mostly is) about as traditionally “fantasy: as you can get: There’s knights in shiny armor, castles, mages casting spells, and big burly orcs. But it also has a bit of a sci-fi twist. Those big burly orcs I mentioned? They’re actually big burly orcs from outer space.

There are two big important planets in the Warcraft fiction: Azeroth, home to the humans, and Draenor, home to the Orcs. Azeroth is lush and vibrant, Draenor is barren and wasting, having been picked apart for resources by the orcs for generations. After making a sneaky deal with some evil demons called the Burning Legion (more on them later), an orc Warlock called Gul’dan (played by Daniel Wu in the film) begins uniting the Orc clans on Draenor to build a not-at-all-ominously titled Dark Portal that connects Draenor to Azeroth, so, as the orcs believe, they can invade and find a new, bountiful home. In actuality, they’re invading because Gul’dan has sold their souls to the Legion, who just enjoy invading worlds a lot.

From left to right (big breath!): Forsaken, Troll, Tauren, Blood Elf, Orc, Human, Draenei, Dwarf, Gnome, Night Elf.

It’s the Alliance versus the Horde.

There’s a lot more to Warcraft than orcs and humans (despite the fact that this movie is based on a game called Warcraft: Orcs and Humans). Although the movie doesn’t really show it, we’ve seen a few shots in the trailers of elves and dwarves, but their involvement is minimal at best. However, Draenor is also home to the Draenei, a race of blue-hued humanoids who had fled from their real home planet after it was ravaged by the Burning Legion. But they won’t really factor into this movie a lot, as they only really start to show up later in Warcraft’s timeline.

Azeroth, though, is the home of many races—very few of which are sadly in the film. At the time the film is set, there are elves (split into Quel’dorei and Kaldorei, a.k.a. High Elves and Night Elves, and even later down the line a subsection called the Blood Elves), dwarves, gnomes, trolls, goblins, and Tauren (large, bovine humanoids). Eventually with the arrival of the orcs the world is split into factions: the Alliance, composed of the humans, elves, dwarves, and gnomes; and the Horde, composed of orcs, trolls, and Tauren (goblins, being greedy creatures, have opt to stay mostly neutral in the hopes they could trade with both sides).

As World of Warcraft has flourished and expanded over the years, several other races have joined those factions, like the undead Forsaken or the werewolf-mutated Gilnean Worgen, but they definitely won’t be in the movie. The only thing you’ll really need to know is the names “Alliance” and “Horde,” really. In the Warcraft movie, these two factions are mainly categorized as “Good Guy (Alliance) vs. Bad Guy (Horde)” but they eventually flourish into equal, morally more ambiguous entities as the series develops.

Meet everyone you need to know in Azeroth.

From left to right: Anduin Lothar, King Llane, Lady Taria, Garona Halforcen, Durotan, Ogrim Doomhammer, and Gul’dan.

In the film, the main characters you’ll meet are largely the leaders of their various factions. On the human side, you’ve got King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), ruler of the kingdom of Stormwind, his wife Lady Taria (Ruth Negga), and the commander of their armies, Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel). The orcs are a little more complicated; you’ve got the sinister Gul’dan pulling all the strings for his demon masters and his lieutenant Blackhand (Clancy Brown), and then a group of orcs who are less okay with what Gul’dan is doing to the vast majority of their species: the chieftain of the Frostwolf clan Durotan (Toby Kibbel) and his wife Draka (Anna Galvin), and Durotan’s oldest friend, a mighty orc warrior called Orgrim Doomhammer (Rob Kazinsky).

In the middle of all that lies a character that straddles both sides of the conflict: Paula Patton’s Garona Halforcen. As her name implies, she’s half-orc, half-human. Experimented on by Gul’dan to become his perfect spy, Garona acts as an advanced scout to the invasion of Azeroth—but is softened by her time with the Humans and ultimately joins them in an attempt to stop the invasion.

On magic and mysticism.

There are two main kinds of magic that you’ll come across in the Warcraftmovie—traditional magic, practiced by mages like Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and Medivh (Ben Foster) in the film, and Fel magic, practiced by warlocks like Gul’dan. Traditional magic was taught to the humans by the High Elves, and eventually the most powerful mages created their own independent city-state based upon the practice and research of magic for all mages across Azeroth, called Dalaran. In the games, the city later uproots itself and become a floating magical hub—something we’ve seen in Warcraft’s trailers has having already happened (you can see it in the header at the top of this post), probably as it’s the version of Dalaran most World of Warcraft players are most familiar with.

Fel magic, on the other hand, requires consorting with demons to work, like the villainous Burning Legion. It’s straight-up evil stuff, to the point it’s defined by its sickly neon green hue. In the movie the most obvious Fel magic isn’t really magic, but blood magic; Gul’dan gives demonic blood to the orcs to drink, with promises of it giving enhanced strength… but he fails to mention it also a) turns the brown orcs’ skin a more traditionally orc-y green and b) makes them supplicant to the control of the Burning Legion. Womp womp.

The Legion as it appears in World of Warcraft’s upcoming expansion, Legion. Synergy!

The orcs aren’t the real bad guys.

And yes, while the invading orcs might seem like they’re the villains ofWarcraft, the Burning Legion are actually the ones behind it all, controlling the orcs through Gul’dan. Evil manipulators whose existence stretches back to the dawn of time in Warcraft’s universe, the Legion’s demon hordes basically tore across the galaxy, destroying planets and enveloping subjugated races into its folds. They’re lead by Sargeras, who was once a godlike being called a Titan that fought the demons before succumbing to their power, transformed into a humongous, fiery beast.

There’s much more to them than that—but honestly, this is all you’ll really need to know in the movie. The orcs might look bad, but a general rule of thumb is that there’s always a bigger fish/bad guy out there in the Warcraftuniverse.


James is a staff writer for io9. He reads comics so you don’t have to—but sometimes you should anyway!

Can 3 Average Guys Learn French In One Working Week?

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Can 3 Average Guys Learn French In One Working Week?

Three average guys set out to learn as much French as possible in one average week. Unfortunately, an average week is a working week, which means squeezing in their studies around their nine-to-five jobs. Read on to discover how they managed.

As you can probably imagine, Babbel is packed full of polyglots. A few days ago I was loitering by the coffee machine while two colleagues were shooting the breeze in Québécois. He’s English and she’s German. It makes no sense. Why don’t they just speak English?

This kind of behavior is impressive, but it certainly isn’t normal. These are people who’ve dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence in language; when they’re not working at a language learning company, they’re either studying for degrees in linguistics, out with friends from all four corners of the world, or complicating the idea of leisure time by reading grammar books for fun. Such commitment is admirable, but what about the rest of us? What about us normal folk who work a 9-to-5 and require a dose of caffeine before even considering human interaction? How can we learn a new language?

I had an idea that I wanted to test, so I recruited two colleagues from the marketing department, Alberto and Stefano. Alberto comes from Cadiz at the southern tip of Spain, Stefano from the south of Italy. Our task was to attempt to learn as much French as possible in one working week. This would mean fitting our studies around our day jobs, exploiting opportunities to go for lunch with French colleagues, and populating chat messages with whimsical French commentary. Then, come the weekend, we would each have two days of intensive lessons with our own personal teacher, followed by a dinner and a monologue in which we would display our newfound prowess in the French language. The plan was to have the theory — all the basic grammar and vocabulary — under our belts by the weekend. We wanted to be conversational by Sunday evening. I asked our teachers — Marion, Anne and Laure — what they thought of this aim. Here’s what Marion said:

“I like the idea of challenging yourself to learn something new in a restricted period of time. I think that can focus the mind and get you off to a flying start. Doing it in a working week is a different proposition entirely though. I wish you all the best and think you will make some significant progress, but I don’t expect the world.”

Hmm. We commenced the challenge as soon as we awoke on Monday morning. Here’s our account of the week, along with a few tips we picked up along the way for how to squeeze effective studies into a busy working week.

Day 1 – Monday:

Stefano: “Monday was dedicated to planning the week. When you’re short on time, it’s always tempting to dive straight in, but you inevitably use your time less wisely if you do this. I’ve always been quite a talkative Italian and consider myself an auditory learner. I’ve never learned French, so I decided my first step should be to get acquainted with the music of the language. I researched French radio stations to which I could awake in the morning and listen at work. I then downloaded some podcasts for my daily commute and identified the Babbel courses I wanted to begin with.”

Ed: “I completely agree with Stefano — planning is paramount. Unfortunately, I’m not the most disciplined student, but I am very motivated. As such, I often can’t resist the temptation to dive straight in, as he put it. I’d thought of a way to counteract this lack of discipline though: I practice the tedious habit of checking my phone when I wake up. I cycle through the latest Instagram images of the beknown and unbeknown, scan mails and catch up on the news of the past twenty-four hours. After half an hour of this, I normally feel sufficiently awake to ingest breakfast and a coffee. I determined to alter my routine for this week, waking up half an hour earlier than normal in order to use Babbel on my phone for about sixty to ninety minutes. I figured this would be such a minor change that I would barely need any discipline to bring it about. Perfect!”

Alberto: “I’ve got a dog who demands a walk each morning, so I don’t have the luxury of spending an extra thirty minutes in bed. I planned to integrate some study time into my walk, sitting on a bench for twenty minutes and completing a few lessons. Ed was pretty focused on grammar and building his own sentences. I wanted to get the really basic stuff done — greetings, platitudes, things like that — and then focus on set phrases and idiomatic expressions for particular situations. I figured this would give me an advantage at the dinner at the end of the week.”

Day 2 – Tuesday:

Stefano: “I awoke to French radio, got ready for work and set off on my bike. My first podcast taught me the numbers, so by the time I arrived at work I’d conquered 1 to 100. I think it’s important to determine how to study your new language based on your preferences, but also on what’s situationally viable; the podcasts became a staple of my morning routine. I sit close to a French colleague, so I started chatting to her both on the computer and verbally. Both of us have a slightly mischievous side, so I quickly picked up quite a few colloquial expressions… ”

Ed: “My alarm woke me up at seven sharp, and I reached for my phone robotically. It took me a few minutes of staring bleary-eyed at the screen until I was fully conscious of being conscious. I scrolled through to the course on the verb être (to be) and then to the modal verbs. I love modal verbs. If you can conjugate can and must and might and have a few basic infinitives under your belt, you can start forming fairly complex sentences very quickly. After thirty minutes I could conjugate pouvoir, devoir and vouloir in the present tense. With my remaining thirty minutes I learned about twenty common verbs. I then made inane, schizophrenic conversation with myself while I got ready for work:

Me 1: “Oui oui, je peux parler français.”

Me 2: “Ah, très bien, je veux apprendre le français aussi.”

Me 1: “C’est bien, mais tu dois beaucoup étudier.”

Me 2: “Oui oui, c’est vrai.”

Conversational in one week? Bah! I was conversational in one morning!

Day 3 – Wednesday:

Alberto: “I have to admit I was struggling at this point. Work had turned out to be more stressful than I’d expected, and I only had time to study on my phone before work and a little during my lunch break. I was so exhausted when I got home that I couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth, let alone a book. I also felt like I couldn’t really disconnect mentally from work in order to fully connect to my studies. I was living for the weekend.”

Ed: “I was happily residing in a parallel universe, roaring along and convinced of my certain victory come Sunday. The only reason I refrained from gloating was Alberto’s I-will-kill-you-stare. I met Anne, my teacher-to-be, for coffee in the early afternoon. I was a little nervous — this was the first proper conversation with a native speaker (actually, the first one not with myself) — but it went swimmingly and was an enormous motivation. I’d studied the different tense forms of all those delicious modal verbs, packed out my vocab with some useful nouns, memorized all the common conjunctions and prepositions, and started adding adjectives of emotions and feeling: J’étais très satisfait de mon français.

Day 4 – Thursday:

Stefano: “One of our beloved colleagues had her farewell party last night. We’d kind of made a pact not to stay out too long. Unfortunately, that pact lasted exactly as long as the first beer. Only Alberto managed to pull himself away from the festivities at a reasonable hour. Ed came in today looking utterly zombified, so I don’t believe he made any progress this morning. That said, we did all corner our poor French colleagues last night — by about midnight I was convinced I was fluent. Two things I learned: it’s important to unwind now and again, and French people can be very patient.”

Day 5 – Friday:

Alberto: “The last few days of the week were less intense, which afforded me the time to really get stuck into the courses and topics I was interested in. I studied a lot of the food-related vocabulary I would need for the dinner. I even got a little carried away, and now consider myself something of an expert in French words for herbs. I feel better prepared for the weekend’s intensive course now.”

Ed: “Thursday was something of an impromptu break for me, but I was well and truly back on it today. I went for lunch with a French friend from my university days and we spoke pretty much the whole time in French. It was hard work — by the end my brain was as cooked as the gallettes we ate — but it was great to see how impressed she was. It was also a little strange to communicate with her in French having only communicated in English since we met six years ago. I have to admit that it’s these kind of moments which really spur me on. Bring on the weekend!”

Day 6 – Saturday

Stefano: “I’m not sure the word weekend is wholly appropriate; in many ways this felt like the beginning. We had to consolidate everything we’d learned and really begin to use it. Each of us had a classroom adjacent to one of the others. If you were quiet you could hear the French murmurs in thick English and Spanish accents. We revised much of what I’d studied and Laure, my teacher, adapted the class to my preferred learning style, so there was a lot of talking and laughing and colorful cue cards.”

Alberto: “My mind blanked a little when I first entered the classroom. I felt as if I’d started learning minutes before. Marion, my teacher, had also prepared the class with my needs and desires in mind, and we started embellishing the cooking vocabulary with the key verbs in past, present and future so that I’d be able to describe what we were making at dinner. I find starting with these more concrete, tangible areas of language makes things much simpler than if you begin with abstract concepts (that’s Ed’s approach).”

Day 7 – Sunday

Ed: “Yesterday was really fun. We’d started around eleven, and it was a huge relief to know that we didn’t have to mould our studies around our working hours anymore. Today was a little different. There was definitely an awareness of time pressure, as well as the concern that we were all about to make fools of ourselves at dinner. This concern was quickly allayed by the easy manner of my teacher, Anne, and by the fact that I was speaking quite fluidly, if not fluently. We went a bit further than I’d expected, venturing into the area of giving opinions. For me, this is when actually speaking the new language becomes interesting; when you can confidently say that you’re expressing yourself in a foreign language. By the time the dinner came round, I was more worried about preparing the chocolate mousse than I was about speaking French.”

Stefano: “I was an Italian in a German supermarket pretending to be French. After we’d bought all the food, we headed over to Ed’s place for dinner. He and Anne were already chatting in French and whipping up a mousse when we arrived. Once Laure and I had prepared the quiche, we took a bit of time out and played a guessing game. It was funny to see how each of our approaches had equipped us with different advantages merely within the context of the game; Alberto knew all the food-related vocab we were being tested on, while Ed was rocking the descriptions. I fell somewhere between the two, but was much more adept at releasing the odd colloquial expression every time I guessed right.”

Alberto: “When we sat down to eat, I think all of us quickly realized it wasn’t going to be easy to enter into conversation. It’d been fine in the classroom when the conversation had been one-to-one, but trying to edge a sentence in with three native speakers at the table after a week was very difficult. All three of us listened attentively and we all professed to understand the large majority of what we heard. That was an achievement in itself, but not the holy grail we’d sought. We offered plenty of wine, exchanged lots of platitudes and complimented the chefs, but fell short of debating the merits of laicism. Next week perhaps.”

In Conclusion

As Alberto mentioned, the dinner was a lot of fun, but it was difficult to get into conversation. Following the dinner, we all took our place in the hot seat to talk about how the week had gone. This gave us the time and the freedom to really show what we’d learned. Our accents were all over the place, but I was extremely impressed by the amount of progress we’d all made in such a short space of time. After seven days, we could comprehend a lot of what we heard and express ourselves in one-to-one conversations. Je suis satisfait.

Star Wars Woodblock Prints Made by Japanese Craftsmen

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Brian Ashcraft

Star Wars Woodblock Prints Made by Japanese Craftsmen

Star Wars Woodblock Prints Made by Japanese Craftsmen

And yes, the prints are officially licensed by Lucasfilm.

Part of a crowdfunding project on, these limited-edition woodblock prints were designed by artist Masami Ishikawa, engraved by master engravers, and handprinted by a master printer.

Years of study and craftsmanship go into producing works like these.

Fascinating and beautiful.

Star Wars Woodblock Prints Made by Japanese Craftsmen1

Star Wars Woodblock Prints Made by Japanese Craftsmen

Star Wars Woodblock Prints Made by Japanese Craftsmen

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter@Brian_Ashcraft.

Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

‘Healthy Brain, Happy Life’ (US, 2015): Book Excerpt

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‘Healthy Brain, Happy Life’ (US, 2015): Book Excerpt

Wendy Suzuki is a professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University (NYU)’s Center for Neural Science. She is a regular presenter at the World Science Festival and TEDx, and is frequently interviewed on television and in print for her expertise regarding the effects of exercise on brain function. Her first book, “Healthy Brain, Happy Life” (Dey Street Books, 2015), is now available. Suzuki contributed this article to Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The following is an excerpt from “Healthy Brain, Happy Life” (Dey Street Books, 2015), Reprinted with permission from Dey Street Books, Copyright © 2015 by Wendy Suzuki. For more about Suzuki’s research, read her essay, “‘Mental Time Travel’ and the Effects of Exercise on the Brain.”


Discovering a Workout With a Message

During one of my regular evening sessions at the gym when I had already attained most of my weight-loss goal, the list of possible classes caught my eye. I had a choice that evening between a cardio boot camp class and another class that I had never heard of called intenSati — with no explanation for what intenSati meant. I was not feeling all that energetic, and the cardio boot camp class just sounded too hard. So that’s how I ended up walking into my first intenSati class. Little did I know that this class was not only harder than cardio boot camp but would be the catalyst for upping the level of my workouts, improving my mood and my outlook on life, and eventually even shifting my neuroscience research.

At the beginning of that class, the instructor, Patricia Moreno, the woman who created this class, told us that the term intenSati, comes from the combination of two words. Inten comes from the word intention. Sati is a Pali word (a language from India) that means “awareness or mindfulness.” She told us that the goal of the practice of intenSati is to bring an awareness/mindfulness to our own intentions. She explained that we were going to be doing different movements from kickboxing, dance, yoga and the martial arts, all the time shouting positive affirmations along with each move. I was not so sure about the shouting part, but Moreno was a completely riveting instructor so I stayed to experience this intriguing new class for myself.

That first class felt like an explosion of movements. Moreno started off showing us a simple yet energetic movement, such as alternating left and right punches. Once we got the movement down, she would then give us the affirmations that we would shout out along with that move. For example, with the punches, we said out loud, “I am strong now!” This move was called Strong. Each move had a specific name. We would do the first movement for a while, and then she would add a movement/affirmation combo, until we had strung fifteen or twenty different movements and affirmations together. Each particular set of affirmation/movement combos was written as a series with a specific message. The message was one of empowerment: The power of your mind, the power of positive action, the power of your body, and the power of positive thoughts over negative ones. It was a workout with a message.

Moreno told us that what we declare with our voices is powerful. And that when we start incorporating these powerful affirmations into our thoughts — that is, when we start to think and believe them — they become even more powerful still.

When we pushed our arms up in the air in an alternating fashion with our palms open and our fingers spread wide, we shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”

When we punched up and down, we shouted, “I believe I will succeed!”

When we threw uppercut punches with alternating hands, we shouted, “I am inspired now!”

It was a workout for my body and my brain. Asking your brain to remember arm and foot work combinations, as well as affirmations to shout out, is asking your brain to work! There are also the words of the affirmations that the instructor is telling you, which you are also trying to remember — even before she says them. So your memory is also put to the test in an intenSati class.

Of course, I didn’t appreciate all of the brain–body connections being made by intenSati after just one class. I was trying hard just to keep up and remember the movements — never mind remembering the affirmations at the same time! And it was hard. Shouting those affirmations while doing all the moves made you more out of breath than just doing the movements alone and upped the level of the workout considerably. I was also definitely a little shy at first about shouting out the affirmations. But there were plenty of regulars in class that night shouting with abandon, and once I managed to get the movements down, I got caught up in the fun and started shouting along with everyone else.

Have you heard people say that people won’t remember what you say, only how you made them feel? I can’t remember the exact affirmations that I said that night in class, but I do remember how I felt: totally empowered, energized, and enlivened — in a brand-new way. And I could not wait to come back for the next class.

Harnessing the Power of the Brain – Body Connection

What was so different about this workout? Remember, I was already in good if not great shape by the time I wandered into this class. I was really starting to feel great about both my overall cardiovascular and muscular strength as well as the outside package after I lost the weight. I loved going to the gym and had already made it a regular part of my life. I was already feeling great and energized and was sure that my workouts helped me through those stress-filled years as I was applying for tenure, but intenSati brought something brand new into my life. I would not have been able to articulate it at first, but I now realize that this workout was so special because it brought the power of the brain–body connection to life for me more powerfully than I had ever felt it before.

The first thing I noticed was that I pushed myself during those workouts more than I had in any other class I was taking. Why? It was the power of those positive affirmations and actually speaking them out loud that seemed to flip a switch in me. It was the difference between doing a class and getting a good, sweat-inducing workout and really feeling strong because I was declaring I was strong or empowered or confident or a million other positive affirmations we used in that class. I was pushing myself even harder be- cause I started to really believe I was strong. And I started to really feel that strength, embodying it not just during class but also long after class ended, when I went back into the real world.

But this is where the power of the brain–body connection comes into play. This connection refers to the idea that the body has a powerful influence on our brain functions and conversely that the brain has a powerful influence over how our bodies feel and work and heal. While I had been going to the gym for some time, and I definitely felt much more fit and energized and happy, I really started to appreciate the true power of the brain–body connection only with this new class. And the first thing I noticed was how strongly this workout (body) boosted my mood (brain).

From a neurobiological perspective, we know the most about the brain basis of mood from situations in which mood is altered — namely from the study of depression, one of the most common psychiatric conditions in first-world countries like the United States.

From studies of abnormal mood states, we know mood is determined by a widespread and interconnected group of brain structures together with interconnected levels of a set of well-studied neurotransmitters and growth factors. We talked about the role of the hippocampus in memory, and recent studies have shown that its normal functioning is also involved in mood. In addition, the amygdala, important for processing and responding to emotional stimuli, and the prefrontal cortex are both implicated in regulating our mood states. Furthermore, two other systems, which I describe in greater detail in later chapters — the autonomic nervous system including the hypothalamus (Chapter 7) and the reward circuit (Chapter 8) — are involved in regulating our mood. We also know that the appropriate levels of particular neurotransmitters are important for regulating mood.

An influential theory of depression is that it is caused by a depletion of a category of neurotransmitters called monoamines. These include serotonin, whose low levels most of us associate with depression, but lowered levels of norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter, as well as dopamine are found in the brains of patients with depression. Therefore, the studies suggest that if you boost the levels of these neurotransmitters, you can boost mood.

Well, little did I know but I was getting a triple whammy of mood-boosting power with the intenSati workout. First, many studies have shown that not only does aerobic exercise improve measures of mood in subjects both with depression and without but that exercise boosts levels of the three key monoamines we know play a key role in mood: serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.

Besides these classic mood-associated neurotransmitters, exercise also increases levels of endorphins in the brain. Endorphin literally means “endogenous (made in the body) morphine.” It is a kind of morphine that has the ability to dull pain and provide feelings of euphoria. Endorphins are secreted by the brain’s pituitary gland into the blood, where they can affect cells throughout the brain that have specific receptors for them. Because endorphins are secreted into the bloodstream, they are categorized as a hormone; neurotransmitters, on the other hand, are released at synapses from the axon of the cells that synthesize them.

While most of us assume that endorphins are responsible for all or most of the high associated with some forms of exercise, the story is not as clear as all that. In fact, for many years there was a huge controversy in the neuroscience community (invisible to the popular press) over whether endorphins had anything to do at all with the so-called runner’s high. This was because, while there was good evidence that the level of endorphins increased in the peripheral bloodstream (that is, the bloodstream that courses through the body), it was not clear if exercise changed the level of endorphins in the brain, which is where they had to be working to produce the runner’s high. Only recently has a group in Germany provided evidence that running does activate the endorphin system in human brains and that the more profound the reported runner’s high, the stronger the activation. So neuroscience shows that a range of different neurotransmitters associated with mood and/or euphoria are increased with exercise and are likely causing at least part of the party mood caused by exercise.

The second mood-boosting whammy from intenSati comes from the spoken affirmations that are such a prominent part of this workout. A relatively large body of psychology experiments has shown that self-affirmations like the ones we were shouting to the rooftops in class help buffer people from a whole variety of different stressors, including peer-based classroom stress, rumination associated with negative feedback, and stress associated with social evaluation. One recent study reported that positive self-affirmations significantly improved mood in people with high self-esteem. We don’t know the brain and neurochemical changes associated with self-affirmations, but the behavioral evidence is quite clear that positive affirmations boost mood.

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