Messaging: Introducing InterPals’ updated message interface

We’re excited to announce the release of InterPals’ new messaging interface. This update incorporates several long-awaited features. Here are the highlights:

  • All messages to/from a particular user are grouped in a conversation “thread”. Now you don’t have to hunt for your previous messages to that user — they’re all displayed together!
  • Username search. Forget about having to hunt through pages of messages just to find a particular conversation or message.
  • Convenient split-view interface with usernames on the left and messages on the right. It’s now a breeze to stay in touch with all of your pals at once!
  • Don’t like change? We’ve included a “Classic view” that keeps most elements of the previous design, including numbered pages as well as dedicated pages for conversation history and message composition.

Here are some annotated screenshots to help familiarize yourself with the new interface:

Annotated screenshot of new thread list page

The new conversation list page

Now, once you click on one of the conversations above, you will be taken to the split-view messages list:

Message interface


Now, suppose you want to write a message. You simply need to start writing in the box below the conversation and it will automatically enlarge into a message composition window with formatting tools:

Message composition window

Finally, the “Classic views” of the conversation list and message list look like this:

Classic view


And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Enjoy!

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please contact our support team.

Posted in InterPals announcements

On The Table: Holiday Foods

Holidays are a great opportunity to spend time with family, relax, and, best of all, enjoy holiday-specific foods! In recent months, many of us around the world celebrated holidays like  Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. We still have many holidays to look forward to in the coming months, from Easter to Dia de los Muertos. Today, we’ll whet your appetite with some foods that are commonly found on holiday tables around the world!

The New Year is a global holiday. Many countries celebrate the New Year, although the beginning of the year often varies. On the Gregorian (Western) calendar, the New Year falls on January 1st each year. The date of the Lunar New Year, which is observed in many Asian countries, varies according to the lunisolar calendar.


A Haftseen table. Photo sent to us by Danial A.

Nowruz, also known as the Iranian or Persian New Year, is observed each year on the first day of spring. Many people around the world celebrate Nowruz. Food is a very important part of the festivities during this thirteen-day celebration, particularly food that reminds participants that spring is beginning. Families gather around a haftseen table, or ceremonial table, to wait for the moment when the sun crosses the equator. The haftseen table is adorned with the following seven items for good luck: apple, garlic, sweet pudding, sprouts, sumac berries, hyacinth, and vinegar. Sometimes families add candles, books (including the Quran), or even goldfish. Each item represents a different element of rebirth.

Foods commonly eaten during Nowruz include ash-e reshteh, a noodle soup usually eaten on the first day of Nowruz, sabzi polo ba mahi, a dish of rice, herbs, and fish, and naan berenji, Persian rice cookies.


Naan Berenji

Find a recipe for naan berenji here.

PesahplatePassover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. Passover begins at dusk and lasts for seven or eight days. This year, the starting date is April 14th. Families begin Passover with a Seder, or traditional feast, which commences with a retelling of the Israelites’ liberation. The Seder traditionally has many steps, including drinking wine, eating matzah, and washing hands. A Passover Seder plate commonly holds lamb shank, an egg, bitter herbs, a non-bitter vegetable dipped in salt water, and a mixture of nuts, apples, cinnamon, and wine. Matzah (unleavened bread) is a particularly important part of Passover because it symbolizes the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt.

Find a recipe for Matzah Ball Soup here.

Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion. This year, Easter will take place on Sunday, April 20. In some countries, many people celebrate Easter by decorating eggs and holding Easter egg hunts. Chocolate rabbits, lambs, eggs, and other baby animals are commonly sold in stores during the holiday season. In the United States, it is very common to have ham for Easter dinner. In Greece, it is usual to celebrate with lamb roasted on a spit. Hot Cross Buns were, for a long time, an Easter staple. They are still commonly eaten throughout Lent, Good Friday, and Easter.


Hot Cross Buns and decorated Easter eggs.

Find a recipe for Hot Cross Buns here.


Iftar Meal. Photo from the BBC.

Ramadan is an Islamic holy month of fasting, meditation, and prayer. Participants must not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset each day during the month, but enjoy family meals when they break the fast. Because Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, the dates change each year. In 2014, Ramadan will fall on June 28th and conclude on July 28th. The pre-sunrise meal is called suhoor and is generally hearty enough to help fasters get through the day. After dusk, families partake in the evening meal known as iftar. Both meals vary around the world, but commonly include fresh fruits, vegetables, halal meats, and sweets. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims break the fast with a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr. During Eid al-Fitr, many families share foods such as konafa (a sweet dish), savaiya (made with wheat vermicelli), and zarda (a dish made with sweet rice).


Konafa – a sweet cheese pastry.

Find a recipe for konafa here.


Sugar skulls for Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. Traditionally, the belief is that the portal between living and dead is opened on these two days, during which the dead can visit their families and enjoy some food after their long journey. Many Mexican families lay out an altar, or ofrenda, upon which they place many foods and drinks in offering for their dead ancestors. Foods like sugar skulls, as well as flowers, candles, and photographs or possessions of deceased family members, make these ofrendas very vibrant and colorful.

In addition to sugar skulls (which are primarily decorative and not eaten), some foods and drinks commonly found on ofrendas and tables during Dia de los Muertos include pan de muerto, candied, pumpkins, tamales, and hot chocolate. Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is traditionally baked to look like a skull and crossbones.

pan_de_muertos 010a

Pan de muerto.

Find a recipe for Pan de Muerto here.

What are some foods that you love to eat during the holidays? Tell us about them in the comments section!

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Posted in Countries and Cultures

Matthew and Rob – hanging out in the middle

When Matthew and Rob met on Interpals, they soon found that they had a lot in common. Matthew is Canadian and Rob is from the Netherlands, and they both wanted to find a way to learn more about each other’s cultural and national differences. Enter their YouTube vlog, hanging out in the middle (hoitm). Every week, you can find a new video and find out what’s on their mind. Keep reading to learn about Matthew, Rob, and hanging out in the middle!

Tell us a bit about each of you.

Matthew: Hi! Not sure how I’m supposed to refer to my self here, this is the first time I’m doing this sort of thing! Anyway, I’m Matthew hahaha I’m a student entering university in the fall semester. I am still awaiting university replies, but I’m interested in the medical, neuroscientific, and linguistic fields! I’d say that my main hobbies include music and going out with friends and family. I’m a huge music junkie, I honestly can’t get enough of it! Playing it, singing it, listening to it… ah! I can speak English and French fluently, and I’m semi-fluent in a few other languages. Languages are just so fascinating to me – their history, their patterns, but also the way they are processed cognitively and mentally! I’d love to learn more about them from every angle possible. If I could choose, I’d love to be able to learn more Romance languages! I think that would be easiest for the moment haha and I also love Interpals!

unnamedRob: My name is Rob, and I’m an enthusiastic teen from Holland that always wants to learn more about this world and its cultures. I’ve travelled all over the world with my parents and twin brother. And I’ve lived in the Dutch Caribbean for three years. Living there was a good experience for me! I’m in the Dutch type of “high school” at the moment. And in our kind of high school, you’re allowed to choose directions for later. And I’m concentrating on communications, marketing and PR. That’s why I really like working on our channel! A big hobby of mine is sailing considering I live next to a big lake (see photo). I live in a typically old Dutch house, in an old Dutch village near Amsterdam. I’m able to speak Dutch, English and German fluently, and I really want to learn Chinese! A part of my family is from China so I want to be able to understand them.

How did you meet on Interpals?

Rob: I wasn’t that long on Interpals back then. So I was just scrolling through some people. And somewhere between those people was Matthew. I sent him a message, and he almost responded immediately. We talked for like 4 hours and then he asked me for my Snapchat username. After that we talked on Snapchat with each other everyday for quite some time. Then I got his number, and now we’ve been friends for like 7 months! I think that we became friends because we’re same-minded. And we like the same things.

Matthew: Haha that’s pretty much it. We realized we had a lot of things in common in terms of interests, hobbies, goals, etc. I think that’s what really led us to becoming friends!

How did you come up with the idea for hanging out in the middle?

Rob: When we started contacting each other we were always sending each other funny YouTube videos. Things that made us laugh (-: And then one time when I was watching some vlogs by some youtubers, I thought “why shouldn’t we do that…  We both like youtube, and it’ll be a great way to show and teach people fun things about cultures they don’t know yet!” So I told him about the plan, and we both really liked it! We ended up making a channel 2 weeks later and uploaded our introduction videos. And now we’re really enjoying to make videos every week for everyone!

What are your goals for hoitm?

Matthew: Think we’ve coined this phrase, but hoitm aims to be a platform for cross-cultural communication! And we stand by that! Our goal is for individuals from countries around the world to exchange and communicate through videos on our channel! Video responses, video compilations, etc. are methods we plan on using in order to make that happen! The most difficult thing is the filming process. The fact that we can’t be side-by-side to shoot our videos complicates the entire process – time difference gets in the way as does the unreliability of the internet connection when we chat during the video. Nonetheless, we love the reception we’ve been getting so far! We can see that people have been viewing our videos from around the world, and we hope that, when called upon, viewers will reach out to us and submit their own videos.

How can Interpals members get involved with hoitm?

Matthew: Interpals members are the perfect people to get involved with hoitm! Right now, we’re trying to focus on establishing our channel by reaching out to people who are interested in international exchange and cross-cultural communication. In future videos, we will directly call out to viewers, including Interpals members, asking them to submit their opinion on a topic or, more importantly, to submit something about their own country! For example, if we make a video showcasing a monument in each of our cities, we would ask viewers to submit their own video showing off a monument in THEIR city! We would then find a way to share all of these videos from around the world.

What’s your advice for people who want to make friends through Interpals?

Rob: Don’t be scared or shy to talk to somebody you’re interested in (-: You’re among people that want to learn more about this world and want to make new friends. And when you contact the person, don’t look at each other’s differences, but search for things you have in common. This way you will be able to talk about these things you have in common. And then you can become really good friends with this person!

Matthew: Exactly what Rob said! The great thing about the Internet is that virtually everybody has access to it, meaning that you literally have to opportunity to talk to people around the world! And Interpals is the perfect way to do so! Just be yourself when approaching people and don’t be shy to do so! Finding points in common with your penpals is one of the best ways to break the ice and to start getting to know each other! These interactions could lead to voice calls and even video calls, which are always fun! Or perhaps one day it could lead to creating a YouTube channel :p

What are your favorite things about Interpals?

Rob: My favourite thing about interpals is how it brings people together. And it really helps people to meet other cultures they don’t know yet. And one feature I really like is ‘language exchange’! It’s really fun to teach people about your own language. I tried to teach Matthew Dutch ever since we’ve been talking on Interpals, and it’s going quite well! He’s able to say the basic things. And I’m helping him with his pronunciation at the moment on Skype. (because he could work on that ;p)

Matthew: My favorite thing about Interpals is that it’s used everywhere! It’s so popular ;D This means that you’ll always find someone to talk to in pretty much any country you can think of! I love that! The possibility to learn about different cultures and languages is also an awesome feat of the website! As Rob said, I’m glad to have used Interpals to further my linguistic knowledge! I don’t know what I would have done without it!

Anything else?

Matthew: I could say that Interpals and hoitm have practically become besties. We love Interpals! I’d like to finish off by thanking Interpals and everyone else who has supported hoitm! We are extremely grateful for the support we’ve received so far, and we can’t express that enough! We’ll be sure to release more videos to show the world about the world, and we’re looking forward to working with many different people!

Rob: Thank you so much Interpals for all the great opportunities you’ve given us!  I have made some really good friends on Interpals, and I’ve learned a lot about different cultures! I’m extremely grateful for all the help and support for our channel, and I would like to thank all our viewers for their support!

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Posted in Countries and Cultures, Friendship Stories

Country Profile: Slovenia, Small Country With a Large Soul

unnamedThis week on the blog, we interviewed three Slovenians to find out what they love about the small, beautiful country where they live.

Keep reading to learn what Lovro (edigz10), Nejc (necoSLO), and Nina (Astia) have to say about their home country!

Tell us a little bit about Slovenia.

Lovro: Slovenia is a small country located in Central Europe (not East Europe!). It has a little more than 2 million inhabitants. The capital of Slovenia is Ljubljana [lyoo-blah-nah] with 300,000 people. It as old roman city with a beautiful castle and centre that has unlimited viewing sites. Slovenia is generally known for it’s great wine and other local foods. Most of the people are kind to tourists and most of the youths know English and German very well. Slovenia is also known for its diversity. Mountains and the sea side are just 1.5h apart by car. On the way, you will pass a town of Postojna that is known for one of the largest cave systems in Europe. The specialty of the caves is that you take a 5 minutes train ride into the caves. The prices in Slovenia are low for tourists but not for Slovenians. We have low salaries since we entered the EU.


Triglav National Park

Nina: Foreigners generally say that Slovenians are hospitable. Given Slovenia is a very small country; one can go skiing in the morning and take a rest at the beach in the evening. Slovenia’s nature is virtually intact. There is something for every nature lover; from forests to pastures and mountains in the Gorenjska region, the sea and karst caves in the Primorska and Notranjska region, to lowlands in Prekmurje and much more.

There is also a very big cultural and historical aspect to Slovenia. Even though the country has been independent only since 1991, is has for centuries been in the centre of historical events. For example, the Counts of Celje were one of the most powerful aristocrats in Central Europe in 14th and 15th century. Slovenia’s folklore is known all around Europe, and it is also become one of many tourist attractions that the country has to offer.

Nejc: Slovenia has a lot of good things which makes it famous. Slovenia is small green country located in central Europe. Our neighbors are Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary … Generally we are friendly and always prepared to help other people. If you visit Slovenia you need only one hour by car and you can swim in our sea or ski on high mountains. The highest Slovenian mountain is Triglav (9,396 ft / 2,864 metres). Slovenia is famous for good food and quality wine (mostly red one). Many tourists come to Slovenia for holidays to relax their brains.

What are some unusual facts about Slovenia?


+ 216 square kilometres of Slovenia is covered in vineyards.

+ Slovenia has many quirky food festivals including the Salt Makers’ Festival, Cabbage Festival, Chestnut Sunday and Bean Day…

+ The official symbol of Ljubljana is the dragon, which was said to have been slayed by Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts).

+ Some scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian were filmed in Slovenia’s Soča Valley.

+ Old Vine in Maribor is over 400 years old and the oldest vine in the world. It still bears between 35 and 55 kilos of red grapes annually from which wine is produced.

+ Postojna Cave, part of Slovenia’s Karst region, is the most-visited cave in Europe. It has a network of 20 km of passages, galleries and chambers.

+ Couples can still get married in the church on Bled Island. Tradition says that the groom must carry his bride up the 99 steps to ensure a long and happy marriage.

+ The country is in the shape of a quirky chicken.


In Bled, over 300,000 egg candles are released to the water each July. (Lovro)

LovroSince I live close to Bled (no.1 touristic site) I’m gonna describe it a little detailed. Bled is a town in NW Slovenia located at the far West of Ljubljana basin. It’s a medieval town with a lake that has an island in the middle. That’s the only Slovenian island. On that island there’s a little church and you can have the most expensive wedding there :) The legend says that if the groom carries his bride over all 99 steps to the island, the marriage will be happy.

Bled is special in the summer because the water is refreshing and it’s awesome to swim to the island. Every year in July, Bled has its night. Over 300,000 egg candles are released to the water and the view is magical. At 11pm there’s a 15 minutes long firework program (also magical), then most of the people go to have A LOT of drinks. Yep, Slovenia is known for it’s drunk people haha.

unnamedMy favourite thing living close to Bled is that I meet a lot of tourists. I also offer couch-surfing. The least favourite thing is that there’s a lot of loud traffic. The pedestrian area is well regulated and it streches all around the lake. Bled is also know for it’s pastry called Kremšnita (Cream cake). [See image]

My village is called Moste (Bridges), because of it’s many bridges of course. It’s located about 7km away from Bled. We have a water power plant with the highest dam in Slovenia (60m) There’s also a beautiful lake hidden 1km away from the village between a hill and a mountain called Stol (Chair). The water has only 14°C but we swim anyway. Somehow we seem to be cold resistant.


Lovro’s hometown of Moste


Masun, Ilirska Bistrica

NejcI don’t live in city, I live nearly in small village. But I live in municipality Ilirska Bistrica. I like it, because it’s small and green city. But there is also some things I don’t like. If we leave our politician behind, I see the biggest problem in infrastructure which is kind of old (mostly from times when Ilirska Bistrica was a part of Italy) and economic problems (there is no work for people, mostly for young one).

In Ilirska Bistrica people eat mostly home-made food. We produce potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables. People who live in villages near Ilirska Bistrica have domestic animals (cows, pigs, horses, chickens). At autumn people made sausages, marmalade and other tasty food. People eat cracknels too. The most typical food is Kranjska klobasa, (Kranj’s sausage), jota (stew with cabbage, potato and sausage), krompir v zelnici (cooked potato with cabbage and sausage), potica (walnut strudel). We drink home-made wine, home-made apple juice. Brkinska slivovka is also popular alcohol drink which is made of plums.

Ilirska Bistrica is small city which looks older and that’s [why] I like it. People are nice, they will always helping you. In the city you can see some interesting places  (old mill wheel, downfall Sušec, Kindler’s park).  People know each other and its very safe city. I’m living 10 kilometers out of the city (village Bač) and I like it. If someone wants to visit us there is a hostel in my village too.

Ilirska Bistrica (Nejc)

Ilirska Bistrica (Nejc)


Celje (Nina)

Nina: All Slovene towns have, big and small, everything at the reach of your hand. They are big enough not to suffocate, but small enough to give you a feeling of warmth and coziness. In most towns, everything is within walking distance. That’s why I enjoyed living in Celje, which is the 3rd biggest town in Slovenia, though I currently reside in Maribor, which is the 2nd biggest (approximately 100 000 inhabitants).

One of the biggest advantages of these two towns is the openness and casualness of people. Maribor and Celje are small towns with a large soul.

The thing that probably bothered me the most in Celje is that the town is just small enough that everybody knows everybody. It is not a bad thing, it is just that if you are young and living there, you can sometimes get the feeling that a random person that probably knows you is supervising you, but you do not exactly know them. In Maribor, you do not have that feeling and I really appreciate it.


Maribor (Nina)

Slovenia is a beautiful country and I appreciate the greenery and pollution-free environment, even though I live in the second biggest city in the country. I cannot quite put my finger on the least favourite things, although it can sometimes be a problem, if you are not a big football fan.

Slovenia has many national dishes and drinks: Prekmurian layer cake, Istrian stew, ajdovi žganci (buckwheat spoonbread), Minestrone, idrijski žlikrofi (there’s no translation, but are worth trying J), sautéed potatoes, strukeljs, Krajnska klobasa (type of sausage), black pudding, prosciutto, bacon jam, potica (nut roll), sour milk, buttermilk, cider, and many more.

The country is also famous for its wines, such as Cviček (Lower Carniola) and Terrano (Primorska region).

Maribor is famous for its oldest vine. The Wine Roads are also popular throughout Slovenia and they offer amazing routes through and around Slovenia’s many vineyards.

What should visitors see in Slovenia?


View from the Ljubljana skyscraper (Lovro)

Lovro: If you want a cup of coffee with a great view, take an elevator to Ljubljana’s skyscraper. Tough it’s only 70m high, you’ll find a great view over the whole city of Ljubljana. The biggest Slovenian shopping centre BTC City is located on the East of Ljubljana. There’s also the highest Slovenian building (89m) called The Crystal Palace. Coffee on the highest floor is expensive (2.40€) but it’s the best. If you wanna taste traditional Slovenian food go to the city centre and find a reustarant called Sokol. If you don’t find Slovenian food tasty, there’s also McDonalds so don’t worry ;)

Nina: Because of Slovenia’s diverse offers, one can visit the country at any time of the year. If you enjoy mountains, you will enjoy Triglav with the Triglav National Park, Kanin, Krn, Grintavec and many more; and most of these sites also include ski slopes, if you come in the winter. If you enjoy the seaside, Slovenia has a seaside that offers a wide variety of activities in the summer; everything from crazy parties to calm resorts for a relaxing vacation.

huge_original_IMG_5923 (Large)

Celje Castle

[Nina con't] Slovenia’s rich history enables the country to have a museum in virtually every town. Signs of settlement date back to the prehistoric era, with evidence found in the Potočka zijalka cave. The Romans built the oldest cities in Slovenia, including Ptuj, Ljubljana and Celje. Much was preserved from that era, so the cities are a museum on their own. In addition to that, there is a Regional Museum of some sort in every bigger town. The middle ages built castles and Slovenia has many castles to choose from; the most famous include Predjama castle, Ljubljana castle, Celje castle, Ptuj castle, and Turjak castle. All of these castles are monuments that are worth paying a visit to.

Nejc: Slovenia is small but it has many interesting places that tourists can visit, from old towns by the sea on  the South to  beautifully mountains on the North. [The] 10 top  places which you should visit are:



More unusual facts?


-Slovenian forests cover 70% of the country.

-Slovenia is 9th drunkest country on the world (USA is 56th).

-Slovenia is one of the most water-rich countries in the world. The longest river is Sava that flows into Danube in Belgrade, Serbia.

-The word Slovenia contains the word LOVE (sLOVEnia).

-Slovenian is one of the hardest languages.

-Worlds biggest ski jump – Planica is located in Slovenia. (record 239m)

-Europe’s highest chimney is located at the power plant Trbovlje, Slovenia).

-Burja’s wind speeds exceed 200km/h.

-You can pay to stay in a prison cell at Hostel Celica, Ljubljana.

Last words?

Lovro: We will offer you the best holidays ever.

Nina: Come and see the chicken.

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Posted in Countries and Cultures

Best Movies for Learning Languages

Watching a movie is an enjoyable way to practice your foreign language skills. Even if you turn on the subtitles, listening and watching will help you to absorb many nuances of the language and pick up cultural elements along the way. You should not, of course, rely solely on watching movies to learn a new language. Instead, use film to supplement your educational routine (classes, immersion techniques, etc.). In this blog post, we’ve selected eight films through which you can enrich your language learning curriculum. If you have more suggestions, please leave us a comment or check out our movies forum!

volver_banSpanish: Volver (2006) – directed by Pedro Almodóvar

In this vibrant melodrama from renowned filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, two sisters are astonished when their mother seemingly returns from the dead. This film is set in Madrid, and the characters’ accents may be challenging for speakers learning Spanish in the accent of another region. Some of the characters speak quickly, but with subtitles an intermediate Spanish speaker will be able to follow along.

Watch the trailer here.

Shower2Chinese: 洗澡 [Shower] (1999) – directed by Zhang Yang

This heartwarming film is about an elderly man and his mentally challenged son, who run a bathhouse together in Beijing. The old man’s other son, who left home long ago, returns because of a misunderstanding and suddenly finds himself thrust into a family situation that he had not expected. This film is a good choice for Chinese language learners because it features a family situation with common, everyday events.

Watch the trailer here.

Hindi: Water (2005) – directed by Deepa Mehta

In 1938, an eight-year-old widow is sent into poverty with a group of other widows into a temple in the city of Varanasi, where she meets another widow who has a secret relationship with a man of a higher caste. Although there are many, many Hindi-language films to choose from, we selected this one because the characters largely speak Hindi all the way through. Also, learn what Interpals members say about Bollywood movies in our movies forum!

Watch the trailer here:


In “Shall We Dance?”, the dancers must practice wherever they can!

Japanese: Shall We Dance? (1996) – directed by Masuyuki Suo

This is the loveable story of a Japanese businessman whose unhappiness leads him to seek out an unconventional outlet: ballroom dancing. His passion for dance soon becomes controversial among his colleagues, family, and culture. Shall We Dance? is a perfect film for practicing Japanese because the story is engaging and the dialogue is clear. Although this is not  a musical, musicals are also great films for language learning. Click here to find out which musicals Interpals members love!

Watch the trailer here.

Russian: Возвращение [The Return] (2003) – directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

The Return is a psychological thriller about two boys whose father re-enters their life after twelve years of absence. When he takes them on a trip to the wilderness, the boys must reconcile their longing for a father and their anger toward him for abandoning them. This powerful film is a good example of modern Russian cinema. If this film sounds interesting, check out what Interpals members have to say about psychological thrillers!

Watch the trailer here.

groundhog_dayEnglish: Groundhog Day (1993) – directed by Harold Ramis

In this American comedy, a TV weatherman travels to Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania to broadcast the dreaded annual Groundhog Day (February 2 each year). To make things worse, he must relive Groundhog Day over and over until he gets it right. This film is good for English learners because, as Patrick Hayek points out in this article, the repetition of the same events “will [make] it easier to comprehend the language and decode it both grammatically and phonetically.” Plus, it’s very funny!

Watch the trailer here.

French: Le Dîner de Cons [The Dinner Game] (1998) – directed by Francis Veber

In this French comedy (adapted from Francis Veber’s play of the same name), Pierre and his friends hold a weekly competition: they put together a dinner and see who can bring the dumbest guest. This film it is very funny and many of its jokes are verbal, which makes it helpful for learning the nuances of the French language.

Watch the trailer here.

Wings of Desire.mkv_snapshot_00.17.02_[2011.11.16_21.57.17]

Two angels keep watch over a library in “Wings of Desire.”

German: Der Himmel über Berlin [Wings of Desire] (1987) – directed by Wim Wenders

This is a gentle romantic fantasy film about angels who watch over Berlin. When one angel falls in love with a human, he looks for a way to become mortal so that he can be with her. Because the angels can hear thoughts, much of the film is told through voiceover and many of the lines are said slowly.

Watch the trailer here.


Do you have any films to add? Leave your suggestions in the comments section!

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Posted in Countries and Cultures, Tips & Tricks

Fun Facts About World Cities


Chopin Monument in Shanghai

Shanghai, China: Zhongshan Park is home to the world’s tallest monument of Frédéric Chopin, the Polish composer who spent much of his life in France.

Paris, France: Before the Nazis invaded Paris during World War II, the Louvre distributed its various collections among wealthy French citizens, who hid the artworks in their homes around the country.

Kyoto, Japan: Although you can find fortune cookies in Chinese restaurants all over the world, they are seldom found in China. This is because fortune cookies originated in Kyoto in the 19th century.

Mumbai, India: The Mumbai commuter trains (known as “locals”) see more than 7 million commuters every day; in the rush periods, the trains carry nearly three times the amount of people that the trains are designed to hold. Train employees have named this “Super-Dense Crush Load.”

Nairobi, Kenya: There is a city-wide ban on smoking and it is illegal to smoke on the city streets. There are a number of designated smoking areas, but they are not easy to find.

4647194-No_high_heels_Saint_PetersburgSt. Petersburg, Russia: Visitors to museums in St. Petersburg are often not allowed to wear high heels. The Hermitage is one museum that explicitly forbids high heels because they are noisy and can damage the floor.

Vancouver, Canada: Vancouver is a bustling film and TV city. It’s known as Hollywood North, and after Los Angeles has the most TV production in North America. After LA and New York City, it has the highest film production rate of any other city in North America.

Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh is presumably one of the most haunted cities in Europe. One of its most notorious haunters is the Mackenzie Poltergeist, the ghost of a 17th murderer.

18476lrgBoston, USA: In 1930, the chocolate chip cookie was invented at the Toll House Restaurant in a town just outside of Boston.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Buenos Aires is home to the widest avenue in the world. Avenida 9 de Julio is sixteen lanes across and can take several traffic light rotations to get through.

Perth, Australia: Before Perth was established, the area was known as Boorloo by the indigenous peoples that lived there.

Havana, Cuba: In 1848, Havana was the third city in the world to receive gas lighting.

What are some fun facts or local customs where you live?

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Staple Foods From Around the World

“Staple foods” refers to foods that are eaten so frequently in different parts of the world that they become a major part of daily cuisine, nourishment, and culture. Around the world, staple foods usually include a variety of meat products, fruits and vegetables, and roots or grains. In this week’s blog post, we’ve selected five staple foods from around the world to give you some ideas for your next meal! Keep reading to learn a little about where corn, rice, wheat, teff, and cassava are eaten and what kinds of regional dishes they are used in.


Maize, or corn as it’s known in English, is a grain that was first cultivated agriculturally in Central America. When Europeans came to the Americas, they took the grain with them to grow in Europe. Its ability to adapt to various climates means that today maize is grown around the world. It is eaten throughout Europe, Africa, and the Americas. It is most commonly associated with Mexican cuisine, however, and it is used in most Mexican recipes. Tamales are a very popular Mexican food that is made with masa harina (maize dough) with meat, cheese, and/pr vegetables. You can find a recipe for Mexican tamales here.


Japanese mochi can be almost too cute to eat.

Rice is a grain that is believed to have originated in southern China several thousand years ago. Today, it is commonly found in foods from all over the world. It is predominately found in Asia, but it is also eaten in Africa, the Middle East, Oceania, Europe, and the Americas. Rice comes in many varieties, such as long-grain or short-grain, that are used for different kinds of dishes around the world. Some kinds of rice are sticky, such as Japanese mochi rice, and others are less sticky, such as Jasmine and Basmati rice. Rice can also be made into noodles or desserts, such as sweet mochi in Japan. You can learn how to make Japanese mochi here.


Sally finds some deadly nightshade in “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Potatoes are starchy roots that first originated in Peru. They belong to the nightshade family that also includes tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and belladonna (also known as deadly nightshade). Today, potatoes are eaten around the world, especially in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Thousands of different kinds of potatoes grow around the world. Potatoes, though a main source of food worldwide, can become poisonous as they age. Potatoes are commonly eaten as a side dish. Click here to find a recipe for potatoes au gratin, a popular way to cook potatoes in Europe and the United States.

lTeff is a small grain that is primarily found in Africa, especially Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it is commonly made into a spongy bread called injera. Today, it is becoming a more popular export to the United States and other countries. Because it is so small, teff is easy to cultivate as long as there is enough rainfall. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, injera is eaten with stews and other meat-based dishes. Learn how to make injera here.

Cassava_Cake_0710_resized_640x480Cassava, like the potato, is another tuberous root. It is native to South America, but today it can also be found in Africa and Asia. Because of its starchy, doughy texture (when ground), it is often made into bread and cakes. Tapioca is made from cassava. Cassava leaves are also edible and offer a good source of protein. Click here to learn how to make Filipino cassava cake. 

What’s the major food staple where you live? Share your favorite recipe in the comments below!

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Language Profile: Japanese

Where is Japanese Spoken?

Japanese (日本語, pronounced “Nihongo”) is spoken by about 125 million speakers around the world. Although the largest Japanese-speaking population, of course, can be found in Japan, many people in China, Korea, and Hawaii also speak Japanese as a first or second language.


Cowboy Bebop (1998)

Perhaps in part because of its popular culture, including anime (see image at left), manga, video games, and its renowned cinema (Japan boasts such filmmaking greats as Kurosawa Akira and Miyazaki Hayao), Japanese is one of the most popular languages to learn worldwide.

What are some Japanese language basics?

The Japanese language has three alphabets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. While this may seem overwhelming at first, it is relatively simple to learn two of the alphabets. Japanese uses the five vowel sounds, a – i – u – e – o , as well as the consonants k – s – t – n – h – m – r – w, as well as a nasal N sound. Although Japanese does not have the “F” consonant, some words pronounce the “H” consonant with an F-like sound. Some characters can also be altered to use the “B” and “P” sounds.

You can see these vowels and consonants in action here, in the hiragana alphabet:


Hiragana characters

The hiragana alphabet is a good tool for new Japanese learners. It has fewer than fifty characters and can be used before learning the more complicated kanji. In everyday Japanese, hiragana is used for writing suffixes, prefixes, and filler words that do not have their own kanji. For example, さん (san), which is a suffix respectfully added to a person’s name, does not have its own kanji.


Katakana characters

The katakana alphabet also has fewer than fifty characters. This alphabet is used for non-Japanese words that are appropriated into daily use. The Japanese word for restaurant, for example, looks like this: レストラン (pronounced “re-su-to-ran”).

common kanji

A few common kanji characters

Because kanji comprises between 2000-3000 characters, many language learners refer back to their knowledge of hiragana and katakana to fill in words for which they don’t know the kanji characters. The kanji you see above are the most common characters you’ll encounter and probably the first ones you will learn after you feel comfortable with hiragana and katakana. Although kanji characters mean things by themselves, they take on new meanings when placed alongside other kanji.


Some words in kanji

For example, the characters you saw above for “sun” and “book,” when placed together, become “Japan” (pronounced “Nihon”).

What are some good resources for learning Japanese?

9784770030818_p0_v1_s260x420Interpals users suggest finding a good textbook to start with. jhayes2011 recommends “Kodansha’s Hiragana Workbook” because, as she writes, “the book gives you rip out flashcards which comes in handy, I memorized them in a week it makes it so easy.” Other suggested textbooks include “Genki” and “Minna no Nihongo.”

In addition to our Japanese language forum, there are many good websites for learning Japanese. jhayes2011 uses Japanese Pod 101 and Study Stack. traumgefluester, suggests the website Japanese Level Up and Guide to Japanese. You can also learn a lot about Japan and Japanese here. jhayes2011 also uses YouTube to practice pronunciation. traumgefluester suggests watching the beginner anime Chi’s Sweet Home, which includes the hiragana and kanji characters, as well as the phonetic pronunciation and English translation.

Most important, have fun while learning Japanese! As jhayes2011 says, “Lastly things u can start doing … is watch anime of course, with and without subtitles so that u can get the feel of how stuff is used and u pick of phrases and vocab. And to listen to the music, both helps you to start training your ears to pick up on the dialect and how fast they speak, plus it’s fun and awesome.”

traumgefluester has a lot of advice for Japanese learners:

“Start to listen to a lot of Japanese material. For the beginning it is not about understanding anything, but getting used to the language. It’s also good for your pronunciation. But talking is another training. You should talk to yourself, read out aloud and repeat for example what you’ve seen in dramas.

“As soon as you know the basics, go and find original material. Start with that as soon as possible. Read a lot. Listen a lot.”

What advice do YOU have for learning Japanese? Do you have any favorite resources?

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Lunar New Year: 2014, The Year of the Horse

On January 31st, 2014, people around the world observed the 2014 Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year. This week on the blog, we’d like to give a few facts about the Lunar New Year, as well as what it means to be in the year of the horse.

article-2550641-1B2460DE00000578-918_964x713In China, the New Year is called the Spring Festival. Since the New Year occurs on the eve of spring, many people traditionally spend the weeks between the New Year and the Lantern Festival throwing away useless items and preparing for the coming spring. Most importantly, this holiday is a time for people to unite with their families and spend time together.

It is the biggest holiday celebrated among Chinese and Asian communities around the world. In addition to China, this holiday is celebrated in many other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Furthermore, visitors can attend festivities in cities with large Chinese communities such as San Francisco (United States), Sydney (Australia), Johannesburg (South Africa), and Vancouver (Canada). The dancers in the photo above are shown performing during the festivities in Beijing.

chinese-new-year-lantern-festival_1389986593The New Year festivities culminate in the Lantern Festival, which will occur this year on February 14thIn Chinese culture, red symbolizes good fortune and vitality. During the Lantern Festival, red lanterns can be seen throughout the streets of China and in Chinese communities worldwide to welcome good luck into the coming year. It is also called the Yuanxiao Festival because yuanxiao, sweet rice dumplings, are traditionally eaten during the festival. Families gather together during the day to see dancing and play riddle games with the lanterns. At night, festival-goers can enjoy the lit lanterns alongside the full moon.

W020090212492552571130It’s about the food. Gathering with family is a big part of the New Year. On New Year’s Eve, families get together and enjoy a feast with many different foods. Throughout the holiday, sweet treats are eaten in quantity because they are thought to make life sweeter in the coming year. In addition to yuanxiao, sweet rice dumplings eaten during the Lantern Festival (photo to left), traditional holiday foods include nian gao (rice pudding), long noodles (for longevity), Eight Treasure Babaofan (sweet and sticky rice which contains eight different nuts and dried fruits), and fish.

The year of the horse means ups and downs. The Chinese Zodiac has a twelve-year cycle and each year corresponds to a different animal sign. These animal signs are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. These animals connect with the five elements, which also alter each year. This is the year of the wood horse. See the chart below to find out what year you were born in:


According to the Independent, astrologers predict that this will bring many ups and downs for business owners. Many people – especially those born in the year of the horse – can expect 2014 to be full of conflict and turmoil, but  can also use this year to move forward.

What are some festivals around the world that you’d like to attend? Write to us about your experiences and tell us which festivals you’d most like to visit!

Sources: The Independent,, CNN, Travel China Guide, Daily Mail Online, Huffington Post, and Wandering Educators

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From France to Korea: Audrey and Hyeongju’s Story

1372885_198141493701199_1823439885_nThis week, we spoke to Audrey (who is from France) about her friendship story with Hyeongju (from Korea). Audrey and Hyeongju found that they had many things in common and were fortunate enough to meet one another in Soeul, Korea last summer! Keep reading to learn a bit about Audrey, Hyeongju, and their friendship that spans nearly 6000 miles!

Interpals: Tell us a bit about each of you.

Audrey: Hyeongju and I are both students. He is a sophomore in university while I’m a freshman. We both like to hang out, meet friends, travel, listen to music and so on. He is studying English and Chinese, whereas I’m studying Chinese and Korean.

IP: How did you meet on Interpals?

Audrey: When I was 15, I was planning a trip to Korea, so I was looking for Korean friends who I could have a chance to meet. I found Hyeongju and sent him a message. Luckily he answered me, and we never stopped contacting since then. We have several common interest (languages, traveling…), that led us pretty much to become good friends.

IP: How and when did you meet in person?

Audrey: We met in Seoul on 2013, July 24th. I was in Korea at that time, and we planned a meeting. We joined each other at a subway station and spent a few hours together wandering around and talking.

France to KoreaIP: What was it like to meet Hyeongju in person?

Audrey: Meeting in person is a really great experience. We had never talked to each other directly before (I mean, “by voice”). We were very nervous at first and were pretty shy to speak a lot. But little by little we felt comfortable with each other, and could happily share a conversation. It was sometimes a bit embarrassing, since English is not our mother tongue. Sometimes we needed a translator for a few words. But it was a really great moment, and we regretted not to be able to meet a second time, because I was leaving the day after.

IP: Do you have advice for other Interpals members who want to meet friends?

Audrey: I would advice other Interpallers to meet any good friend they have, if they have a chance. Even for shy people it’s a very great experience, and it helps us to discover a new culture and so one. I also advice them to take many pictures if possible. It may seem a bit weird, but when Hyeongju and I met, we only took one picture together, which is a little bit regretful.

IP: What’s your favorite thing about Interpals?

Audrey: I love the fact Interpals enables people to meet other persons from all around the world. It helps us to study a new language, to meet new friends share many things with people etc. If Interpals didn’t exist, there are many good moments I wouldn’t have lived.

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