Language has been an integral part of my life. It’s at the core of who I am. In fact, the first feature film I made was all about language and how it influences reality. The seed for this was planted at a very early age. My father’s career took me to a new country every few years. During these travels it became apparent that having an authentic experience meant fully immersing myself in the language, the culture, and the community.
When I began my career in film – starting at Golden Harvest in Hong Kong, home to Bruce Lee, John Woo, and Jackie Chan – I didn’t have the luxury of time. I realized the only way I could integrate properly and thoroughly with the entirely Chinese crew was to dive head-first and fast into Cantonese.
Berlitz was the only option.
Its method, which focuses on conversations and speaking, offered quick results and great retention. In less than two weeks I was able to maneuver around the set enabling me to become a cameraman, stuntman, set designer, and
In Hong Kong, I also studied French with Berlitz so I could communicate and navigate my way around France while showing one of my movies at the Cannes Film Festival.
I did the same at the Berlitz location in Barcelona, taking German for two days which enabled me to talk with waiters, taxi drivers, and hotel staff in Berlin during that festival.
In the U.S., I went to Berlitz in Beverly Hills to learn Romanian so I could communicate while shooting a film there. Not only did this allow me to talk with my crew but when my car broke down in Transylvania I was able to converse with the locals, find a repair shop, a hotel, and order my supper.
When people ask me, “Why Berlitz?” I say: “Give it a week; in five days you’ll be shocked; in ten days you’ll be conversational and it will stick with you.” Plus the instructors are supportive, encouraging, and patient making the journey all the more enjoyable.
There are also no real alternatives. I found most language books were written by non-native speakers using techniques relying on parroting and rote learning. A method also used by DVD courses. One which aims to program instead of teach a language. Immersion is what I relate to and what works, and it’s what Berlitz does best.
And the price-tag is worth it. Not only did Berlitz save me time, it also gave me a return to my investment I am still collecting on. Twenty-two years after my ten-day class I still speak Cantonese. My friends who spent four years studying Mandarin in college have all but forgotten what they learned.
Max Makowski is a film and TV writer and director; his body of work includes three feature films shown at Sundance and one at the Cannes film festival as well as the Emmy Award-winning “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and commercials for Nike. Born in Brazil, he has lived in England, Philippines, Peru, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Romania, Germany, Spain, Singapore, Thailand, Cuba, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and New York, where he recently took a refresher Cantonese course at Berlitz. Max will be moving to Indiana soon to open a company that makes vodka and gin from Greek yogurt acid whey. As well as a line of gourmet chocolate milks aimed primarily for adults.