Friday, August 24, 2012

Watch TV to Learn a Foreign Language

I remember once meeting a young man with a very foul mouth and an unusual American accent when he spoke English.  I asked him how he learned to speak English, and to my surprise he said that he did nothing but watching American TV for the past several years.  He was tuned into everything.  I suppose the strong use of profanity was due in part to his subscription to the movie channels and the unedited television that was a part of his repertoire.  Whether he truly learned to speak English by doing nothing more than watching TV could be debated, but the fact he spoke it could not.  Living in our modern age, there is no question that television is a remarkable tool when trying to learn to speak another language.
When I first started learning Arabic, it used to drive my wife nuts that I had the television constantly tuned to the Arabic channel.  My favorite thing to watch was the news.  I would first watch one of the standard American channels and get my first glimpse of the news.  I would then try and watch the same news on the selected Arabic channel.  Like it or not, most of the news around the world is pretty much the same.  The difference is in the particular slant another country may take towards the news.  Knowing the underlying story made it easier to understand what I was watching and I was thereby able to understand with more facility the new vocabulary words that would undoubtedly come my way.  Another nice thing that often happened was that the President or another high ranking American would address a particular topic and his/her words would be translated by the Arabic channel that I was watching.  Having an English statement immediately translated into the language you are studying is a great way to identify new terminology. 
Watching TV is also fun.   Even though I’m into my 40s, I still enjoy a certain amount of children’s programming.  Cartoons can be fun.  With three kids of my own, our family is filled with various cartoons at any one time during the day.  I figure if we have to watch cartoons anyway, why not watch them in French?  There is certainly no reason why my children can’t profit from a dose of another language just as much as I can.  The benefit of most entertainment television around the world is that most of it comes from the United States or Canada.  So chances are what you will be watching is a simple translation of a North American production.  Being more familiar with the characters and plot line makes it much more easy understanding the language.  A frequent benefit of watching television in a foreign language is that you will take a walk down memory lane.  Many programs enjoyed by Americans are only now due to syndication etc., being enjoyed overseas.  Watch programming in your favorite language and rediscover Baywatch, Dallas, or even Charlie’s Angels.
Gaining access to another countries television is easy.  Check with your cable company.  Chances are for a few extra dollars you can watch programming in just about any language you choose.  If your cable company doesn’t offer any, consider getting a satellite dish.  Nowadays such a choice is much more economical than it was in the past.  In addition with modern technology, you can easily record your favorite programming for leisurely review and practice on your own terms and on your own time.
Yes it is possible to live where obtaining such television programming is next to impossible.  So what do you do?  The answer is simple.  Buy a DVD!  Most of the DVDs now on the market have many additional features.  The most common feature is that they usually have either a subtitled or voiced-over version of your favorite movie in French or Spanish.  Most people skip right past the choices of language and simply watch their favorite film in English?  Why?  An excellent opportunity exists.  Spice up your life and watch the movie in French!  Or if you have a family filled with not so adventurous relatives, watch the movie in English with French subtitles.  I may not always enjoy watching a “chick flick” with my wife, but if I know that I can watch it with French subtitles, at least I know that I’m exercising my brain, while I’m enjoying time with my wife.  Using the language feature on most DVDs is a resource many people simply miss.  When studying a foreign language, it is a feature that is a must.
If you are brave, trying watching DVDs from other countries.  Some of the best movies made in America came from ideas inspired from overseas.  Remember “3 men and a baby?” – this was a remake from a French film.  What about the horror film “The Ring?” – a remake of a Japanese film.  Indeed many of our top films are simply remakes of an overseas version.  Even if you haven’t heard of the film before, there are many resources that will help you to find a good foreign film.  Don’t be afraid to try out a film that appears good to you.  I admit I have purchased a number of loser films that were really not that great.  But for every lemon of a film, I found countless good films that were well worth the time viewing them. 
Television and DVD movies are a great resource, but they are by all means not the only resource available.  Most any bookstore is going to sell “learn to speak” type CD ROMs, cassette tapes, and other language learning materials.  It is hard to recommend any one type in particular because they all have their strong and weak points.  Best suggestion: experiment.  Most of the items available on the market are not that expensive and you’ll know very soon how inspiring they are to your linguistic development.  Some offer great lessons on vocabulary, others are strong in grammar.  Trying different products will certainly help you to develop your abilities in different areas.  The most difficult obstacle you may cross is that unfortunate problem though that most of these products are geared toward the beginner.  When you reach the intermediate to advance stage of your language development, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to find a product that will help you advance.  Why are most products geared toward the beginner?  Quite frankly it is because most people trying to learn a language rarely make it past the beginning stage.  He or she will get excited about learning a language only to give up after a few weeks of study.  Don’t let this happen to you.  Learning a language is a lifetime experience.  It won’t be without its ups and downs, but it can be very rewarding if you keep trucking along.
So what do you do if you reach the intermediate stage and can’t find resources that lift you to the next level?  Try different products or dialects of the same language.  It never hurts to broaden your perspective.  Such a feat is easy to undertake with a language like Arabic because in addition to the Modern Standard Arabic, you will find among others the Saudi dialect, the Egyptian dialect, the Iraqi dialect and a dialect from just about every different Middle Eastern country.  It can become undaunting.  You really need to keep a positive attitude about it and realize that every time you study a different dialect you are making it more likely that you will understand the person that you may one day need to translate for.  For a language like Spanish, it too can be very different from region to region.  Studying dialectal differences can be fascinating.  Just see how different Argentinean Spanish and Mexican Spanish can be and you’ll soon discover that learning a language is only the beginning.
With all this said, do not let this discourage you.  Keep trying, try new products.  There are a number of computer products that offer interactive software that will actually track your voice and let you know if your pronunciation is correct.  There are software products where you can watch film clips and answer questions about the content.  You name the intervention it is likely to exist.  You can even take classes on-line with professors thousands of miles away who are available to give you one-on-one tutoring.  The resources are almost infinite.  The key is not finding the best tool to use to study a language, but finding the time to experiment with the tools that exist.  Once you find the product that you enjoy, then it can really take you to that next level.  Whatever you do, don’t give up.  If at first you don’t succeed in finding the television station, DVD movie, CD ROM, workbook or other resource you enjoy, try, try and try again. The most beautiful thing about learning a language is that the more you fail at it, the better you become. So don’t give up!

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