After several years without a TV, I got one this week. It’ll help with my own English lessons as I can link my computer up to the screen and use it for playing some English training videos, but it’ll also help with my Czech.
I know, TV has a bad rap. These days magazines and self-development writers and bloggers are saying “turn it off.”
It’s a waste of time.
Dumbed-down TV programmes too – hardly anything worth watching.
But it’s different when it comes to learning a foreign language.
Tonight I got a kick out of following what looked like the Czech version of the dysfunctional family sitcom. I heard some common spoken Czech phrases, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I could follow based on matching the pictures of what I could see with the words and phrases I could recognise.
Making the switch
Quite often when I’m at my desk at home I’ll play the radio in the background, and listen to a lot of English language pop music. I’m a sucker for this stuff – Pitbull, Gotje, even that song from Twilight.
But while I like Evropa Radio or Radio Expres, they’re not really helping me understand this country any better, nor its language.
So I decided to spend my time differently. From now on I’ll swap the radio for TV while I’m at home like this.
The first night – mission accomplished.
I’ve watched 2 programmes tonight. The first was that TV Nova comedy I mentioned, where the family all went bowling for the evening. I didn’t catching everything of course (maybe 40%), but I could see the teenage girl was acting like she didn’t know her parents. The mother came across as quite clever and witty, and the father a fun but fat lazeabout (is there any sitcom on the planet where the main male role is a smart, successful handsome man?!).
Anyhow, I liked it as I could follow the basic storyline, and I heard a lot of words and phrases that I’ve learnt with my teachers or heard when out at parties. I also got to hear them with emotion – pronunciation is one thing, but feeling the phrase makes it come across as genuine when you say it.
You need input to learn a language
I’ll agree with you that it’s better to go out and have a real conversation with a friend in the language you’re trying to learn.
But as I’ve said before, it’s ok to spend some time on your own and find another way to take in the language (eg see here).
When you watch TV as an active listener, you can pick up quite a bit. I see television as a source of language input, and this is one of the most important ingredients you need in order to learn a language (motivation and practise are also vital).
Input can be from anything – from talking with a native speaker, chatting in English with your friend (wherever they’re from), reading the newspaper, watching a TED video.
In this sitcom I heard a lot of phrases which you come across when talking with Czechs, but which are not in the coursebooks. And thanks to the second programme I watched, I got to revise some vocabulary I’ve studied recently in class.
In short, watching TV helped activate my vocabulary.
And what was that second programme? Actually it was the news! In just a few minutes I got to revise some basic vocabulary:
elections – volby, spokesman – mluvčí, storms – bouřky, rain – přset, cloudy – oblačný, resident – obyvatel.
Summing up – make it active
Again, I still think it’s better to go out and interact with people. But sometimes you’ll be at home, and you may wonder what else you can do.
Mix it up. See what you feel works best for you.
Next time I’ll grab a pen and paper and write down some useful phrases and words I hear.
This is important to make sure you stay active and not passive. If you’re passive, the TV will be another source of background noise.
What about you:
- What you can understand from watching the news or a sitcom?
- What words, collocations and phrases do you recognise? Can you guess their meaning?
- More globally, would you be able to summarise what you’ve watched?
- Are you able to write a review for your teacher of what you’ve just seen on TV?
PS – input
As I said above, language input is everywhere. Even this blog post has a lot of spoken English phrases in it. Did you spot any?
A few include:
TV has a bad rap
dumbed-down TV programmes
Tonight I got a kick out of…
I’m a sucker for this stuff
The mother came across as quite clever and witty…
I’ll grab a pen
pen and paper
If you have an English teacher, they can help you recognise new words and collocations. If not, well, this is a ‘game’ you can play on your own where you look for useful lexical items.
English is everywhere but sometimes you have to find it.
david [at] GetIntoEnglish [dot] com