IDEA #37. Find a radio or television broadcast in the modern language you study or would like to study at school and listen to or watch it for a half-hour every week. For example, Spanish-language soap operas, soccer broadcasts, and game shows are pretty easy to find and understand. Or tune your radio (or use shortwave or streaming on the internet) to French-language broadcasts from Canada, Africa, the Caribbean—or France. And the shortwave radio spectrum opens up, quite literally, an entire linguistic world.
The multicultural reality of the United States is never more palpable than when one is channel surfing or seeking stations on the radio. AM radio in many metropolitan areas is a cornucopia of broadcasts in many languages, from Spanish to Hindi to Mandarin to Portuguese to…. And in almost every part of the country one can find several Spanish-language cable broadcasts featuring game and variety shows or soap operas (telenovelas) with vividly emoting actors. It is also possible nearly everywhere to find at least a few hours a week of programming designed for speakers of other languages.
Be patient and listen for familiar words and patterns. Even if the words are unintelligible, the sense of what is being communicated is often clear. Along with trying to suss out the meaning of the show, the thoughtful television viewer could muse on a number of questions:
- What is the nature of the aesthetic or aesthetics that are being shown? Are the production values (pacing, scenery, make-up, dress, sound, color palette, and even the framing of each shot) like or not like what might be seen on a typical American English-language broadcast? The same questions, incidentally, could be asked about some of the BBC programming that is seen on American public broadcasting stations. (It is also possible that the child habituated to listening to a variety of British Isles speechways via the BBC–or public television’s anglophile Masterpiece Theater–will be that much more ready to appreciate the richness of Shakespearean language when encountering the Bard at school.)
- What is being advertised? In what ways are the consuming patterns of the target audience like or not like those of mainstream American viewers, at least insofar as comparisons can be made based on the ads seen or heard on similar English-language shows.
- If you can find a sports show, preferably fútbol (what Americans call soccer), how does the coverage vary from typical American sports coverage, if in fact you can observe differences?
- What, actually, is the place of origin of the programming? Are you looking at shows produced in the United States or material produced in a country in which the language is the majority tongue?
- Is the setting beyond the television studio visible? Do exterior scenes look typically “American” (like what you might see on an American-produced English-language sitcom, for example), or do they offer a glimpse of what you might see if you were visiting another land or culture? Can you actually define the differences, if any exist?
- Beyond developing your skill in the language of the broadcast, can you make out any English words, or words from English that are just like words in the language? (These are called cognates.) Some people are concerned that, because of the spread of American cultural products like films and television shows, English is gradually “polluting” many other languages and thus threatening the cultures associated with them. Do non-English-language broadcasts on American radio television support this theory?
As a corollary suggestion, if the household has a DVD player it is usually possible to view many feature films either in another language—often Spanish or French—or with subtitles in English or another language. Try watching a favorite film on DVD several times through, using the other-language and/or subtitle functions. (Consider some Japanese anime—the films of Hayao Miyazaki, for example—that are already dubbed and sometimes come with original titles or soundtracks in Japanese.)
It is worth emphasizing to young viewers that nothing that appears in the frame of a film or television program is there by mistake. Watching a film when unable to understand the dialogue forces the viewer to attend carefully to the detail in the scene (it’s called mise en scène) in the struggle to make meaning out of what is being viewed. Sometimes this detail has symbolic or other content value that supports the theme or the storyline in subtle ways, and the astute viewer is alert for these elements.