Newspaper articles in a foreign language are HARD.
You probably know that.
But the adverts are easier. They’re designed by professionals to effectively communicate a particular message.
The copywriters don’t care if your reading skills are iffy. They just want you to buy their client’s stuff.
I probably mentioned, I have a three-month free subscription to a Swedish newspaper. I try (but fail) to look at the new edition each day.
None of the articles are easy. If I pick my way through even one, it’s a triumph!
But I always pay close attention to the ads, no matter whether they’re for holidays (Swedes love hot places), mortgages, beauty products, or whatever.
I read them all, not because I’m interested in the Canary Islands, or mascara, but because I can generally manage to figure them out, which is satisfying.
At LEAST those!
I do the same when I occasionally watch TV in the language I’m studying, which is not as often as I’d like.
Dishwasher and detergent ads are my favourite, but anything aimed at busy mums is good. Car ads, on the other hand, are gibberish. We guys must be so easy to fool…
Even if the program I’m watching is incompehensible, when the ads are understandable, it’s a boost to my confidence. And great listening practice to boot!
There’s another thing that makes understanding what you read or hear easier, and that’s familiarity with the subject matter.
For example, if you know where Idlib is and why it’s in the news right now, you’ll have less difficulty piecing together the sense of an article on the subject.
Whereas if you have no idea that it’s the name of the last rebel-held city in Syria, and the target of an imminent offensive by Russian-backed government forces?
You might struggle.
I’ve been reading a lot about the Swedish elections in the last few months.
Being familiar (now) with which party is which, who the leaders are, who backs who in which coalition, and so on, is hard-won knowledge.
But with the background under my belt, it’s as if a door has been opened, one though which I’m allowed to enter when I will.
Though I’m not a citizen of the country whose language I’m studying, or even a resident, I no longer feel like an ‘outsider’ as I did a couple of years back.
In some small way, I feel part of the day-to-day political conversation. And IF I had had a vote, I know who I’d have cast it for in yesterday’s election.
Understanding, even partially, WHAT is being talked about is a huge help in the reading/listening process.
If you think about it, when learning a language, you’re either going to find yourself in a ‘vicious circle’, or a ‘virtuous circle’.
Which, is up to you.
You don’t read well in Italian, so you don’t read much in Italian, so you don’t know what Italians are reading about, so you don’t read in Italian, so you don’t read well in Italian, and so on until you hit the ground and burn.
Or you’re interested, so you try to read. You don’t understand much, but persevere anyway. Gradually, meanings start to take shape, you begin to find your way around, you feel more motivated and involved, you read some more. Up, up and away!
All this is true for listening, too.
Yesterday, while I cooked Sunday lunch, for a couple of hours I had my computer tuned to a Swedish radio channel.
Mostly it was just noise, but I noticed when the TYPE of noise changed.
One program ending and a news broadcast beginning, for example. The news, as always, was easiest for me.
At one point, all the accents changed.
It was like, suddenly, all the speakers had exaggerated regional or class accents.
It was very odd indeed, and clearly different from what had come before.
And indeed, it turned out to have been some sort of comedy or satire.
So while understanding ‘nothing’, I had apparently understood something, at least.
Later there was a church service, with music, incantations, and what sounded like two female priests, one of whom had a voice that was as clear as a bell.
Man, if I lived in Sweden, I’d probably start going to church services, just for the listening practice!
And after that there was a program about a small city where one of my online teachers lives.
I had assumed it was an uninteresting dump in the middle of nowhere, but according to the presenter they have art installations, and music, and good things to eat, and a nice environment, and so on. He was enthusiastic!
Thanks to the Internet and the wonders of radio, while I had been chopping vegetables and stirring my ragù, I had been transported to an foreign land where I was surrounded by unfamilar people saying things I could only guess at.
Which, surprisingly, wasn’t a negative feeling.
The opposite in fact.
A final reflection: how much is learning a language about training to express your thoughts in speech?
Which is most people’s priority, it seems.
(No one wants to learn to write.)
And how much is it about figuring out what the community of users is talking about?
People often tell me they’re frustrated because they can’t express in their second language what they want to SAY, what they could SAY in their mother tongue.
But unless they have someone to say it to, someone who knows who they are and gives a damn what they think, what does that matter?
Beyond that very basic level of ordering drinks and buying train tickets, conversation is a collaborative process, based on trust and mutual interest.
If you can follow the conversation, you can be part of it – even if you don’t ‘speak’ the language well.
If you care enough to participate, to keep listening, to have a point of view, what reasonable person would object that your grammar is patchy, your accent abominal, and you struggle to find the right word?
Anyway, I have two pieces of news for you:
1.) This week we’re putting together an experimental, Italian ‘news’ broadcast for you – simplified texts plus audio. I’m hoping to publish it on Friday.
The project is inspired by the materials I’ve been using for my own learning, the equivalent of which does not appear to exist for students of Italian.
I think you’ll like it. And it’ll be FREE!
2.) We have a new ‘Book of the Week’, but I don’t have time right now to give it the hard sell (because of the other project – I’m too busy spending money on enthusiastic young writers!)
Below are the bare details. Perhaps I’ll have time for the hard sell on Wednesday!