Friday’s article had a video in it (a song that Anne sent in).
But if you read it in an email, it’s likely the video had been ‘disappeared’ by your email provider.
You may not even have noticed, but Anne was disappointed so I said I’d mention it today.
Here are some options:
Oh, and Anne would like to know what you thought of the singer (she’s a fan.) Leave a comment on Friday’s article to let her know.
Anyway, back to today.
Unless you’re very, very new around here, you’ll know that I’ve been learning Swedish so as to ‘feel the burn’ of learning a new language, and also have something more interesting to write about than ‘hey, we have a new ebook!’
Club members voted on which language I should learn (this was about 18 months ago) and I’ve been at it ever since, with greater or lesser enthusiasm.
This year my focus has been on speaking and listening, in preparation for a holiday in Sweden next month.
For the speaking, I’ve been taking one-to-one Skype lessons with a competitor, which has been very useful.
And for the listening, I’ve been tuning into the ‘simplified’ news broadcasts on SVT, the Swedish state broadcaster.
They’re pretty good. I watch them with the subtitles a couple of times, then once without, by which point I feel I’m in with a fair chance of understanding what I’m hearing.
The only problem is that the ‘easy Swedish’ team at SVT are part-timers, compared to you and I.
They knock off on Friday evening and don’t get back to it again until Monday evening, by which time I’m teaching and can’t watch.
Come on Anna, Eva, Oskar and team – weekends are for language-learning!
Hence, I decided to start watching the ‘regular’ news broadcasts at weekends, rather than just do nothing, while knowing that I’d be pushing way out past the limits of what my listening skills can currently handle.
That said, there are subtitles on the normal news too, presumably for the hard-of-hearing (but otherwise linguistically fully-competent) viewers.
I figured that even if I didn’t understand a thing, I could at least be following the subtitles and learning some new words.
(Useful word that: wordreference.com has it down as meaning ‘if only!’)
Turns out that the subtitles are not only very incomplete, which took me a while to realise, and often back-to-front (because of the flexibility of word order in some Swedish sentences) but that they are also WILDLY OUT OF SYNCH with what’s actually being said on screen!
It couldn’t be more confusing if they had designed it specifically to disorientate.
Were the simplified news this bad, I’d have figured it was a deliberate attempt to repel unwanted immigrants.
But no, SVT must just hate deaf people!
Anyway, I’ve been suffering through weekends with the ‘real’ news broadcasts and the time-warped subtitles for a few weeks now.
But on Saturday, suffering from a heavy cold and a commensurate lack of patience, I finally got fed up and switched off the ‘undertext’ (Swedish for subtitles, of course.)
And a surprising thing happened.
Well, several surprising things, really.
One thing that wasn’t surprising was the immediate sensation of not understanding anything…
It was like switching off the lights.
Utter darkness, no vision at all.
The newsreader speech changed character, becoming more like music, and instrumental music at that.
Pleasant to listen to, and familiar-sounding, but shorn of meaning, at least in a linguistic sense.
But I knew that would happen, which was why I’d been using the ‘undertext’.
However, without the subtitles blocking the lower-third of the screen, I noticed I could see the ‘title’ of the news story, which helpfully summarised what it was about.
Better, without the subtitles to distract me, I found I was listening much more attentively and picking up all sorts of clues that I HAD NO IDEA I HAD BEEN MISSING…
Tone of voice, for example, and intonation.
You know the way that newsreaders sound sad when some maniac has just blown himself (or herself) up in a public place?
I could pick that up!
Sad voice = bad news from Asia.
Happy voice = Sweden’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest!
Sad voice = Sweden’s entry came seventh.
And you’ll have noticed how a news story will start with a brief summary, before proceeding with interviews that go into more detail?
Now that I wasn’t looking at the subtitles, all that seemed much more coherent and obvious. Like it’s actually supposed to be understood…
And hey, what was that weird thing that just happened?
It’s my brain working!
From the words flashing up on the screen to accompany the interviews, I recognise ‘häkte’ from ubiquitous headlines of the type:
‘Shooting in Malmö – 1 dead, 1 in custody’.
It means custody.
But this news story is about prisons: dangerous conditions, lack of resources, stressed-prison officers, the usual. I could probably write this stuff myself, I’ve heard and read it so often in the past.
And I well recalled from my early Swedish studies with Duolingo, ‘prison’ is ‘fängelse’.
But that word wasn’t used.
So what gives?
‘Taken into custody’, ‘custodial sentence’, different contexts but basically the same thing, and so the same word being used.
OK, so feeling your way cautiously through an unfamiliar, obstacle-strewn building in the pitch dark may not sound much fun.
It’s clearly a whole different ballgame from walking briskly and confidently through a well-lit, pedestrian-friendly piazza or mall.
But that’s comparing apples with oranges. Feeling your way through the dark is a lot better than making no progress at all…
A couple of news stories later, something startling happened.
This next story was about how public libraries have a fundamental role in helping less-educated citizens adjust to the new Internet-centered world.
Turns out that in Sweden you can’t do much without having a reasonable level of I.T. skills. Need to apply for citizenship? Claim benefits? Open a bank account? Look for an apartment or a job?
You have to do it online.
“How do I do that?” you might well ask if you were eighty, or had recently arrived from Afghanistan.
The answer, according to SVT, is “Go ask a librarian”, and the camera pans a room full of books which everyone is ignoring because they are staring so intently at their computer screens.
A photogenic young librarian with skinny arms and tatoos (you think putting books back on shelves would have built his muscles up a bit..) explains that ignorance of the internet is a growing THREAT TO DEMOCRACY and tells us how he spends his time helping people search for baby blanket bargains in Google.
And the startling thing?
It wasn’t until we got on to the next story and everything went dark again, that I realised that I’d followed all of that without even trying!
The news broadcast was ten minutes long, so I watched it again, and the same thing happened!
Pitch dark and navigating by touch until, flash, all the lights come on for a minute or so and then, crack, it’s back to guessing.
1.) Understanding happens at different levels
You probably never understand absolutely ‘nothing’.
You equally probably never understand absolutely ‘everything’, although you may get close to it in your own language.
So you’ll be somewhere on the spectrum between one and the other.
The game, then, is to build your skills and experience and so move the pointer along the spectrum (in the right direction, of course) until it’s ‘Game Over!’
2.) This ‘game’ can be fun no matter what ‘level’ you’ve reached
If you’ve already got C2 level listening skills, as I have in Italian, there are still always going to be situations that challenge you. Promise.
Whereas if you’re much lower down the food-chain, as I still am with Swedish, that means there is so much more satisfaction yet be had!
Think about it.