You can learn so very much by turning on the television in foreign countries.
Just like reading the newspapers (except possibly a little less intellectually stimulating), watching television can be a window into foreign culture and part of the “authentic” experience.
Depending on the country you are visiting, the television programming may be more or less controlled and censored by governmental influence, as well as more or less consisting of locally produced shows.
In Canada for example, much of the programming is syndicated from the United States. This is fairly masked though, by the similarity in culture and (of course) the programming being in the same language.
But in Taiwan, a vast majority of the programming appears to come from Japan. The screen has captions and subtitles everywhere, covering a large portion of the screen and the actual show. You learn to tune it out and look past it if you aren’t dependent on it, but every once in a while to take a fresh look at the screen can be arrestingly confusing.
In Taiwan, as with many places around the globe, you will still find an array of English-language shows, syndicated from North America, Australia, and the UK. You also find shows from Japan, China(maybe? I have trouble identifying the languages), and of course, Taiwan.
Not knowing any Asian languages, it is difficult to discern where some of the shows are from and what is actually going on. I notice a distinct “cartoony” character to much of the programs; lots of bubble-font captions in rainbow colours, sound effects galore to exaggerate and accentuate what are usually normal gestures and actions, and the occasional cartoon character or animated addition entering from stage right just to keep things interesting.
But the show I found the most intriguing was the “Time To Learn English” daily show. On at the perfect time every morning for the average business-person or student to watch while eating breakfast, this is a fun-filled show designed to help the locals understand and speak English, jargons and all.
The show is hosted by two larger-than-life Caucasian people, who speak in well-annunciated slow English to the viewers. Like the cartoon characters that make cameo appearances on other shows, these hosts are the cartoon characters, standing in a room that looks like a rainbow puked all over the walls, and using over-the-top gestures and expressions. It wasn’t like these gestures and expressions helped to make the point in any way; I think it is just part of the cultural programming.
Watching today, I learned the slightly grammatically incorrect but commonly used phrase “Are you packed?”, and the use of the words “café” (versus coffee), “major” and “minor” keys used in music, and “weather”. We capped it all off with a lovely song written about “weather”, full of colloquial phrases like “April showers bring May flowers”, and so on.
Most if not all of the show was in English, with only a few local-language interludes to describe the finer points of using some words.
And although I giggled my way through most of the show (and decided that if I wanted to stay in Asia there may be a career for me as an Engligh-language program host – they were horrible!), I must admit that it is a very useful tool, and one I would watch regularly if I wanted to learn a new language.
As we travel through countries where the local languages use different alphabets, intonations, and phrases, English is the language that breaks through many barriers. Many signs have English translations, and (so far) it is pretty easy to find somebody with enough broken English to help if we’re in a bind.
Aah…to speak one of the most common languages in the world.
Kudos to those travelers who barely speak English (if at all), and venture into countries with foreign language, culture, and alphabets that have no common ties to their own. How they manage (especially if their native tongue is uncommon) is admirable and courageous.
I only wish I had television programs at home to help me learn other languages as easily as I found “Time To Learn English” in Taiwan.