“I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.” –Groucho Marx
Television as a way to learn a foreign language is by no means a new concept. Since its inception in the late 1940s, newcomers have been using TV as a means to help them absorb their new language, and more importantly, to assimilate into their new culture. The conventional wisdom of linguists is there’s no relationship between watching television and mastering a language. I beg to differ. Based on only nonscientific anecdotal evidence (me), I assert that watching TV is a super supplement to other means of learning because it gives the viewer verbal as well as visual cues. You can look at it as a “workbook” in a box. With respect to colloquialisms that are spoken in everyday life, what better place to soak up slang than from a reality show or afternoon soap opera? After all, if it’s your intention to fit in and become part of your community, you’ll want to become familiar with the common vernacular.
Pantofolaio (Couch Potato) Beware!
Of course, it’s important to take an interactive role in your “boob tubing”. Passively sitting back and letting the information wash over you isn’t going to cut it. Obviously television alone cannot replace formal training in grammar and vocabulary. However, if used deliberately and thoughtfully, TV can be an effective way to enhance your proficiency in three particular areas: pronunciation, commonly used expressions/vocabulary and popular trends.
Italian All day, every day
Wake up and turn on your television set. You don’t necessarily have to be watching it to get the benefit – the background noise of Italians in conversation is seeping in. By bombarding your brain with the spoken word, you can train your “ear” to the musical rhythm and cadence of this beautiful language, and repeating words and phrases out loud helps with pronunciation. It’s like gymnastics for your tongue – reminding you of the importance of enunciating each and every letter to avoid changing a word’s meaning entirely, i.e., penne (a kind of pasta) and pene (penis). Otherwise, dialogue at the supermarket could get pretty interesting.
Are you listening to me?
Eavesdropping in public places – awkward. Watching a talk show in your living room – a much more relaxing way to pick up idioms in context (and with the accompanying hand gestures). Once I’d heard a phase used over and over, I would ask a friend its meaning and how to use it. For example, “Secondo me” came up a lot on political talk shows. I learned that it meant “in my opinion/in my view”. Once it made sense to me in its proper context, I could begin using it with confidence in my own conversations.
Around the Water Cooler
You get a pretty good idea of the political climate of the country, its mores, values and attitudes with a healthy diet of current affairs programming. Who and what are in fashion can easily be gleaned from entertainment news and nighttime talk shows.
CATEGORICALLY SPEAKING…Types of Shows that give you the most “bang for your buck”:
#1 – Trivial Pursuit (Trivia Shows)
Millionario is one of my favorites. Gerry Scotti, (the Ryan Seacrest of Italy) hosts this country’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. The beauty of this show is that along with the questions posed to the contestant, you can read the question and possible answers on the screen. Are you a genius in English and Italian?
La Routa della Fortuna is the Italian “Wheel of Fortune”. Enrico Papi is clever and better looking than Pat Sajak, but the real fun is kooky Victoria Silvstedt, a former Swedish Playboy Playmate ( “Vanna White‘s” counterpart). It turns out crossword puzzles are a lot easier in your native tongue. This show is a surprising mixture of trash TV and educational programming rolled into one crazy format. A wacky way to learn vocabulary!
There’s a plethora of serial dramas and sitcoms – many imported from America – that are broadcast weekly (Commissario Montablano, CSI, Law and Order, House, Friends, etc.). I discovered that you can set most televisions to the closed captioning mode which allows you to watch and read the programs in Italian at the same time. It really works!
Television Tower of Babel
It all comes down to one thing: communicating. It seems television has become our modern day Tower of Babel that works to promote understanding by uniting people while acting as a sort of cultural equalizer. TV can make the world seem not just smaller, but downright miniscule. So, stay tuned!
by Toni DeBella