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"I learned English from watching..."

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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Senior Member
United States
Joined 4101 days ago

851 posts - 168 votes 
Studies: German

 Message 25 of 97
06 September 2008 at 11:17am | IP Logged 
Autarkis wrote:
Actually, I did a part of my current French watching quiz shows. What occured to me was that quiz shows are very formulaic.

"Bienvenu chez 'Questions pour un champion'. Voilà le champion!" (Questions pour un champion)


"Et qui veut prendre sa place? C'est Dominique!" (Tout le monde veut prendre sa place.)


"Le compte est juste." (Chiffres et lettres)

It's always the same phrases, making quiz shows some kind of paradoxically fun language drill. I guess the new opium for the masses in all its repetitive glory has some benefits after all! :D

The whole darn concept of television programming is formulaic, repetitive and predictable. This makes it an excellent language learning tool and a terrible way to spend your time if you're watching it in your mother tongue. It's called the idiot tube.

Your shows will have numerous reruns, the same commercials will run every 20 minutes or so - some hairy maniac surrounded by mattresses shouting materassi at you (yeah that's a hard one). The next scene - the same guy only he's selling rugs.
You will learn dozens of words just by looking at different titles: The Lord of the Rings - The return of the king, The two towers etc.

BTW, subtitled shows for some reason don't work very well - at least that's my impression. My guess is that the language sort of becomes more of a mood setting device where you may make out individual words but your attention is mostly focused on the text.
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Super Polyglot
Joined 4357 days ago

9084 posts - 7733 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
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 Message 26 of 97
06 September 2008 at 6:31pm | IP Logged 
Subtitles are generally much shorter than the original spoken version, and they may even have been reformulated to make them even shorter. So even though they give a rough idea about the content they are of dubious value for the average language student. The splendid thing about them is that the original sound is retained.

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Bilingual Triglot
United States
Joined 3586 days ago

6 posts
Speaks: Mandarin*, Cantonese*, English

 Message 27 of 97
10 September 2008 at 9:18am | IP Logged 
I learned my English by watch TV for my listening, speaking. However, if I watch movies at home, I like to have sub-title ( English), because for me, I want to know what they really said, some English language in the movies are not in the book!

Joined 3930 days ago

23 posts - 34 votes
Speaks: Azerbaijani*, English, Russian, Turkish
Studies: German, Spanish

 Message 28 of 97
22 February 2010 at 8:46am | IP Logged 
OK. Allow me to narrate my experience about the language learning through TV watching.

In the beginning of the 1990th the USSR collapsed, Azerbaijan gained independence and
iron curtain was lifted. During the reign of the Soviet Union only couple of state TV
channels were available; some in Azeri language, bur majority in Russian language. As
an independent Azerbaijan failed to produce its own quality TV channels, the Russian
channels still were in demand. However, another country's TV channels started to
challenge the position of the Russian TVs and consequently Russian language. Those were
Turkish TV channels. Actually, Panturkism ideas were one of the pillars of the
independence. So it was not surprising that Turkish channels were so successful.
From here I will relate the learning Turkish and Russian through the TV separately.

1) Turkish language and Azeri language both are from Oguz branch of the Turkic language
and therefore have many things common. First my encounter with Turkish language was on
TV in 1994 (I was 11 years old). At first it seemed to me funny language, as I could
understand some words similar to my own language but I could not comprehend the
conversations. It took me 6 month more or less to start to understand the sentences and
the differences in our languages. After 3 years I could understand nearly everything. I
had not taken any Turkish language courses, I had not read any Turkish book or
conversed with any Turkish speaker. I just watched TV. I watched it at least 1-2 hours
per day. After 2000 I had couple of opportunities to visit Turkey and first time to try
my Turkish. Soon I realized that although I don't have any problem understanding, I had
huge problems expressing myself. Usually, after saying the sentences I was realizing
that I actually used Azeri words in some occasions rather than Turkish. As Turks
themselves were exposed to the certain extend to the Azeri TVs as well, it was not big
problem. In worst case scenario, they could ask me what that word meant. After couple
of visits to Turkey, the problem with the expression had gone away, although still I
could use some Azeri words unconsciously. I haven't had any formal test regarding the
Turkish language, but probably my Turkish knowledge is C1 in listening and reading, B2
in speaking and writing.

2)As I was born in the USSR, probably I have been exposed to the Russian language since
my birth. However, my first conscious encounter with the Russian language was at the
second year of the primary school. We had Russian class once a week. These classes
lasted 10 years, without teaching any useful stuff, apart from the basic grammatic
structures. I started to watch the Russian language TV in 1993 and primarily because of
the cartoons. First I could understand only little, but steady increase in the
comprehension was obvious. It took me 4 years to me to understand that, I could nearly
comprehend everything on TV. After that I started to read classic Russian literature;
Dostoyevski, Pushkin, Lermantov, Chekov,Tolstoy, etc. Those were joyful times. During
the reading or watching I had never used dictionary. Actually still I don't have any
Russian-Azeri dictionary. On contrary, I started to learn English language with Russian
books, including English-Russian dictionary which I used to learn English words. By   
2000 I had confidence in my Russian. But I must confess it was a little bit funny
knowledge. I had never written in that language and although we did have huge community
of the Russian speakers I had practiced it rarely. And in the reading, although I could
understand nearly everything, there were the words, which exact translation I did not
care to know (This is true for my own native language as well). For instance, I knew
that word "мансард" means part of the house, but I did not know which part exactly. The
reality of my Russian language came to me, when I traveled to UK to study English
language in 2006. I met there a lot off Russian speakers, and first time I was involved
in active conversation with natives. I must say, sometimes it was embarrassing. As with
the Turkish, I could understand everything but could not express myself properly,
making a lot of gender related mistakes, having a slightly archaic language.
Fortunately, I was involved in a relationship with a Russian girl and after one month
active contact with her, my Russian looked like proper, modern Russian. Nowadays, I
would estimate my Russian as C1 in listening, reading, B2-C1 speaking, B1 writing.

As can be seen, the TV helps only with the passive knowledge, which requires
activation.        & nbsp;         & nbsp;       

Edited by vusalgustav on 22 February 2010 at 9:13am

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Senior Member
Joined 3665 days ago

4400 posts - 3260 votes 
Speaks: Lowland Scots, English*, French, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic
Studies: Catalan, Italian, German, Irish, Welsh

 Message 29 of 97
22 February 2010 at 2:09pm | IP Logged 
Learned English from Star Wars, did I, Mmmmm.
Effective it was.

Senior Member
Joined 3389 days ago

671 posts - 249 votes 
Speaks: German*, English
Studies: Mandarin

 Message 30 of 97
22 February 2010 at 2:21pm | IP Logged 
Cainntear wrote:
Learned English from Star Wars, did I, Mmmmm.
Effective it was.

Are you guys planning to make that joke a couple more times? How about you get it all out of your system now, and then we can get back to actual experiences?
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Senior Member
Joined 3084 days ago

2704 posts - 2714 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 Message 31 of 97
22 February 2010 at 3:38pm | IP Logged 
After reading the entire thread, I get the general impression that most people would agree that looking at a lot
of television in the target language is more useful for persons having some foundation in the language or
some linguistic proximity. I totally agree. Nothing can be said against massive exposure to the target language.

To me, however, the real issue is how to efficiently use one's time. Generally speaking, consuming lots of
television or radio is good for the sounds and intonation patterns of the language. So even if one doesn't
understand much, just hearing the sound patterns is useful. Here I think it's important to make the distinction
between kinds of programming, e.g. newsbroadcasts, documentaries, dramatic, comedic shows.

But to really make good use of all this material I think one has to work in a structured systematic way. I'm a
strong believer in the repetitive use of excerpts with closed-captioning where that is available. Note that this is
not the same as subtitles of films. Closed-captioning in North America is the actual transcription (admittedly not
always very accurate) of the spoken words. I find this is a wonderful way to see how the stream of sound is
actually broken up into words that we can actually study. In my opinion this can lead to rapid improvement in
oral comprehension and eventually production,

This is particularly important with dialogs because one can see and hear how the language goes to and fro
between speakers. So when users say they learned a language from watching a television program, I think they
are right in a sense, but, as others have pointed out here, it's usually because they have used the program as a
resource combined with other impicit or explicit techniques.

Edited by s_allard on 22 February 2010 at 6:04pm

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William Camden
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 3926 days ago

1937 posts - 412 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Spanish, Russian, Turkish, French

 Message 32 of 97
22 February 2010 at 4:31pm | IP Logged 
Nobody ever learned a language just by watching TV, though it certainly helps passive comprehension, and is useful if combined with active study.
During his US Marine days, Lee Harvey Oswald took and failed a Russian language test in February 1959. That summer, a fellow Marine who knew of his interest in Russian invited him to have dinner with the other Marine's aunt, who was studying Russian for a US State Department exam. They spoke in Russian, and Oswald's Russian was apparently quite good, especially considering that he had done badly in a formal exam only months before. He explained his relatively good Russian as resulting from listening to Radio Moscow. There is however speculation that Oswald received intensive Russian-language training at some point that year, perhaps from an intelligence agency. That, rather than radio listening, might explain the surprising L2 skill. How well Oswald knew Russian before defecting to the USSR is one of the minor mysteries of his life, but an interesting one for linguists to ponder.     

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