The first time I moved abroad, I caught a plane to Paris, wrestled with my suitcase in the metro to get to Montparnasse station where I took a TGV (train) to Nantes, then got on a tram before finally locating my hotel using a map I had printed a few days earlier. It had been a long journey, so instead of investigating my new town, I flopped onto my bed and switched on the TV. A film was just starting. I’d seen it before, but after such a tiring day I was happy to lie back and let 90 relaxing minutes roll by. In fact, I was more than happy, I was relieved! I grabbed the remote control and turned up the volume. Julia Roberts stood there talking at me …. in French. And it finally hit me that life was going to be a little different for a while!
Whenever I switch on the TV these days in Germany, I expect not to understand what is happening (but I still turn up the volume!). We all know that watching TV shows in a foreign language can be great practice, but it’s hard to be patient and use it as a study tool when we can’t understand what’s going on. This is what I do to get the most out of TV learning:
1. Focus on the ads. This is usually the time when we put the kettle on to make a fresh cup of tea, but ads can be really useful. For one thing, they’re short, so there is less to understand. Secondly, the images help you understand the words. Finally, they are usually repeated several times giving you lots of chances to figure out what is being said.
2. Have a pen and paper or your mobile phone nearby and write down some new words that you hear. Be realistic and limit these to 6 or 7. You might write down 50 words, but are you really going to look them all up in a dictionary and learn them? (Come on, be honest!)
3. Practise your pronunciation. Repeat out loud what you hear. (Go on, no-one can hear you!) Can you say it the same way they did? If you focus on pronunciation, anything you understand is a bonus!
4. Watch online. That way you can stop, go back and listen again. I would recommend spending a short time on one programme and going back when you really, really didn’t understand and you really, really want to.
5. Expect not to understand most things. If you are a fluent speaker, you can probably understand most of what you see on TV (yay! TV for entertainment!), but if you are not, be prepared to miss a lot of information. Focus on the words or the sentences you do understand. With time, more of these will come.
wrestle with = try hard to deal with something
flopped onto = fell carelessly onto
relieved = happy that something is over or isn’t happening
it finally hit me = I finally realised
to get the most out of = to use or benefit from something as much as you can
a kettle = usually electric, you use it in the kitchen to boil water for tea, coffee etc.
bonus = something that is extra and good
Ah, the past perfect (I had seen, I had printed, I had had). You learn it in class and then when you try to use it, we tell you it’s not necessary! This is a big grammar spot today (you’ve been warned!).
The past perfect really isn’t needed in many situations when talking about the past, but there are a few times when we do use it. For example, when we talk about two actions in the past, but we need to emphasise which one was first in time: