one of the things that they tell you about learning a new language is that you have to seek to immerse yourself in it. there are programs online that allow you to do that by conversing with native speakers [i've heard great things about italki], which is great if you have the means to pay for hourly tutors. since i've taken on a variety of languages, that could add up quickly, and my spare change tends to get taken up by cat treats and lipstick. so what's a person of limited means [or just someone who's unsure about making a serious investment in their language learning at the moment] supposed to do?
i personally like to do things like listen to news [especially international news], watch soccer games and read beauty blogs in other languages when i can. because those things have a pretty strict framework, a regular, repeating vocabulary and a straightforward style. leaping into german by reading heidegger is not something i'd recommend. but really, lots of things can suffice. a [really great, thoughtful] friend of mine recently brought me a set of cutting boards. one of them came from ikea and had european-style packaging in about twelve languages. i don't need instructions on using a cutting board. if you've hit my age without figuring it out, you probably shouldn't be in a kitchen. but i'm still keeping those instructions, because i'm going to read them and compare them to the english and try saying them out loud. again, instructions are meant to be clear and simple [and these ones don't even involve an allen key], which makes them a good way to study basic sentence structures as well as vocabulary.
one of my favourite places to shop is the eastern european grocery near my house, bucarest. [they spell it that way. who am i to argue?] aside from the fact that they have all manner of tasty food, both packaged and fresh, or that their sour cream has spoiled me for all other products that use that name, their selection is almost entirely imported from europe [and little bits from parts of western asia]. although national and provincial laws require them to have labeling in at least one of canada's official languages, there's still plenty to read, usually in a number of languages. i'm pretty sure the entire staff think i'm completely anal retentive, because every time i'm in there, i spend time reading the labels and ingredients of every item i'm considering purchasing. i can live with that.
my new obsession, however, came from a post on one of the duolingo forums a couple of weeks back.
a bit of background: i worked in community radio for years and loved it. but even before that, in my teens, i'd put my headphones on at night and listen to shows from other parts of the country and the world, fascinated at the idea of these voices finding their way through the atmosphere and beyond, relayed by a series of invisible signals, until they arrived at my ears as i was curled up in the darkness of my room. radio always had, and still does have, an element of magic for me.
this site allows you to hop around the globe, listening to radio stations everywhere. there are big commercial ones, national public ones, community ones and online only ones. bigger cities have a selection. remote towns have single entities speaking to them in the wilderness. but for me, it stirs up the paradoxical sense of distance and connection that i've always felt from radio. and it also helps me learn languages.
radio can be a lot less structured than other types of speech. there's a range of formality and casualness and, in many cases, a range of subject matter even within the same station. so i'm comfortable with the fact that i'm unlikely to understand a lot of what i hear. but in those cases, it's also a great way to get a sense of the flow and rhythm of a language spoken by natives. and sometimes, you can be surprised at what you understand. i was listening to an early morning show in bucharest [that's how i was taught to spell it], and i recognised one world immediately: "putin". as i listened, i realised that they were jovially discussing a popular story making the rounds about how the russian president had expressed doubts that donald trump had visited with russian prostitutes while in moscow, but that he was certain his country's prostitutes were the best in the world.
romanian has been a bit of a struggle for me, so i was surprised that, while missing a lot of the exact wording, i was able to figure out the exact story being referenced [because, let's face it, "putin" and "trump" in the same sentence could be a lot of things right now]. i'm still not certain how i figured it out, because "prostitutes" isn't on the duolingo romanian vocabulary list. but it definitely made me happy.
other times, it's just fun to find something odd to listen to. i happened across a very dramatic and strange sounding radio play on a public station in vladivostok. i kept shoving an earbud halfway into dom's brain, because i wanted a witness to what sounded like carefully considered speeches punctuated by frequent beatings and screams of the tortured and damned, with the actors occasionally bursting into song. i understood about one out of every ten words, and they were generally things like "this" and "and". didn't make it less fun.
dom had just about fallen asleep when i happened upon a station playing bulgarian folk music on speed, which made me stab at his poor ear again and demanding he listen. this got a rather puzzled stare because i'm not even learning bulgarian, and the music was instrumental. but the frenzy of it was just so invigorating that it was impossible to resist, or keep to myself. [i have the feeling he is currently trying to stuff his ears with cotton and cat hair, lest i come to bed after finishing this blog post and inflict more aural global village on him. [yes, that's exactly what's going to happen.]
i can't guarantee that the power of radio will move you, but at the very least, there's an almost inconceivable variety of content out there, making its way through the vastness of space, to you, where it can help you learn another language. or just be amazed at how peculiar radio can be.
p.s. :: although my knowledge of romanian is embryonic, and my first experience trying to speak one of my new languages was a real disaster, but somehow i built up the nerve to respond to the gentleman who rang up my purchases at bucarest with a hearty "mulțumesc", to which he responded with a friendly "bună seara". so there. i can do it. sort of. i did kind of run from the store like i had stuffed my tights with shoplifted candy [i hadn't], because i knew i was on thin ice as far as conversation, but i at least felt a tiny bit redeemed.
p.p.s. :: this post has nothing to do with the swans track "in my garden". in case you're disappointed by that, here it is for you to listen to, so you can feel like your time wasn't entirely wasted here.
p.p.p.s. :: was there something else going on in the world earlier today? i decided not to consume any news or media for some reason.