My teacher asked me to write about how I’m trying to improve my listening skills in English in order to encourage his other students to listen to the radio, so here we go!
When I started to study English again, after ten years from the last time at secondary school, the most difficult thing was listening. I’m not the only one with this problem: here it is said that Spanish people can’t understand spoken English and it is absolutely true, since all that we remember from school was Muzzy, a cartoon created for children to learn English, and some of the Disney films that our teacher put on the video when we were seventeen. So when I listened to something real I didn’t understand a word, and I was supposed to pass an exam (FCE: First Certificate in English) in a year’s time!
First of all, I tried to watch films with subtitles, but the problem is I don’t watch a lot of films and spending two hours at the computer was a terrible effort for me. Anyway, at the end I was only reading the subtitles because I didn’t understand the dialogues, especially in certain films – Does Fezzik in “The princess bride” really speak English? Watching films didn’t work for me.
The next step: TV series. I tried with “Game of Thrones”; I watched the first season in Spanish and I tried the second in English, but it was too boring compared with the books, so I gave it up. Then I started watching “Once upon a time” and bingo! I liked it. I found it difficult at first – what the hell was a “curse”? – but then I got used to the way the characters spoke and at the end I loved the Evil Queen and Rumpelstinskin. Meanwhile I was reading graded readers books and some of them had CDs with the audio book, so I started to read them and listen at the same time, and after reading three or four of them I decided to read the book and listening to it after the reading: I knew what was going to happen and I understood what I was listen to without reading the text. Things were looking up!
One of my aims when studying English again was to achieve reading real books in English, and at that time my second aim was also listen to audiobooks in English. The third was passing the exam, and I passed it in October.
Now that I had certified a B2 level, I was supposed to listen to normal things, so my teacher recommended BBC Radio 4 because there are lots of programs about a lot of subjects. Since I liked reading, he showed me all the programs I could be interested in and I tried them. There are programs that are audiobooks, 15 minutes per day during a week or two, so they were the first I tried to listen, but I still couldn’t understand everything; it was a shame. Besides, I like to download the podcast and listen to them whenever I want, not at the certain hour it is on air and not sitting at the computer; and not all the programs are available to download and neither they are in the web forever, so you have to check the page very often in order not to forget an episode – it was too much work for me.
And that was when I discovered a wonderful app for mobile phones: “TuneIn Radio”. With this app you can listen to any radio station of the world; the program that is on air or any program or episode available in the web in that moment, so I think is very useful. I use it very much: I listen to the morning news – a program called “Today” – while I do the housework, and now I really prefer it to our Spanish news since I never heard of any politician stealing people’s money. The royal diarrhea or Britain wanting to get out of the European Union are better things to deal with (the situation in which you are somehow involved is always worse). I have also listened to some episodes of “In our time”, a program of 45 minutes about a certain subject. I don’t understand everything so I try to listen to programs about subjects I already know about and I think I’m learning a lot of vocabulary with them. For example, last episode I listened to was about the age of universe and after it I couldn’t help telling everybody “do you know how you say ‘la Vía Láctea’ in English? ‘The Milky Way’.”
But my favorite program of the world is “The Archers” , a radio soap opera about people in a village – “a contemporary drama in a rural setting”, they say – which has been on air since 1950. I have no TV at the moment, but years ago, when I had, I got hooked on soap operas or long series, like “Ugly Betty”, so it was quite easy for me to like “The Archers”. Easy to like but difficult to follow when you start listening to it because in a series with such an amount of characters you need a lot of episodes to get to know them more or less properly, the relationships between them, the problems they are dealing with, etc. Fortunately the BBC has a page about “The Archers” and you can read information about everybody there in Ambridge (its fictional location), so at the beginning I checked a character when I caught a name. I remember that first thing I caught was that a woman (now I know she is Lilian) is having an affair with a man called Paul without anybody noticing, included her partner Matt, and I am so hooked on the series that I follow their FB fan page and I have voted for Paul, my favorite, when they have asked for the audience to give their opinion (this is crazy, isn’t it?).
OK, I don’t understand everything; for example, a new baby was born and I knew there was something wrong with her, but I couldn’t understand exactly what it was, so that I had to ask my teacher to find out she has Down’s syndrome, and it makes me wonder if I really know what the plots are really about. Another problem that I have with “The Archers” is that I can’t figure out how old the characters are until I check it on the web, which sometimes is a surprise – I thought Lilian and Paul were twenty or thirty years younger than they actually are. I would also like to know more about the past of the characters, but well, I have no time to check it from the very beginning of the series so I suppose I should accept that I can’t know everything (but if somebody knows how Lilian and Paul met each other, please tell me!).
Anyway, perhaps it is not the most cultural program on the whole radio, but if you get hooked to it – or to another program – you have the motivation to keep on listening and in the end you will learn easily, and that is exactly what I need. I also have to say “The Archers” is very entertaining when it’s time to iron your clothes.
“The Archers” is broadcast every day and on Sundays there is a compilation of the five episodes of the week, one after another; this is what I download (The Archers Omnibus) and I listen to a 75 minute-program instead of 15 minutes each time. And it is very useful when you forget one chapter and you don’t know which one you have to listen next.
In summary: news, “The Archers” and “In our time” are almost under control, and when will I get to understand an audiobook? I hope soon.