Saturday, June 09, 2012

When you think dumb thoughts you like dumb people

As I struggle along with my Italian here where I'm surrounded by it, I realize what a comfort, what an absolute joy, the boring, the conventional, the formulaic, and the repetitive are. Bad detective shows and their stern, furrowed-browed heroes and bumbling sidekicks? Awesome. I've seen 'em all before. Glossy women's magazines with their rhapsodies over lipstick and dollops of personal-life wisdom? Even better. I love commercials and print advertisements, the stupider the better. (Really bad not-quite jokes? I get them! It's fantastic!)

As Cosimo has observed, the people you'd most avoid if they were speaking your native language--the loud, slow-talking, pedantic ones--are those you're most grateful for when you're trying to work up your language comprehension. Whining children? Pretty great! That guy opining loudly to his buddies outside the tabbachi shop? Also great! Ditto for old ladies narrating their purchases aloud at the supermarket, couples breaking up in public, and angry dudes with bad cell phone connections shouting the same sentence over and over. We went to mass at a local church (itself awesome, since the formulae are the same and lots of the terms are cognates and/or Latin loan words), and I briefly thought I'd been granted the gift of tongues when I was able to follow most of the sermon. But no: the priest was just a tedious young guy, fresh from the seminary, giving a deliberative, repetitive, and essentially theological sermon. It was terrific.

I guess I look forward to the day when I dislike tedious Italians as much as I dislike tedious Americans and Britons. But for now I embrace them. Eloquent, original, and complex thinkers just ain't for me.

7 comments:

Kait said...

I liked going to mass in Spain because the rhythm of a Catholic mass is pretty much the same in any language, so it's easy to tell what they're saying.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Oh yes! The only things I can read in German are scholarship on topics I know well and nurse novels (or other formulaic romance). I tried moving into fantasy literature but that got too complicated.

i said...

I'm the biggest fan of dumb reading for language learning... in fact, I think I got a scholarship for undergrad because I admitted in the interview that I loved reading French-language harlequin romances... "for the language." (I didn't get the bigger scholarship because in the next round of interviews, I gleefully told the interviewer that I liked "Shakespeare in Love" because they got John Webster right. I guess seventeen yr olds were not supposed to like "The Duchess of Malfi." Joke's on them, I now teach the play every semester.)

When it comes to German and Spanish, I go the lady mag route. Vanidades and People Espanol are my favourite stateside. And I read the ads. Every single ad.

Susan said...

When my sister did a junior year abroad in France, she lived with a family, and she said it was great having a 6 year old around, because her vocabulary an his we're not that far apart!

Meansomething said...

Another vote here for People en Espanol (and listening to the love-advice lady on Spanish radio).

Britta said...

When I was studying in France, I looked forward every night to watching the horrible soap opera "Sous le soleil," and in China this summer, I would hurry home from work to watch an Indian soap dubbed in Chinese with a plot line so cheesy, improbable, and repetitive no Chinese person I knew would watch it. I'm also way better with Chinese 10 year olds than English speaking ones, and I think a big part of it is we share the same interests and sense of humor.

On the other side, I have many memories of spending interminable hours watching informercials with this Ukrainian immigrant family I tutored/hung out with in high school.

Jeff said...

Same thing has happened to me in recent years with German. I knew I was making progress when I graduated from children's books and episodes of "Dora die Explorerin" to German soap operas, pop songs, and lifestyle magazines.

A few years back, one of my German teachers told my class of beginners that we ought to practice listening to the language by tracking down audio or video of Hitler speeches. "Not for the content!" she not-hastily-enough-for-me added, "but because he spoke so clearly."