Advanced Students: Make the most of US/UK media websites
Many of you reading this will have spent the better half of your lives studying English, even scoring well on some demanding exams like the Cambridge Advanced or TOEFL.
And yet you are still left baffled when in the company of native speakers. A lot goes over your head when listening to them, and the sensation of inadequacy just leaves you frozen and tongue-tied. Your English teacher can supply a few precious hours of speaking and listening practice per week to prepare for the next dreaded encounter– at a cost.
But there are two important areas where you can make great strides on your own:
by enhancing your listening comprehension and enriching your vocabulary to express more complex and nuanced ideas watching and listening to original, natural English on various media web sites. The following are just additional and supplemental techniques that in no way are intended to replace whatever course of study you’re already on. Rather, they are simply ways of using already existing free media to make even more progress.
Let’s start with the for-pay sites.
Many of my advanced students are proud to say that when they watch American or British TV series or movies online, they watch these in versión original (VO). Excellent! This can give you an enormous boost to your listening comprehension and vocabulary, and depending on which shows you watch, it is a habit that does wonders for your ability to comprehend colloquial English spoken by natives. Do not let up. But when asked what language the subtitles are in, almost all my students will say Spanish. This is a pity because, as an ESL teacher with over 20 years’ experience teaching to Spanish speakers in such diverse places as Buenos Aires, New York and Madrid, I can safely say that many of you upper intermediate and advanced students can enjoy an English language production with English subtitles. Will you miss a few terms, phrases and figures of speech? Yes, but you will be compensated by the experience in seeing the spoken words in their correct spelling, accompanied by the requisite articles, dependent prepositions and other minutiae of natural diction and phrasing – knowledge and skills indispensable for writing.
One last word about pay sites: some shows are clearly more appropriate for advanced ESL students than others. Some of my students are understandably enthralled by such jargon-laden series as The Americans and The Wire. If you are intrigued by these shows and are willing to approach them on their own merits, I applaud your taste and curiosity. But please understand that watching them will prove to be a grind. They are stuffed with obscure lingo taken from 80’s Cold War spy-craft and contemporary American urban crime subcultures. Many of the terms you learn may no longer be current. So before you start a new series for the purpose of shoring up your English abilities, you might want to watch just one episode to see if the experience will only prove frustrating and counter-productive. Just to give you a little leg up, here’s a small (incomplete) sampling of good choices for advanced speakers: Downton Abbey, The Good Wife and Better Call Saul.
Now onto the free (and legal) sites.
Many of you will have found exciting and engaging content on YouTube.com, particularly music videos, whose lyrics often accompany the video. But YouTube’s sub-titling is often non-existent or inaccurate at best. Tread with caution. There are three other excellent free options for advanced students: npr.org (National Public Radio) and bbc.co.uk (British Broadcasting Corp.) for listening comprehension and pbs.org (Public Broadcasting Service) for more free accurately subtitled video content. bbc.co.uk has such excellent shows as “The Newshour” and npr.org “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered”, which you can stream on any smart phone browser practically anywhere provided you have a 4G or WIFI connection (who doesn’t these days). Yes, you can have English language broadcasts, delivered by native speakers, on any number of topics in the morning while you’re showering, getting dressed or fixing breakfast. You don’t have to understand everything; just leave it on and go about your business. It’s a free hour-long immersion program.
Finally, a word about how to use pbs.org.
Here’s today’s new vocabulary word: “CC”, which stands for “closed captioned”, or subtitling for the deaf. Publicly subsidized outlets like pbs.org try to make their platforms accessible to as many as possible. And the “CC” button at the bottom of the video screen on pbs.org will give you the most accurate scripted version of the audio you can find. Take advantage of it. Shows such as American Experience and Frontline feature clear, well-crafted intelligent English on a variety of topics that will also give you a few nuggets about American culture, history, politics and current events – indispensable material for those soirees with the natives.
Acerca de Nicholas
Como soy nativo, tengo una gran ventaja con respecto a las clases de speaking. Dependiendo de tu nivel, a medida que avanzan las clases también podemos echar un vistazo sobre algún tema clave relacionado con la gramática, pronunciación o vocabulario. Tengo más de 19 años de experiencia con alumnos hispanoparlantes y sé cuales son los temas claves y cómo resolver las dudas más frecuentes.