Friday, February 8, 2008

"Streaming keeps your ears flooded with the sounds of Spanish"

(Published February 9, 2008 in The Guadalajara Reporter)

To be certain, many expatriates living in Mexico find themselves in an English-speaking bubble.

The trip to the corner store might initiate a bit of Spanish small talk in the vein of “Hi how are you?” or “Do you have tortillas today?” But once greetings are mastered, the learning process often plateaus.

A professor once suggested an invaluable tactic to keep my ears flooded with the sounds of the Spanish language, no books on tape necessary: radio streaming. “Streaming” is a pleasant sounding e-term that consists of a constant, live flow of multimedia from a provider to an end-user (you).

In my experience most radio stations’ websites now provide a link to begin streaming instantly. Open your music application (I use iTunes), select either broadband or dial-up on the station’s page according to your connection, and that’s about it—just like switching on your radio, the program will begin to stream and you’ll catch it in media res.

And here is why streaming will become your favorite Spanish tutor: hundreds of university radio stations from all over Latin America are just a few clicks away.

Try, to start, our very own Radio Universidad U de G, which can also be heard on the local dial at 104.3 FM. The shows are broadcast from the 12th floor of the university administration building on Juarez and Enrique Diaz de Leon.

If you listen in the morning you’ll probably catch a few news and interview programs. El Expresso, for example, broadcasts Monday through Friday at 10 a.m.; it’s like an intelligent version of The View. Put the show on while you tidy up the house or exercise – the trick, I’ve found, is to not treat the listening as an active training exercise, but to let the conversations flow and calibrate your ears.

Don’t focus on every word you don’t recognize. But realize that because the interviewers and their subjects are being recorded for an audience, they are speaking clearly and articulately, and might be easier to understand than your chatty neighbor. Choosing shows from different countries is also a great way to adjust to regional dialects.

During an interview note the pauses in speech, the ums, ahs, ays; bueno, pues, este … These intermediates indicate thought progression within a dialogue, words whose equivalences in English are difficult to translate accurately and are mostly learned by hearing within a context.

The greatest benefit of the international broadcasts, unlike pre-taped Spanish lessons, is that the information is current and you might just learn a thing or two in the process. Try to follow the U.S. primary elections on the Colombia National University’s station, for instance. On a recent show, professor Maria Teresa Haya of the Externado University deemed Hillary Clinton “hard-working, but remote to poor Americans,” and discussed Barack Obama’s “racial triumph.”

What’s more, some stations provide a sidebar listing a mixed bag of recently recorded broadcasts so that live streaming is not necessary – simply select a theme based on your curiosity at the moment. On the University of Puerto Rico’s radio webpage, for example, you might choose from a film critique of The Great Debaters, a lecture on alternative medicine, or hear a mental health expert discuss suicide prevention. On Colombia’s webpage look under “Franjas” and select from economic debates, rock music on vinyl, or (although it might defeat the purpose), a French lesson.

A secondary benefit of this medium is the remarkable variety of music the university stations program. Most have a jazz hour, plenty of regional sounds, throwback pop (I turned on Chile’s station yesterday and was assaulted by “What about LOVE!” by Heart), and usually more avant-garde picks. “Nouvelle Extravagance” on the U de G’s station, an afternoon music variety show, plays folk, rock, hip-hop, indie, and world.

Radio streaming opens the door to a free and accessible world of information in Spanish. Take advantage of the possibilities. Explore the medium, and make listening a habit.

Check out each university’s webpage for program listings.