Project Trilingual: The Radio – My Friend and Traitor

About six weeks ago, I acquired a marvel of modern technology called “The Radio”.

Let me explain what prompted this purchase: About 95% of my entertainment and information gathering needs are catered for by The Computer. Courtesy of the internet, I have not used a radio, nor a TV, for that matter, in years, or at least not on a regular basis.

The reason for getting myself a radio was that I’ve been having ongoing problems understanding spoken Spanish, even in instances where the speaker’s pronunciation was crystal clear, and I knew all the vocabulary. I’ve tested this by listening to numerous podcasts, where I was barely able to understand more than the gist, but had no problems at all reading the transcripts. My just brain just wasn’t processing the spoken language very well, and I was still struggling with this after an entire year in Spain.

In my mission to finally crack this, I carry my radio around the flat like a talisman. I listen while cooking, getting dressed, cutting my toenails, washing up, as well as between waking up and actually getting out of bed (some days, this can take hours!!), etc. And I don’t just have it bleating away in the background, I apply myself to listening intently.

Within four weeks of this, there was a notable improvement in my comprehension level, and I’m expecting that, after two to three more months, I will no longer have the processing problem. From then on, I’m hoping, I’ll mainly be focusing on the fun part – assimilating new vocabulary and expressions, and perfecting the art of colocation (learning which words go to together and in what sequences – it’s what makes you express yourself like a native speaker, besides accent and pronunciation).

What I’ve also discovered is that, despite its prowess as a booster of linguistic skills, The Radio is a treacherous piece of equipment in need of very careful management.

At this stage, I’m not particularly choosy about what I’m listening to. Adverts, endless dissections of the economic crisis, weather forecasts and traffic updates  – it’s all grist to the mill. As long as people are saying something, I’m learning.

But there are three things that make me lose the will to live: Football, Radio Vatican and Radio Santa Maria.

Avoiding said broadcasters poses a formidable challenge. Especially when I happen to be in the shower.

Radio Santa Maria, in particular, seems to have adopted guerrilla warfare practices to ensnare its audience. It does this by emerging on random frequencies at any time of the day. There I’ll be, all nicely lathered up in my  steamy paradise, engrossed in a cookery programme on how to perfect a tortilla flip, when suddenly, without much of a warning, it switches to a sombre-voiced Sister will be lamenting the spiritual desertification of the modern world.

I’m half expecting them to start broadcasting from the microwave any day now.

Another curious hallmark of Spanish radio what happens during “tertulias” or chat programmes, which usually comprise the show’s host, a random clueless person (the producer’s niece or nephew, I’m guessing) and two “experts” on whatever topic is being discussed. So, how this works is that, Instead of taking turns, everybody talks, all at the same time, getting louder and louder, until all but one run out of breath. The ‘winner’ will keep on talking, until the others have recovered sufficient lung capacity to chime back in.

Also, watch out for programmes broadcast after 1am. Again, there will be a group of people. But this time, they won’t even pretend to be discussing something worthwhile. Instead, one of them puts on a muppetty voice, spout a complete load of bollocks, and everybody else will be laughing most hysterically. This goes on until the wee hours, when it all switches back to wailing (in a more serious voice) about evictions and cutbacks.

Music programmes are another tricky issue, especially those featuring flamenco music.  Oh my. But I’ve wised up to this now – as soon as there’s a middle-aged bloke being interviewed and he starts talking about his guitar, I know that I’m mere seconds away from an eardrum full of him yowling on about some woman leaving him – and she had very good reasons for doing so, that much is clear.

14 thoughts on “Project Trilingual: The Radio – My Friend and Traitor

  1. Vania

    sollte ich mir auch ein Radio kaufen um mein Deutsch zu verbessern? Ah… aún después de casi dos años de vivir aqui, sigue mi alemán siendo insuficiente (eufemismo para no decir mediocre) y estando tanto tiempo sola en casa, la perspectiva no parece muy alentadora. Aunque estoy segura que tu español va mejor de lo que tú misma crees. Lo que si que ha mejorado es mi capacidad para devorar pastelillos alemanes, mmm!!!!


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Buy a radio! It really does help. I wish I’d done it earlier. You see, we essentially have the same problem – spending too much time home alone. Well, you’re not alone, technically 😉
      Oooooooh, pastelitos alemanes…. ¡no me recuerdas!


      1. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Well, I don’t like taking my laptop into the bathroom with me or have it in the kitchen with me while I’m cooking. Also, I turn the radio on in the morning, when I’m still half asleep. Opening the laptop and looking for a station is more than I could manage in that state 😉

        For the sole purpose of listening, a laptop is as good as a radio, of course. If not better, as you’d get access to more (internet) stations. But I find that for practical reasons bound up with how I organise my day/space, the radio provides me with more actual listening time/opportunities than the laptop.


  2. NorthernStar

    [Enter a smart comment in here in any language other than English…]

    Radio Santa Maria! How funny. I’m impressed at how many programmes you will actually listen to…


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Some of it is very entertaining. Last week, I listened to a phone-in programme, where people were invited to call in about some injustice or other they had experienced. So, this woman calls in and complains about being whacked with a €200 fine for double-parking outside a school while she was picking up her daughter.
      The host asks her where this occurred, the caller answers, and the host proceeds to give her a right bollocking for blocking said road, where she (host) got stuck every day. LOL. The caller didn’t quite know what to say…

      So, if you want sympathy, don’t call your local radio station. Go look in the dictionary, lady! It’s somewhere between shit and syphilis…


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Absolutely! They talk about topics I’d never tackle in an intercambio, and it’s good for technical vocab, too. I trained as a nutritionist, and the health programmes on the radio are proving really useful for acquiring my ‘professional’ vocab in the new language.


      1. ladyofthecakes Post author

        It’s the the thing that helps me the most, I feel… I’m still doing it, listening for at least three hours a day, religiously. If I were working locally and surrounded by the language 24/7, I wouldn’t need to do this, but seeing a I work from home…


  3. Pingback: A Radio Day | learning thai without studying

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