Language Learning and the future of TV

Language learning can be so great because you will learn by doing things that would otherwise be considered un- or even counterproductive. Say going to a bar during a study abroad stay, playing a good computer game in a foreign language, mindlessly surfing the web, or of course watching TV.

This has been a difficult thing to do when one is not in the country of the target language. Services, such as SCOLA or foreign language TV offered by the Dish Network, have never really made me happy as a foreign language instructor. Too limited, too restricted, too artificial. There are alternatives, such as YouTube or various podcasts, but actual, high-quality TV is hard to come by.

Well, I am happy that TV shows streamed through the internet are becoming more and more common. The first time I could watch a missed Lost episode on ABC’s web site for free and legally I thought that this would beat the traditional TV offerings for language learners. And slowly but surely more and more shows are offered in surprisingly good quality. Those who understand German should definitely check out the new ZDF Mediathek, which was started only a few days ago. Free, worldwide access, great quality even through my home wi-fi connection,  browser-based (no plug-in install necessary) PC and Mac compatible  (I wish Netflix was using the same technology…). Some shows can even be downloaded, and there is a handy RSS feed that will remind you when a new episode of your favorite series is available.

The ZDF is not the first German channel to offer such a service. The private channel RTL, for example, has been offering such a service for a while, but the ZDF Mediathek is much nicer.
This is such a wonderful resource, and it sure beats paying for fake Dish foreign language channels. The German offerings, for example, differ considerably from those actually shown in Germany.
So I would like to ask anyone reading this post to please post similar offerings in other languages as comments.

Felix Kronenberg is working at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. His research interests include academic space design, video games and language learning, digital storytelling, and the culture of advertising. He teaches German and language pedagogy, and maintains the Language Technology Boot Camp blog and web site.

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  1. Barbara · September 3, 2007 Reply

    Thank you Felix, for beginning this thread. We are struggling with this issue at our school. We did get the SCOLA digital download service for a year, but some of the language faculty are concerned that the content (and the vocabulary) is limited. There is something to be said for watching documentaries, game shows, talk shows etc in the target language, vs just news.

    Plus we have a whole group of faculty and staff who wish to access this content not for language learning but language replenishment/practice… they too could benefit from more varied content.

    The cost of getting dishes etc is prohibitive and we have yet to find “one dish/stop shopping.” So I too, look forward to hearing what others want to share!

  2. Sharon Scinicariello · September 8, 2007 Reply

    We are fortunate that Telecom has partnered with us to provide access to about 40 channels of “world television” via two dishes the University already uses for its cable system. We also control 5 channels of the cable system to distribute this programming to the academic buildings. The system itself was not very expensive, and licensing fees are affordable if residence halls are not included. SCOLA and HITN are available throughout the campus, and Deutsche Welle should be soon.

    The biggest disappointment has been the lack of use of this system. Despite great excitement on the part of the faculty when we first made the system available, only one has incorporated its use into his teaching. And the only students who seem to watch spontaneously are native speakers of other languages. We’re happy to have them, but that’s not the point of the system. I’m working with the new Languages Across the Curriculum coordinator to start a huge publicity/education campaign to encourage use of these materials. We’ll also talk about TV available via the Internet, since that has become an amazing resource.

  3. Ravi · October 30, 2007 Reply

    in terms of learning from DVDs, you might find http://www.lingualgamers.com/thesis/dvds.html useful

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