In the year 2017 the answer to this question has never been easier. Of course, listening itself is never easy, and many people who struggle to pay attention
in their native language, have additional problems when listening to a foreign language. However, with the rise of the internet, language students
today have opportunities to hear native speakers like never before.
If we look back thirty or forty years, the options for listening to a foreign language outside of the classroom were severely limited. The most obvious choice was to visit that foreign country and listen to the natives. Such expeditions were more expensive back then, before the advent of low-cost airlines, but even now such avenues are closed to many people who can't afford the time required for such an educational pilgrimage.
The other options back in the 20th Century were radio and television. I distinctly remember retreating to my bedroom with my transistor radio and fiddling with the knob until the faint, crackly sounds of German news programmes could be heard floating across the North Sea airwaves. And sometimes on television, an arthouse movie might be broadcast late at night and we could listen to the dulcid tones of Depardieu, while marvelling at beautiful scenery of the French countryside. Such activities were, and still are, excellent for offering us a tempting flavour of another language and culture. Nowadays, however, we can delve much deeper with just a click of a mouse.
With Youtube and other social media platforms, we can engage with a wide range of people across the whole spectrum of life and work. Whatever your area of expertise or interest, there is a person in another country, who has made it his life's work to discuss and explain the finer points of this topic. Whether the language you seek is related to marketing, margarine or marmosets, there will be a youtube channel which covers your field. And these videos will usually offer subtitles in both English and your own native language, so you can watch the video back a couple of times to make sure you've understood correctly. Of course, some youtubers talk quickly or have strong accents and others may be speaking at an inappropriate level for your particular needs. Nevertheless, a little time spent searching should lead you to a channel, which ticks most of your boxes.
And if you sign up for classes with OISE, you'll have the chance appear on youtube yourself and listen to your own unique voice. As part of the OISE Quatorial Programme students work in teams to prepare a presentation, which is delivered to other students and recorded on video. This video is uploaded to OISE's private youtube channel and learners have the chance to watch themselves on screen, and analyse the results of their hard work. It's a fun exercise and students benefit immensely from hearing their own speech through this filter. Most discover some aspects of their pronunciation that need attention, while others simply dream of youtube stardom and focus on being the next Pewdiepie or Zoella.
Not that youtube is the only way to listen. Platforms such as Netflix, BBC Iplayer, Amazon Video and many more will all provide entertainment, which is slicker and more polished than the most of half-baked productions and home-made podcasts to be found in youtube's darkest corners. And for some people the messy realities exposed by the so called alternative media might lead to more than just linguistic confusion. For most of us, however, the raw nature of video blogs provides many fascinating insights and more authentic perspectives on an ever changing world.
So next time something happens in your life and you're ready to ask Siri or Google for some advice, just go straight to youtube and type in your query in English. You can discover the solution to your problem and improve your English at the same time.
From Alan Nicol, Tutor at OISE London