Speaking in tongues

English speakers are notoriously bad at speaking any other languages. When travelling, we tend to treat anyone’s inability to understand what we are saying as a form of deafness, so we just speak English very LOUDLY.

I’ve even come across an American variant of this, which involves the assumption that anything said in English will be understood just as long as you don’t use any contractions: so saying “I will not” will get you understood where “I won’t” won’t.

I’ve just (accidentally) discovered a BBC site that could singlehandedly end the international muteness of the English speaker.

It is wonderful. It covers a dozen languages well enough to take you quickly to a reasonable level of practical fluency. It also gives you key phrases for 36 other languages. It is entertaining and easy to use.

More BBC website genius. I stand in awe of the BBC for producing this. It’s free. It’s as useful as most commercial courses and probably a good bit more effective than any language lessons most people had in school. (If they had language lessons… I believe these are becoming the educational equivalent of an endangered species. like any non-utilitarian subject in British universities, now I come to think of it.)

Wouldn’t this be a good resource for schools? Imagine if English-speaking people left school with a useful smattering of a dozen languages rather than our present incapacity to even say “Hola!” on Spanish holidays.

As an aside, the print Guardian gave out little booklets with a few phrases in the world’s fastest-growing languages. No rival to the BBC’s mastery in the area but they did offer a few unique joys, such as the gestures. These were illustrated with drawings that made you think of the non-existent cartoon “Family Guy Does Russian.”

Dumbest BBC website headline ever?

Proms to conclude with Last Night

At last, a use for Javascript

spEak You’re bRanes has a Twat-o-Tron. (It generates random comments, plucked from Have Your Say section of the BBC’s website.) *

This site is so brilliant that you’ll want to wave your arms in circular stirring movements and punch an invisible ceiling and shout “You go, girl!” and other demonstrative American talk-show things. But it’s very British, so I will have to restrain myself to a “Jolly good job, that chap.”

All the comments quoted were found on the BBC “Have Your Say” site. Yes, people really have written them. On purpose as far as I can tell. (from spEak You’re bRanes)

The twat-o-tron will give you the distilled flavour before you dip into categories like “Armchair Warriors” on the whole site.

This blog is dedicated to the dribble-spattered lunacy of BBC “Have Your Say” discussions. Part of me thinks that the right-wing “blogosphere” of America is encouraging its slow readers to get over to the BBC and add their ill-informed opinions… but another part of me fears that the sample is actually more representative… perhaps the majority of people in the world really are this awful and stupid. (From the about page of spEak You’re bRanes )

I tend to assume that most of the BBC comments that cause apoplectic rage fits are spoofs. (It’s wishful thinking, I know, but leave me some illusions.) However, if even 1 in 10 of these comments are legit, it makes you wonder how people can be that stupid and still manage to operate an email account.

[hat tip: Alun Salt]

* (Don’t use Internet Explorer 6 though. It works but its hard to read.)

In praise of the BBC

This blog does its fair share of whining about daft things on the BBC, especially its website (“constructive criticism.”) There are disturbing current plans to cut back on everything good about the BBC, with a loss of 2,500 jobs. According to last week’s Guardian, the BBC’s high-profile serious journalists, such as Paxman, have been told not to express their criticisms of this sort of stuff on air.

The director-general has been quoted voicing the sort of Dilbert-speak that bodes ill for any organisation, from the perspective of both staff and customers. For example:

….his plan would deliver “a smaller, but fitter, BBC” in the digital age.
The six-year scheme, called Delivering Creative Future…..

Over the past few years, the BBC has expanded from being a public-service broadcaster – worthy enough in itself, to providing an almost unequalled Internet news resource. In the face of a general dumbing-down of television to a level that the average pet tortoise would find intelligible, the BBC still provides some tv and radio of amazing quality .

Well, it seems this all has to stop. The new plan is for more repeats, cuts to the television news, fewer current affairs programmes, fewer non-commercial kids’ programmes, ads on international stuff..

The editors’ blogs sound like it’s all an exciting new opportunity. Well, wouldn’t you, if you might be facing redundancy and criticism wouldn’t keep you out of that media dole queue?

…standing still is not an option because our audiences are changing and we must change with them….

Changing? More than normal changes then? In what ways? Granted most people have cable or satellite. I admit to watching minimal terrestrial tv, but that’s not because it’s over my head. It’s because most of it is hopelessly poor:

  • Soaps that should be poured down the plughole.
  • Reality shows that would make you want to Columbine the whole human race, if they actually bore any relationship to “reality”
  • Home / clothes / lifestyle makeovers, all aimed at a general transformation of the UK into a giant open-plan Stepford.
  • Programmes about raising children that make B.F. Skinner look laissez-faire
  • Plastic surgery programmes that actually promote it
  • Programmes about celebs and their weight problems
  • 100 greatest/worst adverts for car wax, or similar. With slightly recognisable talking heads discussing the choices
  • “Programmes” with a chirpy talking head and a screen puzzle designed to keep the drunk or mentally ill phoning in to “answer” trick questions at £300 a nanosecond

Basically, tv that would make the choice between watching it and gnawing off your own arm quite a difficult decision.

Is it the changing audience that’s driving this? If the audience is changing to be made up of the bedbound with broken remote controls, then maybe.

The BBC, although not blameless, is the least offender in this crap. It still represents so much of what is worthwhile in British culture. Cuts in its budget, cuts in its real staff….

Argh. That was the crunch of tooth on right arm flesh.