Saturday, February 4, 2017

Listening to French News

According to my hobby time spreadsheet, last year I spent almost 53 hours listening to French news, mostly to France2's 8 PM newscast. I think it's France's main TV news show. Some impressions:

They do cover the terrorist incidents thoroughly. And they always say the perps' names, all of which are Muslim. Radicalization and "Daech" are mentioned frequently. For every successful attack there are several failed ones, and they cover those as well.

A long time ago I used to watch British prime minister's question time on C-SPAN, and it became clear to me then that British politicians are much smarter on average than American or Russian ones. It's not because there aren't any super smart people in Russia or America. But in both of those countries there seems to be a popular understanding that leaders shouldn't be very different from regular guys. For some reason that kind of a feeling is weaker in Britain.

Well, watching French news made me think that maybe the French are closer to the Brits on that than to Russians or Americans. I don't think that makes France and Britain better-governed though.

Among the politicians I've seen interviewed on France2's set was Marine Le Pen. The anchor treated her like an insane person who required a lot of benevolent patience.

One thing I didn't expect was France2's heavy focus on French industry. They do a lot of positive segments about French companies trying to conquer the global market. The viewer is supposed to root for them in a citizenist-patriotic way.

By the way, they call those segments "Made in France". How many English terms do they use in general? Fewer than modern Russians, more than late-Soviet-era Russians. It's funny to see them borrow words that they themselves lent to English long ago. For example, the French election system has primaries now, and they call them "primaires".

The first time I hear a segment I probably understand about half of it. I think by the 5th or 6th time I'm close to 99%. Then I obsessively replay the words that I missed, trying to figure them out. It becomes a challenge. It's common to misinterpret where the word boundaries are, so I mentally cut up the obscure utterance in various ways, looking for sense. Sometimes there's a "eureka!" moment. More often there's a "you dumbass!" moment after I finally give up and turn on the subtitles. Then I replay the trouble-causing segment a couple more times, trying to see how I could have missed it.

When I learned to understand spoken English and Spanish in the early 1990s I didn't have the luxury of replay. Well, I guess I could have made VHS tapes. But I didn't. I let obscure words wizz by me and listened on.

This replay system fits my nerdy personality much better. I like to be thorough.

By the way, all of the above concerns what I hear from France2's anchors and correspondents or from politicians. When they interview flood victims in shelters or the proverbial man on the street, I understand much less. This must be partly because newsmen and pols speak more clearly. But I suspect that it's also a question of regional and class-based accents. I'm really looking forward to figuring them out. Each dialect and accent of a language is a unique attitude.

I have exactly zero experience speaking French. My plan is to sign up with Italki once I improve my ability to understand it when it's spoken. As for visiting, no desire at all. I hate being a tourist, and you can see all the sights online.


  1. If you can manage the news, try On n'est pas couche:

    1. I've heard of it. Haven't tried watching it yet, but probably will at some point.