Monday, March 2, 2009

internet TV

ahh, the joys of internet TV. i say this not because i love watching TV but because i wandered the world in my twenties, learning (and partly learning) several languages. now that i am older, and more broke, and less brave, and married, those languages languish in my memory. i am unable to return to those countries to plunge once more into those languages. occasionally i will try to use reading to continue my study, picking up a korean newspaper or looking at an arabic website.

but reading is a brutally slow and solitary way to learn, especially with no teacher. arabic is the hardest, since to use the dictionary requires being able to trace a given word back to its three syllable root. once you have the root, you can open the dictionary -- but the headings do not contain all possibilities for each root. anyway, you get the picture -- it is torturously slow.

last year i discovered social networking websites dedicated to language exchange. but the one i joined seemed limited to text. if i can hardly read arabic, is it likely i can write it?

a few days ago i began investigating online tv. and by god i have found a pretty good site -- it has 10 arabic language channels, of which three reliably connect. i am in heaven -- here i am with no hope of going back to egypt, but i can sit back and let those odd words wash over me. i listen to language like some listen to music, or taste wines.

i have been trying sporadically to learn arabic since about 1993, when i first came into contact with it in indonesia. it is my white whale, a strange and senseless obsession. i forget about it for months and months, and then a glimpse of it on the horizon fires me up once more. i pore over several articles downloaded from -- last year i read the first 3 paragraphs of an article on obesity and cancer -- until my solitary learning condition weighs me down.

with internet tv, i may be technically alone, but the language is aimed at me like a firehose, and it comes from living people far away. it is the next best thing to being on the streets of egypt or jordan. hell, half the time i was overseas i was learning from tv anyway. the effort threshold is far lower -- i don't need fierce determination to put on the earphones, the way i needed when trying to read. i can just sit and listen, learning the way babies learn -- through the ear. and i chase individual words at my leisure. i have only been watching three or four days now but already numerous familiar words have emerged from the stream of alien sounds, some whose meanings i remember clearly, some i need to look up to remember. it is a beautiful feeling. after all these years, i can really make a sustained effort.

the internet leads to truly odd splitting of the self. tv lets you plug into a stream whose source is far away. this morning, for example, i watched an egyptian morning show's hosts discussing the Chronicles of Narnia films with a critic. next, on the russian channel, i watched a panel discussion about the rights of ethnic minorities -- russians and muslims -- in estonia. the host asked questions in arabic, and the panelists listened for translation through ear pieces and answered in russian which was translated into arabic for the viewers. i also watched a piece on pigeon breeders in russia. and finally, on the english "al-karma" channel, i watched, most bizarrely of all, a sermon from the Valley Baptist church in California, dubbed into arabic.

"savior" is "mukhallis," by the way.

what a weird, weird world.

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