Crap TV can serve a purpose

Enjoying TV in France can be a difficult task, particularly if your understanding of French is anything less than native, and your TV is too old to display subtitles.

Subtitles are the key to unlocking your French vocabulary via the wonders of terrestrial television. Without subtitles – all you’ll hear are the occassional word or phrase that taken out of context could mean anything.

Take the recent news bulletin about the visit by le President to Lybia for example:

Sarkozy … Gadaffi … nuclear … wife … hostage … weapons.

So what’s the story? Gadaffi has taken Sarkozy’s wife hostage at a nuclear plant and wants to exchange her for some guns? The truth is – you’ll never know for sure.

So subtitles (in French) help to fill in the essential bits of information that you might miss, as well as introduce new words you might not know.

However, the trick is to watch shows that have been designed for an audience with a low IQ and/or attention defecit disorder. That way the words and phrases will be such that a child, stupid person or you (a foreigner learning French) can understand.

Then you can move up onto the more high-brow stuff once you are able to watch without the need for subtitles.

Currently my nightly TV shedule runs like this:

  • Monday: Intervilles – Gameshow similar to “It’s a knockout” but with bullfighting thrown in for amusement. Recently learned vocabularly includes “Top depart!” meaning “Get set, go!”
  • Wednesday: La carte aux Trésors – Gameshow – very much like “Treasure Hunt” – but with three helicopters, or “helicos” as they call them.
  • Thursday: Les Experts x3 – Three episodes of CSI:Miami back to back. Recently learned that “ADN” is French for “DNA”.
  • Saturday: Heroes – American Sci-Fi serial. Learnt that “Pom-pom girl” means “cheerleader”.
  • Sunday: Maigret – Quality period detective show. Now know that “soupçonner” means “to suspect”.
    [Granted this show is a bit aspirational – I have to concentrate very, VERY hard to follow the plot]
  • This leaves just tuesday and Friday nights when French TV descends to the stomach churing depths of reality TV and cabaret shows, which are just as appalling as their British counterparts.

    Note however – that almost no-one subtitles adverts – so your ultimate goal has to be to understand not only what’s going on during the shows, but between them as well.