The Radio

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by Margaret Watson

When I lived in Pakistan the one thing I probably missed was not baked beans – though I did dream about them a few times. Not even chocolate – it is possible to survive without chocolate – or my family – we exchanged letters more regularly than when I lived in London. The one thing I did miss was radio.

Mine was smashed in transit never to squeak again, but there was already one in the house when I got there, so once I had sorted myself out I looked forward to twiddling the dial until I found BBC World Radio - the Goon shows, the News, Red Dwarf and all the rest. I never found any of them. My house was only half a mile from an airport and the aircraft control messages and the local imam were all I could pick up.

Later I visited friends in Peshawar - they had a different problem in that the Soviets at that time were blocking all transmissions from the U.K. How I rejoiced when I discovered that in my fiancée's house we could tune in to our favourite programmes – it was a five hour journey though.

The radio is a great way to learn a language. You don’t even have to concentrate. If you have the radio tuned into a talk programme you will subconsciously pick up such things as the rhythm of a language – something you will never learn from a text book. The fact that the programmes are not specifically for English learners is actually an advantage. You learn to listen and understand English a the speed it is normally spoken – though I don’t expect you to understand the Goons or Red Dwarf first time around. You will hear various accents and styles – not all from the British Isles. News programs are good because you can read or hear about the topic in your own language and then listen to the BBC or other version in English. News stories are often repeated several times a day or you could tape a piece and then listen to it several times until you are really sure that you comprehend it.

You will learn slang in context, which is the best way to understand it. If you are in an English speaking country try listening to local radio where you are likely to hear totally unrehearsed conversation in the accents of your area.

Now that I am back in the U.K. I really still appreciate the BBC. I am listening to Radio 4 as I write. Next month we are going house hunting in France. One thing I will check is radio reception, because this is a long term move and I don’t intend to miss out on the Archers for the rest of my life, though of course nowadays you can tune in on your computer – brilliant. The programmes this morning really reflect British life – memories of the Falklands war, a comedy drama featuring an Asian corner shop in Scotland, yesterday there was a documentary about homeless folk in London. There is a Listen again feature where you can download any programme from the last 7 days. Radio 7 has programmes going back to the 1950’s and in the afternoon there are children’s programmes for younger listeners - though, now approaching my bus pass years I still listen in from time to time.

All around the world there are special programmes for English learners and they can be useful – but they do tend to be a little repetitive and also easy. Stretch your brain – it doesn’t even matter if you only pick up the odd word or phrase at first – things will improve. Even ½ an hour a day would be good. And you will also be entertained for free!

There's a list of broadcasters on the Learn English site .