This evening I was at my parents’ house, watching a little TV after Sunday dinner. I don’t really watch much TV anymore, at least not in the conventional broadcast sense, apart from Sunday afternoons at home. Gaelic football matches are the usual background noise to Sunday-afternoon dinner, but we had it a bit later today, so I found myself watching an interesting nature programme.
It was on Irish TV, and based in Dublin, but linked to other presenters in Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia, Romania, and the southwest of Ireland (they were looking at basking sharks, fascinating creatures which I was once fortunate enough to see in real life). Each presenter would give some information about, and show great footage of, local wildlife.
As much as I enjoyed that, of course I was also thinking about how fascinating it is that they were all able to communicate so easily and fluently in English. Everyone spoke very well, but still a little differently from each other. It was a very interesting case in how people can use such different forms of English, based on their learning experience, and their native tongue.
The Norwegian and Dutch presenters were probably closest to native speakers in terms of pronunciation and accent (except for the Dutch presenter’s interesting pronunciation of sitting, which added an H you can guess where!). The Spanish presenter was probably the least clear speaker, mainly because of her accent, which was stronger than the others. She also didn’t really make many errors, strictly, but her use of vocabulary was interesting. Everything she said was grammatically possible, but her choice of words would sound unusual to a native English speaker, and contributed to making her a little hard to understand, as she wasn’t using the words we’d naturally expect to hear. I imagine she was translating directly from Spanish a lot, providing some occasionally unusual syntax, and more formal lexical choices.
The Slovenian presenter was fine, as was the Romanian one. She actually probably made the most errors, but they were all quite small and understandable ones, which didn’t really affect her clarity. Things like saying a five-weeks programme. There was an interesting moment when a boar chased away a curious bear, and I realised that it’s quite hard to distinguish between the words bear and boar with a Romanian accent. It probably have been better if she’d made the classic mistake of pronouncing bear the same as beer. Luckily for the Spanish presenter, she didn’t have to talk about bears and birds, as that’s a much trickier distinction to make in a Spanish accent.
Overall though, I was impressed how well everyone could communicate and coöperate in English. I like to think I could manage about as well in French or Irish, but I’d still find it slightly terrifying to do so live on air. I’ll have an even better opportunity to be impressed by the English standards of European broadcasters next weekend (or this weekend if you’re reading this on Monday) at the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s just a pity I’ll have to listen to the music…