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Expats crave language diversity on Slovak television

ARE YOU tired of watching CNN, MTV and the BBC day in, day out? Find me an English-speaking expat living in Slovakia who isn't. Slovak TV can be fun if you're learning the language, or if you enjoy trying to guess which episode of Friends you're watching without understanding the dialogue, but for most English speakers, the situation can be disheartening.

ARE YOU tired of watching CNN, MTV and the BBC day in, day out? Find me an English-speaking expat living in Slovakia who isn't. Slovak TV can be fun if you're learning the language, or if you enjoy trying to guess which episode of Friends you're watching without understanding the dialogue, but for most English speakers, the situation can be disheartening.

"When I was in the US, I had favorite shows I would watch and really make time for," said Emily Heinz, an English teacher who has lived in Bratislava since 2001. "But now I've become a far less discerning viewer. If the show's in English, I watch it."

Some may find this sentiment curious, since Slovak TV schedules appear jam-packed with American movies and shows.

The private TV Joj runs episodes of Dallas, as well as Matlock, Nash Bridges and Perry Mason, on an almost daily basis; Markíza, the country's main private station, plays episodes of The Simpsons, among other shows, and is soon premiering The Cosby Show. Both stations also regularly air Hollywood movies.

English-speaking viewers get their hopes up even more when they find out that an extended cable television service package comes with the Discovery and Hallmark Channels. For an extra monthly fee, you can even have HBO!

But none of these shows are actually designed for English speakers, because none of them are broadcast via duo technology, which allows the viewer to switch to the programme's original-language audio with just a click of the remote control.

In fact, most of the duo broadcasts I found listed on STV's website for the week of November 20 were Venezuelan soap operas, broadcast in Spanish and Slovak. The station's second channel, STV 2, fared slightly better with six duo broadcasts: four in French, one in German and a British documentary about the Second World War.

Nearly the same was true for Czech Television (ČT), which is also received in Slovakia. The only duo broadcast ČT 1 seems to air regularly is the children's show Sesame Street, and for ČT 2 it's Euronews and the occasional celebrity interview.

But ČT utilizes something STV does not - subtitles.

"Most foreign movies we show are in the original language with Czech subtitles," spokesperson Martin Krafl said on behalf on ČT. "This is what our viewers have told us they prefer. The number of dual broadcasts will probably increase as digital television coverage spreads, which is beginning to happen."

Putting subtitles on foreign films could be a popular move in Slovakia as well, as it would benefit both Slovaks trying to improve their English and foreigners like Ms. Heinz, who's trying to learn Slovak.

"For a country that's very proud of its language, I don't understand the practice of dubbing so many movies and TV shows into Czech," she said. "So even when I learn Slovak, I end up not really being able to understand a lot of what's on."

But for all those English speakers who haven't yet mastered Slovak, all is not lost.

An extended cable television service package includes two non-news, English-language channels: the Canada-based Zone Club station, which provides hours of entertainment about cooking, dating and fashion; and the Arirang network, South Korea's English-language network.

But recently Zone Club's raciest show, Cheaters - about jilted lovers who confront their cheating partners on camera - has been dubbed into Czech, which sparked an angry response from devoted viewers, like me.

Zone Club responded with their policy, and it's one all stations trying to gain new Central European viewers will likely stand by: expanding one's audience means providing programming in the local languages.

Ms. Heinz doesn't expect Slovakia to have English shows, but does crave them. But it appears she will have to keep watching Let's Speak Korean, which airs on Arirang.

"I watch it because it's in English," she said, "but then I have this moment where I say to myself 'why am I doing this? I don't want to learn Korean!'"

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