Good reasons to watch TV – part 1

Your mum, your boss and Jack Lang would perhaps not agree but watching foreign TV programmes can be good for you. You can improve your English in the comfort of your own home. Never before has French TV offered such a range of quality viewing in version originale, some repeated ad infinitum so you can even go back and revise. It is homework as it should be. Over the next few posts I will highlight some of the best series broadcast in France and the lessons you can learn while being entertained.

Downton Abbey, the internationally acclaimed ITV1 drama, is the story of the people who live, love, work and die in a stately home in the north of England at the beginning of the 20th century. The third series is currently broadcast on TMC in France on Saturday evenings. One advantage of this slow-moving drama with its exquisite sets and costume is that it is very easy to listen to the clear and crisp dialogue. You can hear every word. The steady pace may even inspire you to catch up on your dusting and ironing.


1. Different accents.  Listen carefully to how the different characters speak. No money has been spared on their education so the upper-class Crawley girls speak the Queen’s English perfectly. The servants all have stronger regional accents. Yorkshire accents might be easier for non-native speakers to understand than ‘accepted pronunciation’. Even among the servants there is a hierarchy. Anna, the head housemaid, pronounces her words carefully, while Mrs Patmore, the cook, drops her h’s all over the kitchen. The same hierarchy exists among French speakers of English. Scottish (Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper), Irish (Tom, the chauffeur) and American (Cora Crawley) accents are thrown in for good measure. Can you distinguish between the different accents? Which ones are easier to understand?

2. Forms of address, etiquette, politeness.  There is a lot of coming and going at Downton. As a grand-daughter of a housemaid my sympathies lie firmly ‘below stairs’. Fortunately, we no longer need to bow or curtsey every time a superior enters or leaves a room or add ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ to every phrase. A little politeness still goes a long though and Carson can help you. Watch to see how people greet or welcome each other. Try and find a new phrase you could use to greet, acknowledge or thank someone. For example, “That will be all, Carson.”

That will be all for now.

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