As a kid under communist Romania, TV was not a big thing for me. The sets were bad, there were only a few hours a day of programming and it was mostly propaganda anyway. Romania was generally worse than other countries in this respect, and people closer to the border got special antennas to catch Bulgarian stations.
Like all kids I liked cartoons, and it was a great tragedy in my young mind when my parents picked me up from kindergarten in the middle of the only daily cartoon shown – if I remember correctly something with a girl call Heidi, and I frequently missed the ending of the episode. Also there was something Russian with a wolf and rabbit. We had a VCR and a couple of cassettes with cartoons which I must have seen 100 times.
After communism ended, things did not change instantly. But one day, coming back from school, I entered the house and noticed an unfamiliar large, black shape - a brand new TV set, a Panasonic, and maybe nothing special by most standards of the time, but it was AMAZING for me. And it had cable. With Cartoon Network. It quite blew my mind. Cartoons, all sorts, all day. As long as my parents allowed watching that is.
The first cartoon I watched was Birdman, followed by everything else shown on Cartoon Network in the early 90s. Everything. There was still some drama. My parents watched the nightly news on the TV, right when Top Cat was on, which I loved as a kid. And I learned a lot of English watching Top Cat and the gang – unlike the Tom & Jerry cartoons on my VCR tapes.
You see, there was no dubbing or subtitles. I had some knowledge of English – my parents got me a tutor in first grade that actually taught me a lot, and there was some in school. I still didn’t understand everything. But I didn’t need to. Just having cartoons was so great, nothing else mattered. And I watched and I watched.
And slowly, I started understanding more and more. Episodes tended to repeat on Cartoon Network, but for me it was quit alright, I liked them and I understood better as each month passed. Each and every episode more words made sens, more phrases. This is important, as phrases often have cultural meaning and just knowing what the words mean is not enough. Sticks and stones does not mean stick and stones, paying the piper does not involve singers and currency. I was not alone in that. A lot of Romanian kids were like me. And it led to pretty good English for my generation.
It was a pretty organic form of learning, and it had a good effect on verbal skills. Sure we learned English and French grammar in schools, but for many knowing words and rules is easy, using them fluently in conversation is not. When you know a language, conversation flows, you do not need to think of the rules. I was never fluent in French, though I learned words and verbs and conjugation. They just didn’t come together when I needed them. In English, on the other hand, I never really thought of the rules. If it sounded right, it probably was.
I am the same with my native Romanian. I am not sure I can name all the rules and grammar; I did not learn the language by rules. I learned by hearing and talking. And the same applies in English, which helped a lot.
My generation talked a lot in what we called romglish, Romanian peppered with English words. There were nationalist politicians that wanted to ban English words in advertising, to somehow preserve the purity of the language. Hell, there still are in several countries. But, for us, in a country with a native language that is, to be frank, useless internationally, learning English was a huge help. Most of people my age use it daily in their work; use it on vacation or watching movies, reading books not translated in Romanian, and more. And many of us hold a debt of gratitude to Cartoon Network.
Cartoon Network is dubbed these days. I can understand why, but I still think it is a damn shame. Kids these days take cartoons for granted and maybe do not have the patience to watch a language they do not understand. Or maybe they do, if they were left at it, but the parents try too hard to make it easy on them. Who knows? Off course with internet, they have ample opportunity to learn English. But as they still spend the time to watch cartoons, wouldn’t hurt to have some extra practice, hearing the language young and trying to understand. A bit of struggle grasping it might even help. Who knows?
Point is, they don’t make em like they used to. And they are badly dubbed, which takes half the fun away.