Monthly Archives: February 2020

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-31 January 2020

rn_presentsMyths of War. This really is an excellent program, even though I’m rather disconcerted that Mark Dapin sounds quite old, even though he’s actually younger than I am! He also sounds more English than I thought he would, given that he emigrated here in 1989. In Episode 5: Was There Ever a Battle for Australia? he follows Dr Peter Stanley in challenging the idea of a Battle for Australia Day,  (a celebration which dates only from 2008)  and the idea that there was an actual Battle for Australia. Certainly, people were fearful during WW2, especially during 1942 (and I think that Kate Darian-Smith’s On the Home Front captured this beautifully), but he notes that there wasn’t actually one battle, but a series of Allied battles. He argues the Japanese Army didn’t actually land in Australia or have plans to do so (the Solomon Islands, Papua yes, but not Australia; air bombing of Darwin and subs in Sydney yes, but as a way of distracting attention and disrupting the Allies rather than actual invasion and occupation). Instead, the idea of a ‘Battle for Australia’ arose in the 1990s, with the 50 year anniversary in 1995, promoted largely by the children of WWII veterans. He speaks with Dr Karl James from the AWM, who suggests that the Keating-era emphasis on Kokoda risks sidelining the Rats of Tobruk and El Alamein, battles without the easy availability of tourism to keep them in the public consciousness. Episode 6 The Thai-Burma Railway and the Bridge on the River Kwai does not at all refute the suffering of POWs working on the Thai-Burma Railway.  But if you’ve visited ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ in your travels, it’s a tourist invention that isn’t even on the River Kwai.  And the ‘mateship’ on the Railway that John Howard lauded so fulsomely was not exclusive to Australian soldiers. In Episode 7 Gay Servicemen in Vietnam, he rejects Bruce Ruxton’s views about the impossibility of gay servicemen, focusing instead on gay soldiers who wanted to serve in Vietnam.  He continues this theme in the final episode 8 Vietnam: The War’s Forgotten Supporters, reminding us that the majority of Australia’s supported compulsory military service- it was the Vietnam part that was controversial.  Just as in WWI, with the white feather movement, we don’t want to ‘own’ those pro-war supporters any more. And just as in WWI, our ideas about Vietnam have been shaped largely by the film industry, especially American cinema.  This is a fantasic series- check it out.

History Extra and Start the Week. I’ve just finished reading The Human Tide by Paul Morland, so I searched out a few podcast interviews where he talks about his book. It’s a long book, and often a podcast interview encapsulates it.  The History Extra interview from May 2019 How Population has shaped world history is a good summary with him one-on-one. The Start the Week interview from February 2019 (BBC) has an interesting panel of guests: Paul Morland (who reprises much of the same information), Julia Blackland whose recent book Time Song – Searching for Doggerland is about the disappearance in approx. 5000 B.C. of a land bridge that connected the east coast of England with Europe, and Diarmaid Ferriter, whose book The Border: The Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics has been very apposite, given the concern about the border with Ireland in Brexit times.

‘Learn Spanish with Stories for Beginners’ by Claudia Orea


124 p.

To be honest, I had forgotten that I had ordered this as a Kindle book. I don’t have a Kindle as such (I do have a Kobo) and I only read Kindle books on my tablet. I started reading it, then joined in a group reading of La Distancia Entre Nosotros by Reyna Grande instead.  Once I finished the novel, I remembered that I had this book half-read.

So I find myself in the position of being able to compare a ‘real’ book (albeit a Young Adult book) with a book consciously written for beginners. The ‘real’ book wins hands down. I found myself having to look up about 4-6 words per page in Grande’s book, and it was interesting that the further I went on, the fewer words I had to look up. Most of the words I needed to look up were verbs.  Even if I didn’t recognize the word at first, I was able to work in out in context. In Orea’s short stories, on the other hand, there were many more words that were unfamiliar to me, and they were mostly nouns. Being short stories, and with short sentences, there were far fewer contextual cues. And I suppose that because it is an instructional text, there was a conscious decision to focus on ‘building vocabulary’, hence the long list of new words at the end of each story.

Several of the stories were in the present tense, which is fair enough for a beginners’ book.  However, a number of the stories were either a) boring or b) downright weird. Take for example ‘Las Apariencas Engañan’ (Appearances Deceive). It’s about a man who pimps up his girlfriend to go cruising looking for men, except that the girlfriend is an alligator who eats them.  Hmmm.  However, I’m not a great short story fan in English either – especially when the short story is very short – and so I’m probably not the best judge.

The stories themselves are about 1500 words in length, and after each paragraph there is a vocabulary list. This is good, because you don’t have to go rummaging around at the back of the book or in a dictionary – the words are right there when you need them. There are multiple choice comprehension questions at the end of the story, and I found them useful. There’s then a short summary in Spanish, followed by the same summary translated into English.  There are audio recordings which I didn’t download.  I found the length good, because reading in another language is tiring. I could only read about 2 or 3 pages of Grande’s book in one sitting.

Would I read another book like this? I don’t think so. The words were too disembodied and the stories too banal or too weird. I’d prefer a news article e.g. in BBC Mundo or a book written for its story rather than for its instructional value.