A BBC Production America Hasn't Ripped Off Yet

by Tannaz Sassooni on 25 February 2007 9 comments

rosetta stone, meet cadbury chocolate

The BBC are so selfless. They offer us Americans the addictively hapless crew at The Office, and never complain when we totally rip it off. They give us the deliciously candid fashion criticism of What Not To Wear, even though we copy it outright. (Not that we didn't have a history of this behavior: Three's Company, that beloved American classic, comes straight from Britain's Man About the House.) But there's one wildly successful project BBC's putting out there that is theirs and theirs alone.

BBC Languages is the BBC's extensive set of online resources for learning a number of languages. It's amazing to me that all of these materials are just sitting there, for the taking. To start, if French, German, Spanish, or Italian is your language of choice, take a quiz to measure what level you should begin with. Then jump into a wide variety of language learning tools: interactive courses, often with video and audio, TV shows with related activities, audio guides, and more. It doesn't stop at these four languages, either: Portuguese, Greek, Urdu, and Mandarin Chinese are broadly covered, and you can even learn crucial phrases like "Where's the toilet, please?" in Belarusian and Luxembourgish -- come on, you know you've always wanted to.

What's impressive about this set is that it's not just basic grammar and vocab. There are slang guides, info on using the languages in the workplace, and monthly audio magazines with articles on the various countries' culture and news. They've even got a "Your Say" section, where other students share their common mistakes, learning tips, and blogs from abroad, and tips on improving at languages in general.

Granted, taking these courses over the computer is not going to make you a fluent speaker. But to get the basics of a whole slew of languages, free is a lot cheaper than taking a class or hopping on a plane. There is a lot of learning to be had on these pages. And, of course, you can put all this learning to use on their site, too. After all, they do offer the BBC news in 33 languages. And if English is the language you're trying to learn, they've got that covered thoroughly, too, in their Learning English pages. See? Boundless generosity.

But it's not like we Americans don't give back, albeit in a most surreal way: if you happen to be a speaker of Chinese using the BBC's site to learn English, you'll have a very unlikely instructor.

 

Photo by nofrills.

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Guest's picture
Guest

As I understand it, BBC show ideas are licensed by the American versions. Not just rip-offs. Don't know about 3s Company, though.

Outside that start, thanks for the info. I was looking for a cheaper way to learn some language basics.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

No Arabic.  *sigh*

And I really have wanted to learn it, too.

Will Chen's picture

We gave them Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, isn't that enough? 

I looked at the Mandarin Chinese section and it was wonderful.  Whaddaya think Andrea? 

Paul Michael's picture

...I know just how many famous US shows were 'inspired' by UK shows. For instance, Archie Bunker was actually a direct rip-off of Alf Garnett, a bigotted old geezer in a show called 'Til Death Do Us Part'. And Sanford & Son was just the same as Steptoe & Son, a beloved English comedy from the 60's and 70s. Three's Company was indeed a direct rip-off of Man About The House. You also tried to copy Fawlty Towers, Coupling and many others without success.

BUT, we have done our own share of ripping. Some successful (2.4 children was basically Roseanne) and some not so (Brighton Belles = The Golden Girls = Awful attempt). Most of our quiz shows were stolen too, until recently. We ripped everything from Wheel Of Fortune to Blankety Blank (Match Game). In recent times, the tide has turned. You guys took Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Deal Or No Deal, The Weakest Link and of course, Pop Idol (American Idol). So, it goes both ways folks. 
Andrea Karim's picture

I don't know, Will. My sound card crapped out last week, so if there are accompanying sounds, it's hard for me to find. But Chinese is one of those languages that is really tough to teach without a real, live instructor ridiculing your pronunciation and smacking the table when you use the wrong tone and tell someone that you are pleased to meet their father and linen.

I don't own a TV, but I love getting the BBC on the radio. I especially love it when the newscaster make fun of each other in that highly understated way. And how they are all named Nigel.

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

"smacking the table"

When I was going to chinese school (every Saturday for 4 hours), there was smacking, but the teacher wasn't hitting the table....

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

Coupling is a brilliant comedy based on Friends.  I was a huge Friends fan, but I think Coupling is better/funnier.

Tannaz Sassooni's picture

There was an american version of Coupling based on the British show (as Paul mentions).  Greg, you're telling me that it all started here in the states with Friends?  That's regurgitation of bovine proportions...

Paul Michael's picture

...but Friends came a good 5-6 years before Coupling. 1994 was the first air date for Friends, 2000 for Coupling. Not sure if Coupling was actually based on Friends though. As I remember, it was touted more as an Anti-Friends show, because they were not quite as chummy as the good ol' US folks. We Brits, we like our characters to hate each other as often as possible. Take The Office or Extras. Genius.