Magazine topic: 
Life around the world
Total votes: 114

How to not get lost in translation

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by : 
GraceL

You may have seen my post about film culture a couple of months ago in which I wrote that I enjoy watching films in another language, and often without subtitles. I decided to take this to another level and went to see a play at the weekend that was completely in dialect. The dialect is spoken in Northern parts of Germany and is called "Plattdeutsch" (meaning Low German) and it can be quite different to High German (standard German). It is very common for dialect to be spoken in smaller villages and towns. The play was performed in a local village by people who live there.

Watching this play was really interesting for me as I can't speak this dialect so it was like watching it in a totally different language at first. When you are watching something actively, however, I feel that even when you don't speak a language, you can still understand what is happening because it is being performed right in front of you. This also means that, sometimes, you can start to understand a few words; maybe they are similar to your own native language or, in my case when I saw this play, similar to High German which I learn as a second language. When watching something like a play or a film, it can be easy to let the lack of understanding of a language stop you from understanding what you’re watching, so I have put together a few simple tips to help you get the most out of your viewing experience. Here I have said that they will help you to understand a play in a foreign language, but the tips are also suitable for watching films too.

Do read the story.
If the play is an adaptation from a book then try reading the book first; either in your native language or English, if you are able to. By doing this you have an understanding of the story before you watch it, making it easier to follow. If you decide to read the book in English, you can read at your own speed, which will prepare you for the play which will go at a much faster pace. Alternatively, you could read a short summary on the internet.

Don’t try to understand every word.
It is important not to dwell on every single word you don’t understand, a general understanding of what is happening is enough. It is easy to be overwhelmed when the language in a film is more advanced and not the level you are accustomed to but even some of the best linguists don’t understand every word! If you find that the language is very hard to understand; try to look at what the characters are doing, how they are behaving and you will more than likely be able to follow what is happening.

Do choose something that interests you.
A play that is something of interest to you will be far more enjoyable and much easier to understand that something you may find boring. When you enjoy watching something you are much more likely to learn from the experience, for example, if you like comedy, you may remember a particularly funny scene afterwards and be able to recall the joke that made you laugh. You will benefit much more in the long term.

I hope that these tips are helpful and I would really love to know if you decide to use them! If you have any more tips for other users, please comment and post them.

Discussion

Is it difficult to understand plays or films in a foreign language? Do you have any tips for watching plays and films in a foreign language?

Comments

Crystallized's picture
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Crystallized 21 April, 2014 - 18:39

As long as I'm watching a movie in English or in my native language, I'm fine. I don't need subtitles for that. (Except for movies/TV shows/plays that contain some fancy schmancy names and words, or when the actor's pronunciation or accent is weird.)
Tips? If you understand a language, try watching more and more films/shows without subtitles. First try those you've already watched. Then try and find new movies/movies you have not watched and watch them- first without, and then with subtitles). I hope that helps.

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GraceL's picture
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GraceL 23 April, 2014 - 07:55

Thanks Crystallized! Brilliant piece of advice, thanks for posting it. I totally agree with you. I think if it is a film you are already familiar with (having seen it already or read the book etc) then it will be much easier to understand. What you said about accents and pronunciation is interesting. Do you watch a lot of films where the characters have strong accents or do you try to avoid these films?

I have recently started watching more films and tv shows that take place in areas where the people have strong accents or even speak dialect so this is an interesting topic for me.

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cklj's picture
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cklj 20 April, 2014 - 11:32

It's not difficult for me to understand plays or films in a foreign language if that foreign language is English or Serbian. But because I understand just these two foreign languages I usually watch American/English and Serbian films. Before watching a film I always read a short summary on the Internet or the book. This way is much more easier instead of just turning the film and watching not understanding anything. I remember when I turned to watch "The Hunger Games" with my friend and we didn't know anything about that film except it's a touching story about a girl called Katniss. Four months ago I read the book and I think it wonderful book which you must fall in love with.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 20 April, 2014 - 12:42

Hi cklj. That's a great tip to read a short summary on the internet before you watch the film and I think it'll really help you to enjoy and follow the film. Good advice, thanks for sharing :-) Have you watched any films lately?
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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GraceL's picture
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GraceL 23 April, 2014 - 07:50

You've raised a good point there cklj! I think watching a film several times is really beneficial when learning a foreign language as you will start to pick up catchphrases and funny quotes and jokes. Of course, it's better to choose a film you like so that it isn't boring to watch it again! :)

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SweetRobin3's picture
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SweetRobin3 5 April, 2014 - 15:15

i watch cartoons in english
i understand carrtons in English easy
but i don't try to watch films or movies in English
but my first movie which i watched in English was " One Direction: THIS IS US" :)

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serap's picture
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serap 1 April, 2014 - 17:36

I've watched movies in English with Turkish subtitles. It is easier to understand words in movies through subtitles, so I prefer to watch them with subtitles. So I can understand an English movie better. If I watch it without subtitles, it is a bit hard to understand, actually very hard!

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GraceL's picture
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GraceL 23 April, 2014 - 07:46

I think it's great that you do try to watch films without subtitles sometimes. When I first started learning German as a foreign language, I watched films first with English subtitles, then with German subtitles when I had improved a bit and then without subtitles. I hope you are enjoying learning English :)

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Lorriee's picture
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Lorriee 31 March, 2014 - 14:43

I hardly ever understand a whole movie in Egnlish therefore I always feel, that "oh yeah, I have to improve a lot..."

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GraceL's picture
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GraceL 23 April, 2014 - 07:44

Don't lose hope! Believe me, I was the same when I started learning German as a foreign language but it gets much easier over time. Even if you think you aren't improving very quickly, you will be surprised about how much you can learn from films without even knowing!

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justcricketforme's picture
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justcricketforme 30 March, 2014 - 03:11

I don't have a hard watching English movies but I do with other films. To figure the language out, I put on English subtitles.

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GraceL's picture
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GraceL 30 March, 2014 - 17:07

Hi there, I'm impressed that you don't find it hard to understand English films! Using subtitles when you don't understand can be a really good way to help, you are right! :) Do you have a favourite English film?

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Fatime143's picture
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Fatime143 28 March, 2014 - 13:01

Yes,understand films in a foreign language is difficult.I like waching films in English.

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GraceL's picture
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GraceL 30 March, 2014 - 17:06

Hi Fatime143, I think it's great that you like watching films in English. Do you have a favourite film?

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learningenglish282's picture
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learningenglish282 28 March, 2014 - 01:13

yes, It is hard to understand plays or films in a foreign language, the less words we know, the harder to understand. I usually watch English movie with my language subtitles, if it is no subtitle, then I will guess what the characters are talking about and what the meaning of the movie, sometimes my guessing is really work :)

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 28 March, 2014 - 03:18

Hi learningenglish282! That's a great tip. Sometimes you can guess what characters are talking about because you might have seen other films with similar characters or plots, or sometimes you can get a feeling for what they're saying by looking at their actions and facial expressions. :-) Have you watched any foreign language films lately?
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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Niluh's picture
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Niluh 27 March, 2014 - 07:44

Understand plays and films in a foreign language is particularly difficult! I usually watch English films with subtitle in my own language or in English, it's great to help me understand what the actor/actress are saying and how the story is.

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GraceL's picture
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GraceL 30 March, 2014 - 17:04

Hi Niluh, yes understanding plays and films in a foreign language is difficult! I think it's great that you watch films with subtitles in your own native language and sometimes in English. I'm sure it is really helping you improve your English. Havre you found watching films has helped you?

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