Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

How to not get lost in translation

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?