I’ve never thought much about understanding what others are trying to say – it’s a natural function of interaction in this world. I understand what I can, and if it’s in a language I don’t completely understand, but know a few words, I find myself listening for those words, just to pat myself on the back and say, “Hey, I know a little about what they’re talking about!”
I’m pretty fortunate, compared to others I’ve met through my life to understand bits and pieces of quite a few languages, even if I don’t speak them. I can understand a little French, some words in Spanish, some characters and readings in Chinese – even if I don’t know how the Chinese would say it, and I’ve gotten around in Japan without speaking English to the natives. It’s not often I come across a language I know absolutely nothing of.
That changed last night, and now I get a little bit of the frustration that some of my friends have shared with me regarding subtitled programming. The missing lines. The nuances that are missed by the translator in order to keep the text readable at the pace of the movie. The uncertainty of how good the translation actually is, compared to the original dialogue.
Last night, on a whim, I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the original 2009 Swedish film, not the recent US production. (Ironically, the Swedish title is not The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Men Who Hate Women – Män som hatar kvinnor.)
It was good. A tad graphic at some points, but the story seemed compelling enough to watch, the plot interesting, and the filming fascinating due to the foreign feel of the technique. The best part of the movie to me, though, was also the part that made me have to work to watch this film – it was in the original Swedish, with subtitles.
I’m fortunate in my experiences with Japanese films and anime, that I don’t normally need to actively acknowledge the subtitles – I take in the entire picture as one, and don’t really notice myself reading the subtitles at all, unless I come across a translation that just makes me go “WTF?” But while watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it occured to me that I’m able to do this, simply because I understand Japanese enough that I’m using the subtitles to fill in words that I don’t know, but that I’m actually listening more than I’m reading. With Swedish – a language I’d never heard in actual usage until that movie – I didn’t have that luxury. I had to read it all, and keep up with the film itself – not a difficult thing, but a very different experience for me. The movie could have been done in Tolkien’s Elvish, like parts of The Lord of the Rings and I probably wouldn’t have known the difference.
Now while this was a bit more effort than I’m used to putting into movie watching, it wasn’t bad – in fact, it’s part of what sticks out in my mind about the film. I’m certain that if I hadn’t seen this version of the film, there would be little compelling me to see the US production, and the compelling parts to me about the US film are going to be the differences between the original film and this new remake. Budget, for one thing – the original was filmed for $10M, and the remake spent nearly nine times that amount. Recasting the parts – differences in what the Swedish makers were looking for versus their American counterparts. And, of course, what was changed between the two films – what was included, what was left out, and what was added. All in all, it will be interesting to see.
I think the reason why I can do this, is that I don’t feel that it was the fact that the film was Swedish that made the film work. It didn’t appear to draw upon Swedish culture, or anything that said “If this was set in any other culture other than the Swedish culture, it would fall apart.” I’ve seen examples of films where this mentality seems to hold – most are Japanese horror films, the ones that don’t use Japanese superstition and folklore for inspiration – but I’ve also met at least one that I am sure wouldn’t have worked – Shall We Dance? is my prime example, as the nuances of gender interaction in the Japanese culture were the driving forces behind the main plot. How could that work in a US production – especially with people as far removed from ordinary as Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez?
But I digress.
What I came to the realization of, last night, was how much I take interpersonal communication for granted. I don’t normally think about it much – certainly not when speaking English. Things are said to me, and I just instinctively – or is it reflexively? – respond. It’s very much an assumption that I heard everything correctly, and in context, and I can respond with very little effort.
Still, I’m not sure that it’s the best way to do things – or even a good way. It’s not that I don’t follow what’s being said, or that I don’t respond pertinently, but I have a tendency to treat a lot of situations similarly, as I respond to what I hear, not necessarily what is being said.
人生は字幕が必要。- Life needs subtitles.
I firmly believe that if I had this one thing in my life, I’d be far, far less prone to making mistakes. And mind you, I mean subtitles as in “This is what the person means,” rather than closed-captioning “This is what the person just said.” It’s often completely different, and it’s that part that usually causes me problems.
It’s those differences that catch my eye when I’m using subtitles – the “Wait a sec, that doesn’t seem like what was said” moments. I’d be as infallible as I could be, if I had just this little tool – and I suspect that a lot of other people out there would be, too. After all, that’s a lot of what Dr. John Gray’s Venus/Mars books are all about, isn’t it? That women and men communicate differently, and that acknowledging that and responding appropriately to what is meant rather than what is said would bridge many gaps between the sexes.
And in my mind, that’s part of what these ‘subtitles’ would do – let me know what was meant, not said.
Business would benefit too – motives and underlying thoughts would be evident. There would be less secrets in open conversations, because there’d be less ‘talking around the subject’ going on.
“…and as long as I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony.” – Susie Derkins, Calvin and Hobbes
I think the point of all this, for me, is that I need to wake up and try to be an active participant in my own life, and in my interactions with people around me, rather than just trying to cruise through the day. Writing, for once, makes me think about how I communicate things, given the ability to write, read, edit, and re-read what I present to the world, before it’s actually published. It’s an active form of communication, and is one that remains active, for the most part – save the cut-and-paste form stuff I send out at work. I think when I write, and edit, and try to ensure that what I’m actually ‘putting to paper’ is well thought out, grammatically correct, and spelled properly.
How many people, myself included, do that sort of thing when speaking?
I do it, but mostly when I speak in another language – primarily because that there isn’t a language other than English that I’m comfortable enough in to just speak. I know bits and pieces of other languages, but English is my one and only fluent language. I speak it without thinking. I just say what I say. I adjust how I say things based on the audience without thinking about it. I can say “Whassup?” to my coworker next to me, and “Hello, sir.” to the director sitting in on the team meeting, without skipping a beat, but in Japanese, for example, most sentences that come from my lips have been thought out, listened to internally, edited, re-heard, and re-edited many times before they actually come into existence.
And, oddly enough, I don’t stick my foot in my mouth nearly as often in Japanese.
Think before you speak. It seems simple, but I think very few people actually do it. I don’t, most of the time, and I think it’s a bit disturbing that I feel that I’d need a tool to make myself do that, just to avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
It’s a brain thing, though – and I think it illustrates that I really need to engage the person or people around me when I’m talking. It’s only the right thing to do.
So to the people out there reading this – thank you for lending me your eyes. Hopefully, I can be the same if I ever have your ear.
My 2 yen,
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