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Why are English films so difficult to understand?
Thread poster: Marina Steinbach

Marina Steinbach  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:47
Member
English to German
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May 22, 2012

Why are English films so difficult to understand?

Today, I borrowed myself the video "London Boulevard" starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, David Thewlis, Ben Chaplin and Anna Friel.

I was only able to understand about 50 %. The other 50 % seemed to contain the F-word (well, I didn’t actually count).

Living in Germany, I never noticed so many F-words in a film. Of course, the films had always been synchronized for a German public.

Therefore my question:

Why are English films so difficult to understand? Or, with what kind of words do they substitute the F-word, so that the films are more appealing for a German audience?


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
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English to Thai
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Cultural background May 22, 2012

Due to different cultural (history, literature, fashion, trends, recent issues) background, foreign films are difficult to understand unless you have been educated/you are living in the country of question. See difficulty discussion on English films in ESL: www.eslnotes.com
Some films have plenty of F-words since they are aims of the stories and scenarios.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


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JaneD  Identity Verified
Sweden
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Appropriate language for context May 22, 2012

I've never heard of the film before, but having just had a quick look at the plot, I can't say I'm surprised that the F-word appeared a lot. Gangsters, the underworld and mob killings - I wouldn't exactly expect the characters to use words that would be fit for tea with the vicar...

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:47
Hebrew to English
Other issues May 22, 2012

I haven't seen the film, it really isn't "my cup of tea" (it's far too Guy Ritchie-esque for me).

But I did watch the trailer. This is what jumped out at me:

1. They mumble.....a lot.
2. Use of the Cockney accent (almost a standard in these films), not helped when it's faux-cockney either.
3. Keira Knightley - I'm not really sure what accent she was going for, either way, epic fail. (I can normally understand her in any other film which makes me think she was "putting it on" in this film, or it might just be the sound quality or maybe she had a cold )

Following on from what Jane says, a lot of these things are to be expected in a gangster type film, they don't tend to be the most articulate members of society at the best of times.

[Edited at 2012-05-22 09:26 GMT]


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ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 02:47
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Turkish to English
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Rated R May 22, 2012

If you check the rating of a US movie, it usually gives you plenty of clues regarding the content of the movie. In this case, London Boulevard is rated R (Restricted) by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong violence, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. This information I get from imdb.com website (Internet Movie DateBase). If you or someone who is going to watch the movie is offended by pervasive language, for example, you can avoid watching it just by checking its rating. Any movie rated R is not for the children, for example.

Regarding the difficulty in understanding the movie, the more movies you watch, the easier it gets to understand. Also, they say if you watch a movie for the second (or third) time, you get to understand more and more of it.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
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I agree with Tyrrel May 22, 2012

Marina Steinbach wrote:
Today, I borrowed myself the video "London Boulevard" ... I was only able to understand about 50%. The other 50% seemed to contain the F-word (well, I didn’t actually count). ... Why are English films so difficult to understand?


Actors in 99% of American films that I have seen so far all use the exact same accent. Even the fake foreign accents in American films are simply variations of the standard US "film" accent. The Italian mafia man, Russian spy or Indian grocer in a US film sound a little more Italian or Russian or Idian than American, but generally also speak slower and more deliberately. In British films, there is no single "film accent", and actors from different regions use their own accents, without slowing down their speech or elocuting better for the benefit of the viewer.

When I see/hear samples of news anchors on American television, they all sound roughly the same (with different degrees of nasalisation, perhaps), no matter which state the television show is from. I'm not sure if this is deliberate. But British television (and film) has rebelled long ago against using a standard pronunciation, and people are simply used to hearing a variety of regional accents.

I do find it interesting that in general there is much less swearing in US films than in British films. Gangsters in US films tend to be depicted as more sophisticated, too. The stereotype in US films seem to be that a smart gangster will watch his tongue more than a dumb one would. In a US film, you can guage a gangster's intelligence by the way he walks and talks. The gangster in a US film is often a foyle, i.e. his role is partly to tell the audience the story, so he has to be a joy to listen to.


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Hermann  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:47
English to German
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Ken Loach language leaves Cannes mystified May 22, 2012

If the film happens to be set in Scotland, then organisers feel a little extra help is required.

Ken Loach’s latest offering, The Angels' Share, is set in Glasgow and festival chiefs found the accents so impenetrable that the premiere screening was fitted with SCOTTISH-TO-ENGLISH subtitles.


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/cannes-film-festival/9281274/The-Angels-Share-Ken-Loach-language-leaves-Cannes-mystified.html


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Decipherit  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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Portuguese to English
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Do they need to be appealing for a German audience? May 22, 2012

Marina Steinbach wrote:

Or, with what kind of words do they substitute the F-word, so that the films are more appealing for a German audience?



Sorry, I'm not sure I understand the question. In any event, as others' have said, a lot of British (I'm including Scottish here) films are about grit and 'real-life drama', the same goes for the TV soaps. It appears to be what the British like. That genre is not my cup of tea and I know what to avoid. A lot of British accents are also impenetrable - have you tried 'Trainspotting'? I'm sure you'd be fine with the standard RP stuff like 'The King's Speech' or 'Hugo' (not a British film but all Brit actors from what I remember) - did you struggle with them? If it's any consolation, I came close to having to switch on the subtitles when I watched 'Brokeback Mountain'.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:47
Spanish to English
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Mumbly jumbly May 22, 2012

Well, for starters, Colin Farrell is an inveterate mumbler, which doesn't help - try deciphering his Irish hitman from 2008 film In Bruges and you'll see what I mean! The rest of the cast are all seasoned thesps and can enunciate as well as anyone, but if they are acting in character as lowlife gangsters, it's not surprising that a non-native speaker will have some difficulty in understanding them. You really need to have hands-on (on ears-on) experience of how people speak in the street and not in books or polite society. Even US English speakers struggle with British dialects and street slang and usually end up sounding like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins - or his Australian uncle - if they try to emulate them.

I don't think swearing is the problem, however much it may annoy some people, and it is definitely a crucial element in some (of my favourite) films like Snatch or Lock, Stock...


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:47
Spanish to English
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Trainspotters May 22, 2012

Lisa Simpson, MCIL wrote:

Marina Steinbach wrote:

Or, with what kind of words do they substitute the F-word, so that the films are more appealing for a German audience?



... a lot of British (I'm including Scottish here) films are about grit and 'real-life drama', the same goes for the TV soaps. It appears to be what the British like. That genre is not my cup of tea and I know what to avoid. A lot of British accents are also impenetrable - have you tried 'Trainspotting'? I'm sure you'd be fine with the standard RP stuff like 'The King's Speech' or 'Hugo' (not a British film but all Brit actors from what I remember) - did you struggle with them? If it's any consolation, I came close to having to switch on the subtitles when I watched 'Brokeback Mountain'.


So true. I'm currently reading a book (Glue) by Trainspotting's author which is partly/mostly written in Edinburgh dialect. Although a Scot myself, I still have to do a double take and read some sentences in the dialogue out loud to be able to understand them! I imagine English readers would find it quite a struggle.
Subtitling of regional dialect for series or movies for English is not uncommon - the Rab C Nesbit series for example was screened in England with subtitles.
On the other hand, a Spanish friend was commenting to me just this weekend how well spoken and easy to understand the actors in Hugo were - especially the kid.


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Krzysztof Kajetanowicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:47
English to Polish
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solution May 22, 2012

Your DVD menu contains subtitle options. Switch "English" on. Personally I prefer "bad" (but real) pronunciation with a strong local accent to "generic" English, as long as the subtitle option is available. I wouldn't pass on the opportunity to listen to Brad Pitt in Snatch.

Also, I don't get why you include the F-word in the 50% that you didn't understand

[Edited at 2012-05-22 08:13 GMT]


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:47
English to Croatian
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? May 22, 2012

Marina Steinbach wrote:

Living in Germany, I never noticed so many F-words in a film. Of course, the films had always been synchronized for a German public.



Are you saying they are altering the movie script? Are they authorized to do so? What about copyright issues?


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
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This type of characters swear a lot May 22, 2012

.. and it's a fact of life. The authors just want to depict this phenomenon faithfully.

If you want an F-word free movie, take for instance Pride and Prejudice, or some other movie based on a Victorian novel.


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
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Spanish to English
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I don't know about copyright issues May 22, 2012

Lingua 5B wrote:

Marina Steinbach wrote:

Living in Germany, I never noticed so many F-words in a film. Of course, the films had always been synchronized for a German public.



Are you saying they are altering the movie script? Are they authorized to do so? What about copyright issues?


A number of years ago, after watching and enjoying "Full Monty" several times in Spanish, I thought I would treat myself to watching the film in English.

There is great difference between the Spanish and English version.

[Edited at 2012-05-22 09:36 GMT]


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:47
English to Croatian
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Yes ... May 22, 2012

that's why I asked whether they were authorized to do so ... the difference you saw might have been authorized. I saw the Full Monty with Serbian subtitles, and there is no difference, i.e. parts of the script were not simply taken out (like it's been suggested here).

[Edited at 2012-05-22 10:03 GMT]


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