How Movies Deal with Foreign Languages has a feature, “The 5 Stupidest Ways Movies Deal with Foreign Languages.” Check it out.

It’s hard to decide which is worst, but for my money the best is to have them speak English without accents when they’re alone together and English with accents when they’re speaking to Americans. Obviously, there are flaws with that.

Teaching American actors how to voice a sentence or two in the foreign language, now that can lead to hilarity. A while back I was watching a rerun of NCIS at my mom’s house (because it’s one of the few shows that overlaps in the Venn diagram of what my mom finds watchable and what I find watchable) and their Israeli character was supposed to try out her eleven or twelve languages on a foreign guy to see what language he spoke. I paid close attention, waiting for the Arabic. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize it when it went by. I really couldn’t tell you what it sounded like, but after I learned that it was supposedly Arabic, I did recognize one of the words was that she thought she was saying.

That’s not where the hilarity comes in, though. That’s only mildly amusing. No, the hilarity comes in when the actor’s press agent enthuses that the actor “learned Arabic for this role!”

Some of those are: Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Affleck(??).

Most egregious claim of speaking Arabic: George Clooney.

The job of teaching George Clooney how to speak fluent Arabic fell to Samia Adnan

Most modest and least bullshitty: Leonardo DiCaprio.

Did you learn Arabic for the film?
“I don’t remember any of the language! I got to have a dialect coach there who helped with all the different Arabic dialects. It was very difficult.

My recollection of DiCaprio’s Arabic for this movie was that it was jarring to hear such heavily-accented Iraqi Arabic coming from this character who supposedly blended in seamlessly. Why, the native Iraqi never once suspected that DiCaprio’s character was an American. I was inappropriately embarrassed for him. Probably vicariously feeling shame about my own Arabic speaking skills.

TV Tropes has a page about “faux fluency” here.

I posted about Arabic in movies a while back on this blog. The post is here. Enjoy.


Filed under arab, arabic, arabist, language, movies and shows, translation

2 responses to “How Movies Deal with Foreign Languages

  1. Peter Penguin

    Such an intelligent and wide-ranging blog.

  2. I admire your discernment. 😉

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