Learning a Language for Film Studies

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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YnEoS
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Learning a Language for Film Studies

#1 Post by YnEoS » Wed May 08, 2013 1:51 pm

I was wondering if anyone here has learned another language for the purpose of film studies, or had their film studies illuminated by one of their second languages. Also what languages would open up the most new resources for someone who only speaks English?

Personally, I'm very interested in certain large film industries that have very little representation on English subtitled DVDs. For example I've considered learning Hindi to be able to study Pakistan's film industry, being virtually identical to Urdu, and somewhat mutually understandable with Punjabi, leaving out only Pashto language films of the main film-making languages. Of course, learning Urdu would be the more direct route, but there are more Hindi language resources for English speakers than Urdu ones. I also thought learning Indonesian or Malay, which are very similar, would open up quite a few new films for study.

Also, while there are quite a few English-friendly DVDs for French, German, Russian, and Japanese films, I'm sure knowing these languages also opens up a whole lot of film theory and criticism in addition to the more obscure films of these countries.

So just curious what experiences anyone has had with learning new languages for film studies. Or what languages do you think might be useful or interesting for film studies?

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MichaelB
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#2 Post by MichaelB » Wed May 08, 2013 1:57 pm

I'd say that French is probably the most immediately useful second language for film-related purposes, and certainly the one I use the most - not just because it's one of the great languages of world cinema, but also because if I can't get English subtitles for a particular film, there's a decent possibility that there might be French ones out there instead.

In the 1990s, I'd often pop over to Paris to catch up on the latest Italian films with French subtitles, as my native UK typically only saw a small fraction of the ones that got French distribution.

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knives
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#3 Post by knives » Wed May 08, 2013 2:07 pm

Though speaking French is a real pain compared to related languages. MichaelB does illuminate on a great point though that location is probably important in this question. For instance since I live in SoCal learning spanish beyond being a necessity has proven to be a great opportunity to watch otherwise unavailable films and read otherwise unavailable texts.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#4 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed May 08, 2013 2:12 pm

I had to reactivate my knowledge of French in order to study Japanese cinema. Some books on Ozu and Naruse were only available in French -- and some films were only available (back in the early 2000s) with French subtitles.

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Matt
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#5 Post by Matt » Wed May 08, 2013 2:21 pm

I didn't learn French for film study purposes, but it's certainly enriched my appreciation and understanding of French cinema.

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domino harvey
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#6 Post by domino harvey » Wed May 08, 2013 2:36 pm

knives wrote:Though speaking French is a real pain compared to related languages.
Which is why French in Action is so awesome, and the whole video series is streaming free online

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TMDaines
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#7 Post by TMDaines » Wed May 08, 2013 2:58 pm

It's worth saying that you're never going to learn a language unless you're (A) passionate about the culture of the region where it's spoken, or (B) being forced to use it on a daily basis. So keep that in mind; choose one you're genuinely interested in. People who try to learn a language just for the sake of it will never be able to do it. I really wouldn't base your choice on the perceived usefulness of a language. That'll never inspire you. Furthermore, unless you're going to be using the language on a daily basis, you're looking at a matter of years if your wish is to be able to watch films without subtitles and understand them well.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#8 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed May 08, 2013 3:09 pm

It's also worth keeping in mind that there are four distinct language skills, and your skill level in each will differ since you won't progress at the same rate in each. They are: reading, writing, listening, speaking.

Reading and writing are usually much easier to pick up, with listening and speaking requiring a lot more practise just because in conversation you don't have a lot of time to (re)construct the meaning. Listening is especially hard since native speakers tend to talk quickly, not enunciate clearly, or use a regional accent.

The whole process is easier if you know precisely what you're learning the language for. If you want to watch foreign films without subtitles, focus on listening. If you just want to read foreign film books or, like MichaelB, have access to films with foreign subtitles, focus on reading.

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YnEoS
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#9 Post by YnEoS » Wed May 08, 2013 4:15 pm

I don't want to fall too deeply into the how difficult is it to learn a language discussion, because there are thousands of places on the internet where it's been discussed to death and where there's tons of insightful comments on picking languages, and necessary motivation for learning a language.

I agree that "usefulness" isn't a good criteria for language acquisition in isolation. But I still thing it's an important factor that should be discussed. Personally I was really interested in learning Malay or Punjabi to be able to study those cinemas, but never thought I'd have time to get around to them. When I learned about their similarities to Indonesian and Hindi/Urdu respectively, they shot way up on my priority list of languages I might potentially want to learn one day.

I was just curious what other people's experiences were with secondary languages enriching their film studies. Not as the sole reason to learn a language, but just to get some insight into other cinephile's experiences, especially since a lot of other language learners I've met tend to do it more for travel or other reasons.

Apologies if I'm being overly defensive. It just seems I've run into a lot of people trying to warn others about the difficulty of learning a new language. It seems to have a built up a big negative atmosphere around language acquisition as if there were hordes of people in danger of wasting years studying languages only to realize they don't have enough passion for it. But I don't see how any amount of time spent learning a new language could ever be a bad thing or a waste. If you don't have the passion to follow through with it til fluency, it's still useful to know and good experience. And I would think especially so for cinephiles who spend tons of time consuming media in all different languages.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#10 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed May 08, 2013 4:51 pm

I hope I didn't appear to be warning anyone off. I think if someone has even the slightest curiosity, they should go out and learn a new language. If nothing else it's a great way to learn just how much your own language determines the manner in which you think, and the fascinating ways that other cultures think about things in their languages. I still remember the first time I learned that while we have fun in English, Germans make fun (spaß machen). Little things like that are enormously eye-opening.

And, yeah, it is enriching to your film studies. There's a nice thrill in noticing that the meaning of what's being said is just slightly different from how the subtitles are rendering it--you get a sense that you've gotten much closer to the film.

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YnEoS
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#11 Post by YnEoS » Wed May 08, 2013 5:30 pm

Nope, nothing discouraging about your comments. And it is a good reminder that the intensity and type of language learning will be very different for someone looking to watch films as opposed to a tourist or someone trying to read and write medical journals in another language.

Just trying to focus the discussion on experiences of language acquisition with film studies. There's plenty of discussion on the ins and outs of language acquisition at places like this website, and with people who have much more experience in that area.

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knives
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#12 Post by knives » Wed May 08, 2013 5:33 pm

domino harvey wrote:
knives wrote:Though speaking French is a real pain compared to related languages.
Which is why French in Action is so awesome, and the whole video series is streaming free online
Yeah, even my absolutely rudimentary mispronunciation filled version of French wouldn't exist without those sort of videos. Really in learning any language something like that is necessary unless you're living where it is the predominate language.

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#13 Post by jindianajonz » Wed May 08, 2013 5:36 pm

I've been trying to learn Mandarin so that I didn't feel like an outcast at dinner with my girlfriends parents, but when we decided on a trip to France this summer I decided to push French as hard as I could before we go to help us get by (yeah, I know English is pretty common there, but it's just more fun to try and get by using the actual language.) I thought switching to French would be a lot easier, especially since so much of the English language is based on French, but man, it's proving to be tougher than I thought.

I do hope to stick with it after our trip is over, though, mainly so that I don't have to be as dependent on subtitles for French films.

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#14 Post by colinr0380 » Wed May 08, 2013 5:41 pm

Since I just got my order of German Filmmuseum releases yesterday, I'm looking forward to brushing up on my German in order to read some of the DVD-Rom material included as extras.

I'm at that difficult-but-fun stage in French (the nearest so far to a second language) where I'm nowhere near fluent but am starting to understand lines of dialogue without needing the subtitles. Although occasionally I do end up thinking to myself "did that lady really just say that she pumped her horse full of strawberry jam?" and realise I might need to check the subtitles again. Especially when there is no horse in the scene!

I have also been trying the subliminal technique of falling asleep to a film in the hope that I might learn language by proxy. However I don't think I'm susceptible - playing Amour in that way didn't teach me French. Although I did wake up just in time to avoid suffocating from a pillow that somehow had ended up covering my face.

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#15 Post by jindianajonz » Wed May 08, 2013 5:51 pm

So far the highlight for me was rewatching Tropic Thunder (not by choice) and realizing the "Vietnamese" guys there were all speaking in Mandarin. Though the only thing I understood was "those guys are" (ta men zai).

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#16 Post by Zot! » Wed May 08, 2013 6:17 pm

Image

PillowRock
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#17 Post by PillowRock » Wed May 08, 2013 6:58 pm

domino harvey wrote:
knives wrote:Though speaking French is a real pain compared to related languages.
Which is why French in Action is so awesome, and the whole video series is streaming free online
The same provider also has Destinos for learning Spanish. I have to believe that from the point of view of a native Spanish speaker, Destinos would be the world's most boring telenovela. :wink:

I have to admit, though, that I've never quite understood the whole French-is-tougher-to-learn-than-other-Romance-languages thing (from the point of view of a native English speaker). Well, aside from maybe some of the individual sounds (some of the vowels, and the French R) coming less naturally, that is. To me, where French and Spanish differ, it seems that French is almost always the more English-like of the two, and therefore the slightly more intuitive for an English speaker. The choice between para / por in Spanish seems much more mysterious and less intuitive for me than par / pour in French, for example.


One general comment about foreign languages and watching film:
I find that even if I'm not at a level where I want to turn off the subtitles, just a rudimentary knowledge of the language helps the overall experience. It gives you enough understanding of the lines (at least with the help of the subtitles) to catch more of the details of intonation in line readings. It also often helps with verbal comedy in the dialog.

For working on French, the French Sacha Guitry L'Age D'Or box set has booth English subtitles and French subtitles that match the actual dialog pretty well (from what I've seen; I haven't played the entire set that way). (That can't be assumed about same-language subtitles. A lot of them are quite a bit different than what you hear on the soundtrack.)

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knives
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#18 Post by knives » Wed May 08, 2013 7:49 pm

It's more when not to pronounce things that I find problematic with French. At least with Spanish and Italian it speaks as it reads. That dropped -L- is the hardest thing for my mind to get around.

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#19 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed May 08, 2013 8:51 pm

knives wrote:It's more when not to pronounce things that I find problematic with French. At least with Spanish and Italian it speaks as it reads. That dropped -L- is the hardest thing for my mind to get around.
Well, you live in California, of course Spanish is going to be more intuitive. For me, who grew up in Canada, French was a familiar presence (we had to sing the second half of the national anthem in French every morning), so its pronunciation was always fairly intuitive to me*


*in fairness, pronunciation has always been the easiest part of language-learning for me, so take this as you will

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knives
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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#20 Post by knives » Wed May 08, 2013 9:01 pm

Fair point, though I should say that I didn't move here until '98 and spent a good majority of my life in the north east of the US.

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#21 Post by MichaelB » Thu May 09, 2013 2:21 am

With regard to watching French films without subtitles, it's worth noting that films by non-French directors like Michael Haneke and Krzysztof Kieślowski can often be considerably more straightforward than films by a highly colloquial writer-director like Bertrand Blier or Eric Rohmer.

Incidentally, talking of Kieślowski, I saw the vast majority of his films either in French-subtitled Polish or unsubtitled French for the first time - at a time when the British were still just waking up to him, his films were repertory fixtures in Paris.

French has always been my second language, I go to France regularly and have French cousins, so I've never found it especially difficult - but that's what regular exposure will do to you. Italian was the easiest language for me to pick up in terms of spontaneously having casual conversations, although it gets tougher the deeper you delve. Polish was by far the hardest language I've attempted in terms of grammar, and that's despite already knowing basic Czech so that the rudiments were unexpectedly straightforward (I remember my teacher being surprised at how quickly I got through the early stages of the textbook).

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#22 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Thu May 09, 2013 2:47 am

Regarding the thread title, I actually took a reverse plan of action. Casting about for a degree course I enrolled in Germanic Studies whose delights included the study of Old High German and Medieval Dutch. After two terms of struggle and the realisation I was not likely to encounter many old high Germans or the ghost of Breughel I switched to Film school.
I manage well with French and get by with German but often get dismayed trying to follow Gabin in mumblecore/slang mode but then I console myself by wondering how non-native english speakers manage with stuff like 'They made me a fugitive' or 'Brighton Rock'. That probably applies to many of you lot over the pond as well, n'est-ce pas?
I work quite a lot in Poland and my wife's first language is polish and one trick I try is to disarm people around you by making them think you understood what they were saying. So I learned little recherché phrases like 'All roads lead to Rome' or 'what we need is a spirit level to check' and drop them in here and there. Hopefully it cuts down on derogatory remarks but I'm buggered if I know if it works.

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#23 Post by MichaelB » Thu May 09, 2013 5:03 am

I'm hopeless with actors like Gabin or Depardieu, or strong regional accents generally - Jean de Florette might as well have been in Japanese. But because I read French reasonably well, I can appreciate just how many nuances get ironed out in the translation - I saw Reservoir Dogs in Paris for the first time, and it was pretty clear that those reliant on the subtitles weren't getting anything like the full flavour.

Amusingly enough, though, Ken Loach is much bigger in France than he is in any English-speaking country, even though he tends to favour extreme regional authenticity when it comes to accents/dialects. But I suspect that's part of the problem - English speakers, especially outside the UK, often find his films hard to follow (I believe they often get subtitled in the US, and Sweet Sixteen had its first reel subtitled on its British theatrical release in order to ease people into it). In France, this obviously wouldn't be an issue at all, and so his films are probably easier viewing for that reason. (Similarly, Visconti had to redub La Terra Trema into Italian when Italian audiences found its original Sicilian dialect incomprehensible - but audiences reliant on subtitles wouldn't have been bothered at all).

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#24 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 09, 2013 7:57 am

Mr Sausage wrote:*in fairness, pronunciation has always been the easiest part of language-learning for me, so take this as you will
Me too (for non-tonal languages, at least). Grammar and vocabulary are much harder. ;-}

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Re: Learning a Language for Film Studies

#25 Post by YnEoS » Thu May 09, 2013 9:12 am

^on pronunciation

Do you think that might have something to do with having been exposed to the language a lot through films beforehand? I've heard lots of language learners say that while passive listening before learning is nearly useless in terms of passive acquisition, it does give you a good sense for the feel of a language. Not that a lot of language listening automatically equates perfect pronunciation, but perhaps it gives you a very strong idea of how the language should sound, and helps you notice flaws in your pronunciation very early in the learning process.

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