Diversity of language as a form of diversity in cinema and TV

Sara is a third year law student who loves fashion and writing. As a writer, Sara considers herself a thief as everything she experiences through the senses inspires her to write stories and articles. Coffee is her drink of choice and it makes her feel good as she associates it with friend and family encounters, but also peaceful moments on her own.

Nowadays, diversity is being championed everywhere, especially in cinema and the other arts. Diversity comes in many shapes and forms. There is diversity in terms of race, sexual orientation, gender, thought, etc… In this article however, I will be making the case for diversity of language as a form of diversity in cinema and TV, which is rarely seen.

I will first explain why I believe that diversity of language is important in life more generally, and will then focus specifically on it in regards to the cinema. Currently, there are 6,500 languages spoken in the world. Even with this information, it is more likely that not that you wouldn’t be able to name even a third of the languages that exist. In the UK, 62% of people cannot speak a second language. This number increases when we look across the Atlantic, to the US, where 75% of people cannot speak a second language. Why does this matter? Many positive effects of bilingualism have been scientifically proven, such as contribution to cognitive reserve and serving as a protective factor against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to this, speaking two or more languages allows you to think differently. Given that vocabulary and grammar differ across languages, the way we speak them does too. According to a study, when you speak a different language, your thought process differs to a certain extent, thus leading you to taking different decisions. As a speaker of 6 languages, I can tell you that the way I speak and act does in fact differ depending on the language I am employing. Furthermore, looking at the same problem in different languages oftentimes leads me to considering solutions that I wouldn’t even have considered, had I only looked at the issue in one language. This leads me to believe that by learning more languages, we would all be able to understand others better and be more empathetic. We would also be able to understand other cultures better as some features of language are culturally specific.

Now that I’ve explained the importance and the benefits of multilingualism and exposure to other languages, I will focus on foreign languages in cinema and TV. As the times are changing, we are seeing more people of colour obtain considerably more important roles in movies and TV shows. This is a welcome change in the entertainment industry; however, I would also like to note that when it comes to plots which deal with other countries/people who have grown up surrounded by multiple cultures and languages, we only see the Americanised or Anglicised version of their cultures. Perhaps, it is because of this that Americans aren’t compelled to learn a second language as everything they consume is unavoidably in English.

 Now, why is this bad? I would argue that the negative side-effects of this include seeing English as a superior language as there is an underlying assumption that everyone is expected to know it, as well as, not developing an interest in other languages due to their lack of representation. Furthermore, when American TV shows or movies try to portray a person from a certain country, often times they make the person a walking stereotype/cliche. 

The worst part of it is that its aim is not satirical. One such show is Emily in Paris, where the main character moves to Paris without speaking French. Not only that, the French people around her whom she is not ever conversing with do not speak French. Besides this being completely illogical and unrealistic, it also sends the message that when an American or an English speaker comes to any country, it is the people already residing there who should change to fit into their world, and not the other way around. I have read somewhere that Emily in Paris had as little French in it as it did, because English speakers dislike subtitles. Personally, I don’t think subtitles are a matter of taste, but rather a matter of habit or lack thereof. When you grow up surrounded by TV shows with subtitles, you just get used to them and read them automatically. 

So, why should more languages be included in the industry? Firstly, the inherent benefit is that people would have more reason to love their own language and culture, since it would be represented in an honest way, rather than as a cliché; they would therefore feel more included. Furthermore, people would also be used to hearing other languages besides English and they wouldn’t connect that particular language with something negative, which often occurs. There were many examples of negative behaviour towards people who spoke Chinese or Spanish in public places in the US, because it is seen as ‘outlandish’ and isn’t shown as a normal occurrence. Secondly, by featuring other languages, the chance of showing a person’s culture in its true light is higher. Thirdly, people who perhaps aren’t part of a multicultural or multilingual family would have an opportunity to see what it’s like and perhaps even try to learn a language because they developed a liking for it. For example, due to the transmission of Mexican telenovelas in Croatia, many people in Croatia developed a love for the Spanish language; as a result, many, including myself speak it. When I refer to Croatia, I don’t mention the inclusion of other languages in our own movies or shows since production is very limited and there are only a handful of shows in Croatian as opposed to the situation in the US or the UK. Furthermore, we consume a lot of foreign media (American, British, Mexican, Turkish, etc.), which is not the case for Americans or Brits. Therefore, when it comes to them, it would be more beneficial to include other languages in their own movies and shows, rather than just transmitting foreign ones since they already have access to them. Finally, the unknown is what creates fear, and fear oftentimes manifests itself in violent behaviour. Therefore, if we normalise speaking in multiple languages, said fear in people would diminish when they hear them on the streets or in other places.

All in all, languages are undoubtedly powerful mediums. They form part of our thoughts, our cultures, our identity. Because of this power, they can also cause fear in people who are not used to hearing anything other than their own language. This is precisely why diversity of language should be promoted in cinema and TV shows, as well as in the entertainment industry- fortunately, such a trend is already seen, given that Spanish is being used in music alongside English.

Sources:

https://alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/alz.12170#:~:text=Bilingualism%20may%20contribute%20to%20cognitive,however%2C%20results%20have%20been%20mixed.&text=In%20frontotemporal%20dementia%20(FTD)%2C,may%20differ%20by%20clinical%20variant.

https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2013/07/31/75-americans-have-no-second-language

https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/do-we-think-differently-in-different-languages/p07ry35k

https://esol.britishcouncil.org/content/learners/skills/reading/british-worst-learning-languages

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