struggling to understand NLMG

I’m Cara from and I help bookworms and vocab nerds to break free from subtitles!

So if that’s you, keep reading!

Last week on the blog we had an amazing post, (I think it’s one of the best on there), A guest post from Trisha of Vagabond English where she talked about using books and other types of literature to better understand films that you watch so that you can get rid of the subtitles.

Watch the video:
Listen to the post:

Never Let Me Go


One of the book and film pairs that Trisha and I absolutely loved and talked about when we were discussing putting together this article is “Never let me go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. He’s Japanese and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year.

The film came out in 2010, so it’s a few years old. I remember seeing it at the cinema. I came out of the cinema and thought “did that actually happen?”

The book and film are based in a kind of dystopian society and it looks and feels very similar to our own, and I think that’s why I came out thinking “Gees, did that actually happen?”

It’s a really haunting book and film pair, and my task now is to actually read the book. But what I’m doing with you for the next few weeks is helping you to understand the film, because even if you have read the book and implemented Trish’s tips, there’s always going to be some difficulties when you come to actually watching the film.

Movie Dialogue In English Is Tough


In fact the first thing I want to say and reiterate as I always do on this blog, is that movie dialogue is tough. I’ve been open about bits of movie dialogue that I haven’t understood in the past and I’m a native speaker, so there’s obviously some kind of problem with movie dialogue.

Before we get into why I think it’s difficult and some ways to fix that, the first thing I want to say to you is “congratulations! Well Done!” If you’re listening to me or reading this blog, it means that you’re already quite good at English.

Extra things like watching films without subtitles are the icing on the cake. The fact that you’re watching films in English anyway, and watching entire films in a language that’s not your native language is a tough thing to do. So congratulations, well done, and take the time to congratulate yourself and feel good about what you’re doing!

You’re making a hell of an effort and doing something really hard with your free time, so don’t feel bad about it because you can’t fix this problem coming from a place of frustration, guilt and feeling bad about yourself. Let’s start just by feeling good about it.


Why Is English Movie Dialogue Tough?


As to why movie dialogue is tough, I’ve come up with a brilliant analogy and you’re going to love it! The way I see it, watching a movie is a bit like survival specialists, like bear Grylls. They get taken in a helicopter into the middle of nowhere, kicked out of the helicopter with a parachute, they land in the wilderness and have to find their way back to civilisation.

I feel like watching a film is a bit like being dumped in the middle of nowhere. You discover this universe and these characters, but you don’t really know anything about them. It’s all a bit mysterious and enigmatic at the beginning and gradually you get your bearings.

So if you can imagine yourself in the wilderness. You think “Ok, the sun is here, the stars are here, and that means North is here, so I need to go this way.” I don’t know how that works, but that’s what I imagine. Or there’s a river, so if you follow the river, you can find your way back.

It takes you a while to figure out where you are and what’s happening, and I feel that’s what watching a film is like, even when you watch in your native language. There are loads of films where after a few minutes I don’t know what’s happening, who is this character and what are they doing?


Films In English vs. Series In English


Watching a TV series is a bit like driving or walking to work, or commuting. You’re on a journey that’s familiar to you. You are going down the same road, crossing the same streets, going round the same roundabouts.

The details might change – one day it’ll be sunny and one day it might rain. You’ll see different people walking down the street, but ultimately you know what to expect when you watch a tv series. You know where it’s set. You know who the characters are. You know more or less what they’re going to talk about.

When you compare being dumped in the wilderness with your daily commute, there’s no comparison. It’s obviously a lot tougher. That’s why I think films can be so much harder, especially when compared to series.


Watching The Film


The advantage with “Never let me go” is that the accents are mostly standard British English because you’ve got Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield (who always makes me laugh because I think of Garfield the cat).

Especially with an actress like Keira Knightley, who we’ve seen in so many films, we know how she talks. She doesn’t usually do fancy accents and she always talks in her own accent.

A problem is that the actors are all quite softly-spoken. Everything’s a bit mysterious and we’re in an alternative universe that looks so similar to our own. Yet there’s some weird stuff going on and we don’t initially know what it is.

You can get lost in that atmosphere and not really know what exactly is going on, even though Trisha said I think it’s Carey Mulligan who does the narration and she is speaking quite clearly. We have some elements that help us, but we also have some things that are damn confusing.


5 Simple Tips To Understand NLMG Without Subtitles


What I wanted to do today was to give you some really easy tips to make your life easier and stop you struggling, panicking or worrying so much. I don’t want you to try and watch it all without the subtitles and then panic, rewind bits and listen again or take six hours to watch the film! You should just be enjoying the film initially.

In the next few weeks we’re going to go into more detail about how to understand it from a technical point of view.

Tip 1

My first tip is watch it with the subtitles! It’s ok! You are totally allowed to watch it with the subtitles and that way, at least you know what’s going on. It’s always a compromise, because if you’re concentrating on the subtitles, that mean’s you’re not concentrating on other things and not looking at people’s lips or facial expressions.

You’re not getting the subtle clues from the décor or scenery. So of course it’s a compromise, and there are some people who refuse to do it, but at least you’ll know what’s going on.

Tip 2

A tip that I love from my friend and colleague Elfin, who teaches Italian and focuses on watching movies in Italian, is just watch the film with the subtitles on for a bit and then turn them off for a bit. So to reduce the decision fatigue, you can put the subtitles on for 10 minutes and switch them off for 10 minutes, or 15 minutes, or whatever.

Or you could decide that a particular scene is impossible and you want to put them on, and then maybe you won’t need them in the next scene. That way you’re balancing your time between reading the subtitles and watching for other clues when you’re not reading them.

Tip 3

In her post, Trisha also mentioned watching it in blocks. The thing that I don’t like about films is that even though some films don’t have so much dialogue, this is quite a dialogue-heavy film, so a good idea is to watch it in blocks, rather than watching the whole two hours in one go, which can be very tiring.

So you could divide it up and just watch it in 20 or 30 minute blocks and in that way you’ve got the time to process it a bit better and you’ll be less tired at the end of each block.

Tip 4

You can of course read the book first. For tips on how to do that, you can check out Trisha’s post – it’s amazing!

You could go onto IMDB (the Internet Movie database) before you watch the film, or go to Rotten Tomatoes and look at the review. You could even go onto Wikipedia – there’s a very good and detailed Wikipedia page for “Never let me go”, but the only thing is, there are spoilers on that page, so if you read the section about the plot, you’ll find out the ending! So just be careful when you’re consulting this kind of information that you’re not spoiling the film for yourself.

Tip 5

You could also watch interviews with the actors or the director or watch reviews of the film on Youtube to give you an idea of what it’s about at least, but again beware of spoilers.

You could also watch the trailer, although I find that sometimes Trailers can be really hard to understand compared to the original film. So proceed with caution when it comes to the trailer.


Summing Up


This post was all about not panicking so much, realising that movie dialogue is tough like being dropped out of the helicopter into the wilderness. You don’t need to feel bad about it, and there are a few things that you can do to make watching it easier.

We will get to watching it without the subtitles – don’t worry – but today we’re taking it easy and not panicking. We’re watching with the subtitles if needed, feeling good, and enjoying an amazing film.

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