Translation by Volume
Speaking your language loudly and slowly in an attempt to overcome a language barrier
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(permanent link) added: 2011-10-31 20:25:29 sponsor: FearOfTheUnknown edited by: XFllo (last reply: 2013-03-31 16:48:23)

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Oh yes! Picard's fluent in yelling at people. This is the time honoured method of speaking your own language loudly and somewhat slowly to people who don't speak it, in the hopes that they will suddenly understand you.
SF Debris, TNG: "Darmok" review

A person attempts to overcome a Language Barrier by simply speaking loudly and slowly or even shouting, believing that it will somehow work. As if the other person had bad hearing or were deaf, and weren't someone who actually doesn't know the language.

It often involves speaking in conjunction with national stereotypes, frequently some version of Eagle Land of the boorish category to portray an ignorant tourist, bumbling his way around a foreign country. Characters sometimes just meet a person who doesn't speak the same language, not necessarily a tourist. It's a fairly universal approach, not limited to one nation or one language.

Another variant of this trope happens when characters are nice to each other and they genuinely try to understand and communicate, never realizing that it's hopeless. People may mean to be helpful and improve communication but it can come across as condescending.

In all fairness, trying to employ this trope might sometimes work, especially with languages that are partly mutually comprehensible, as for example Slavic languages that often have similar vocabulary and similar grammar. Speaking slowly and clearly allows someone with only a basic understanding of the language to keep up and they might catch some international words or grasp the meaning from gestures.

This trope is very often Played for Laughs as a means of mocking communication and poor foreign language skills. Generally, it will be accompanied by El Spanish O and a lots of Body Language tropes, both in fiction and in Real Life, since this is Truth in Television.


Examples from media

Film - Live Action
  • In Better Off Dead, Lane's father tries to communicate with Monique the exchange student from France:
    Mr. Meyer: ARE YOU ENJOYING YOUR STAY IN OUR TOWN?
  • Rush Hour: Carter, an English speaker, is speaking to Jackie Chan's character for the first time, and Jackie Chan's character does not speak English.
    Carter: DO YOOOU UNDERSTAAAND THE WOOORDS THAT ARE COMIN' OUT OF MY MOOOUTH?
  • Played With in Pulp Fiction: When the hitman Jules psychologically tortures his future victim Brett, he plays with this concept. He's half-infuriated, half-amused that the poor and confused boy answers him several times with only "what?", which leads to this iconic and memetic exchange:
    Jules: What ain't no country I ever heard of! Do they speak English in What?
    Brett: What?
    Jules: ENGLISH, MOTHERFUCKER, DO YOU SPEAK IT?!
  • Along Came Polly: When Rubin and Polly first meet Rubin's parents, they ask the waiter in a rather condescending fashion: "Hi, need big table please - four people - many thanks" with the waiter responding in a bewildered fashion "okay".
  • From Back to the Future franchise: In script Number Two, Marty and Jennifer visit a store clerk in the year 2015. Marty asks for the Timeline-Altering MacGuffin, but the clerk asks, "On what?" After asking a few more times, Marty goes for the direct approach.
    Marty: (very slowly, deliberately) Look, I just want to know how much money the Sports Almanac costs.
    Clerk: (just as deliberately) And I just want to know what format you want? ROM-Cart, ROM-D, Standard-C, Mini-C or Micro-C? Rental, Lease or download? What's your memcap and baud rate? Interface with me, kid. You'll never get by in this world if you can't interface.
    (silence)
    Marty: Uh, right -- good advice.
  • Vicky tries to speak loudly and slowly in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, as she's initially not very good at speaking Spanish or Catala.

Literature
  • Gor: In Savages of Gor, where a Red Savage (Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Native American) of the Dust Leg tribe talks slowly and loudly in his native language to a Beautiful Slave Girl who only speaks Gorean.
    He was speaking to her in Dust Leg, slowly and clearly. "Yes, Master," she whimpered, in Gorean. "Yes, Master." It amused me that the youth, like so many individuals to whom only one language is familiar, so familiar that it seems that all humans must, in one way or another, be conversant with it, seemed to think that the girl must surely understand him if only he would speak slowly enough and with sufficient distinctness.
  • Discworld:
    • In the Discworld GURPS sourcebook, this is a skill called "Shouting At Foreigners". It is an actual skill that can be used instead of a foreign language. Mental/Hard, defaults to Linguistics-4, IQ-6 or HT-6: Many people think that they can get by in any language by speaking loudly, slowly and clearly in their own, or by dredging up a few half-remembered words from old stories and books. On the Disc, this sometimes works.
    • This trope is Granny Weatherwax's default form of communication when dealing with foreigners during the witches' travels in Witches Abroad.
    • Done several times by Lord Rust. [CONTEXT NEEDED]
    • Sergeant Colon did this during his time in Klatch. [CONTEXT NEEDED]
  • America (The Book): America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide To Democracy Inaction is a Satire/Parody/Pastiche of high-school textbooks about the history of American democracy and politics. It references this concept. "Do... you... speak... English?"
  • In the 5th Harry Potter book, Umbridge maliciously speaks to Hagrid in this unpleasant manner in order to make him look dumb and oafish, setting him up so she can fire him later. Hagrid responds in the same manner while trying to communicate what thestrals are, albeit in a confused and would-be helpful manner rather than a malicious one.

Live Action Television
  • In Scrubs, Marco lampshades how absurd it is to Turk, who thinks Marco only speaks Spanish.
    Turk: I'm sorry. But I CAN'T UNDERSTAND YOU.
    Marco: Yeah, well that talking slower and louder thing is not as helpful as you might think.
  • On Arrested Development this tends to be how the Bluths attempt to communicate with the various Spanish-speaking characters.
  • An episode of The Facts of Life had the girls attempting to speak to a Spanish speaking woman very loudly. She does the exact same thing to them, in Spanish.
  • Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby once mentions that it used to be all you had to do to be understood by a foreigner. To speak loudly.
  • Played With in Samantha Who?: The main character has amnesia and when she meets up with her friend, the friend starts using this trope, speaking loudly and unnaturally clearly. Another friend quickly berates her, letting her know that Samantha has amnesia but isn't deaf. She is also obviously not a foreigner.
  • QI: When discussing the differences between British and American cuisine, Stephen jokingly asked American guest Rich Hall: "WHAT... DO YOUR PEOPLE... EAT?"
  • In Fawlty Towers, Basil often addresses Manuel, the Spanish waiter and bellboy by shouting at him, along with lots of Gratuitous Spanish (which is as often as not French, Italian or As Long as It Sounds Foreign) and slapstick violence. See this clip.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, episode "Darmok": The episode deals with Universal Translator Failure and an encounter with friendly, yet absolutely incomprehensible aliens. Both crews try this approach, speaking slowly and loudly. It arguably slightly works, but both could grasp only very, very little.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of M*A*S*H, when Hawkeye tends to a wounded Korean.
    Hawkeye: Bet-ter? Bet-ter? I've been here all this time, and I still can't speak the language.
    B.J.: (Jokingly) Well, you Americans figure everybody can understand English, lest-you-speak-it-slow-ly-e-nough.
    Hawkeye: Huh?
  • In an episode of Red Dwarf, Lister and the Cat find themselves on a parallel Earth and for some reason believe they are in Bulgaria. They attempt to get by by speaking slowly and clearly and appending "-ski" to all their words, combining it with Bulgarian flavoured El Spanish O.
  • On Friends, Rachel went to meet Ross at the airport. He was returning from a business trip to China and apparently brought back a new Asian girlfriend. Rachel WELCOMES HER IN HER COUNTRY, trying to be cordial and not confused, since Ross was in love with her. Ross's girlfriend Julie actually COMES FROM NEW YORK as well.
  • In The Nanny, when Fran, a Jewish American woman, gets a French boyfriend, her mother speaks loudly and slowly with him.

Stand-up Comedy
  • Eddie Izzard, a British comedian, did a bit about it, where Brits in France would try to order the same foods from home, but speak with greater volume and enunciation.
  • Howie Mandel (back before he did game shows) used this concept in his stand-up routine, asking how we would like it if people did it to us. The punch line being that, when someone did it to him, it worked.
  • Henry Cho:
    • Henry Cho talks about his mother-in-law speaking loudly in English to his father, a man of Korean descent who however speaks perfect English. She says "HELLO, IT'S GOOD TO MEET YOU" loudly and slowly, and his dad turns to him and asks, "What is she doing?" -- "She thinks she's speaking Korean, Dad!"
    • When he himself visited Korea, he was approached by an American tourist who spoke with him in loud English and combined it with Korean-like El Spanish O.
      Henry Cho: All the Korean people she could pull out of the crowd, she pulls me out of the crowd and goes "IS THIS BUSEY THAT GOESEY DOWNEY TOWNEY?" I looked at her and said "I reckon so."

Theatre
  • Drood has John Jasper and Reverend Crisparkle attempt this approach to Helena and Neville Landless (unaware they actually speak English), with Crisparkle adding gestures.

Video Games

Web Comics

Web Original
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Played for Laughs, Played Straight and Played With frequently because Lopez, the Red Team robot, can only speak Spanish.
    • The Red Team, who never understand him, try to communicate with him this way. It is subverted, however, in that Lopez can understand English perfectly. His body is simply incapable of speaking it.
    • Played straight when Church possesses Lopez, and finds he can only speak Spanish. He speaks slowly, still in Spanish, to try and warn the Reds of Tex coming to attack them in a tank. They, of course, can't understand him anyway.
    • Subverted in Season 9. Lopez impersonates Simmons by painting his armor maroon, but can still only speak Spanish. However, by speaking slowly, Sarge and Grif are somehow able to understand his Spanish, leaving them clueless to the switch.
    • Tucker is speaking loudly and slowly while the alien stands nearby, when Church approaches and says that he doesn't think that using this technique will allow the alien to understand him. Immediately subverted, as it is revealed that Tucker was speaking to Caboose. Caboose still doesn't understand.
    • Used by Sarge and lampshaded by Grif. It earned Sarge very much deserved snark:
      Sarge: ''Lopez. How. Do. We. Fix. Your. Speech. U. Nit.
  • This Onion article on traveling abroad advises that shouting at foreigner is useful, along with many other helpful tips for American tourists.
  • The Monona Rag blog reports that the Governor of Wisconsin is not only changing all foreign language classes to 'Talking Slowly' classes but that the new curriculum also includes expressive hand gestures and sprinklings of vaguely foreign words and authentic names such as Paddy, Paco, Limey and Frog, perhaps as a compromise. Having mastered the basics, they might continue in advanced classes of 'Nodding Condescendingly' and 'Swearing in Exasperation'.
  • Conversed by SF Debris in his opinionated episode guide for the episode "Darmok" from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He comments on desperate attempts of the Enterprise crew and Captain Picard to communicate with incomprehensible aliens whose language their Universal Translator couldn't crack.
    SF Debris: I'll check [Picard's] academy records. His language course was 203. Let me cross-check that. Oh yes! He's fluent in yelling at people. This is the time honoured method of speaking your own language loudly and somewhat slowly to people who don't speak it, in the hopes that they will suddenly understand you. (beat) The others just laugh at him.

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