Speak slooow-ly and LOUDLY. That'll do the trick.note
"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."
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 and share a similar vocabulary and grammar, or when talking to someone who has a very basic knowledge of the language. Speaking slowly and clearly allows them to keep up and they might catch some of the few words they know 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
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Film - Animated
- Tarzan: Clayton tries to get Tarzan to understand the world "gorilla" by shouting it at him. All it results in is Tarzan yelling it right back at him.
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 pretends not to speak English.
Carter: DO YOOOU UNDERSTAAAND THE WOOORDS THAT ARE COMIN' OUT OF MY MOOOUTH?
- In Shanghai Noon when Jackie Chan's character (who speaks English) is trying to get directions from a couple Indians (who don't):
Jackie: WHERE. IS. CARSON. CITY?!
Indian: (in subtitles) Now he's saying it slower; like that's going to help!
- Along Came Polly: When Reuben and Polly first meet Reuben's parents, they ask an Middle-Eastern waiter in a rather condescending fashion: "Hi, need big table please - four people - many thanks" with the waiter responding in a bewildered fashion (and American accent) "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 Grays Sports Almanac, 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.
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.
- In Bollywood film English Vinglish, Shashi calls up the English class, and the lady there recites the different classes they have at high speed. Shashi asks her to speak slowly. The lady repeats what she said, more slowly and more loudly. Shashi understands it this time.
- 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 confused boy answers him several times with only "what?", which leads to an iconic exchange. Jules screams at Brett as if Brett didn't understand English.
- Jungle 2 Jungle: Jan Kempster speaks loudly when meeting Mimi-Siku (who actually can speak some English). Lampshaded by Mimi's father, Michael Cromwell: "He's foreign, not deaf."
- 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: This is Granny Weatherwax's default form of communication when dealing with foreigners during the witches' travels in Witches Abroad.
- 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 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 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.
- Appears in one of The Destroyer novels. Remo does understand Chinese, but can't keep up with the rapid-fire delivery he's being confronted with so he asks Chuin to translate. Chuin, not amused, instead yells at the Chinese guy to speak slower so that his stupid white companion can understand.
- Elizabeth does this to a waiter in a Sweet Valley University book. She cringes as she does it, knowing full well how insulting it is—but it works. The waiter is able to pick up on the few English words that he does understand and help her out.
- In My Ántonia, Jim remarks that his grandmother tended to speak loudly with new settlers that came to their neighbourhood in Nebraska. She's a good soul and tries to be helpful.
"My grandmother always spoke in a very loud tone to foreigners, as if they were deaf."
- This trope is implied to be Older Than Radio as the protagonist of Erewhon, published 1872, muses:
"I resolved to continue upon the same path as hitherto - namely, to behave just as though I were in England until I saw I was making a blunder."
- One volume of Gerald Durrell's memoirs mentions that his mother was in the habit of doing so when not consumed by the belief that she speaks the language better than the natives do. This leads to her trying and failing to explain what "grilled tomatoes" means to a Greek kitchen hand with limited English, followed by said kitchen hand putting tomatoes on a piece of bread, wrapping them in a napkin, and placing it on an open flame, with predictable and amusing results.
- In one of Dave Barry's columns describing a visit to New York, he says that he and his companion made sure to speak in capital letters so their taxi driver, who was required to speak very little English, would understand them.
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. The problem wasn't a failure to comprehend the words, but it was a failure to comprehend the mindset and there was a huge lack of context — the Tamarians used an extremely metaphorical language, speaking exclusively in references to their stories. Both crews try this approach of speaking loudly and slowly. It slightly worked, 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.
- 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.
- Both referenced and then actually used in the Blackadder the Third episode "Nob and Nobility".
- When Blackadder meets Frenchman Frou-Frou, the following exchange occurs:
Blackadder: Do you speak English?
Frou-Frou: (thick French accent) A little.
Blackadder: Yes, when you say "a little", what exactly do you mean? I mean, can we talk, or are we going to spend the rest of the afternoon asking each other the way to the beach in very loud voices?
- Later on, Blackadder meets another Frenchman, which is where the trope is actually used (though combined with sign language).
Blackadder: Ah, good evening, my man. Do you speak English?
Blackadder: Oh good, then just take me to the ambassador then, would you?
Blackadder: (sighs, then speaks slowly and clearly) I have rescued (mimes grabbing something) an aristocrat (turns his head to the side and pushes his nose up with one finger) from the clutches (makes "claws" with his hands) of the evil revolutionaries (does the claw hands again). Please take us to the ambassador.
Frenchman: (equally slowly and clearly) No I won't. I AM an evil revolutionary (claw hands) and I have murdered (draws his finger across his throat) the ambassadeur (pushes his nose up) and have turned him into (mimes squashing something between his hands and tasting it) paté.
- In Adam-12, the only person at a residence who is available to tell the officers why they were called speaks very little English. They manage limited communication using pantomime, but Malloy, for some reason, also tries repeating his questions VERY LOUDLY.
- Lucy tries this approach on I Love Lucy when she meets some of Ricky's friends from Cuba. Finally, Ricky tells her, "Honey, they aren't hard of hearing!"
- In an early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia keeps bossing around a Swedish exchange student like a pet with curt, simple phrases and the occasional foreign word. ("Momento! Stay! No!") He's later seen chatting with a member of her posse in perfectly understandable english. ("Momento this, stay that... does Cordelia not speak English?")
- The Paul and Storm song "International Language" uses this trope. "LOVE IS LOUDER THAN WORDS."
- 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. Which could work depending on the food, given a bunch of dishes have their name borrowed from French.
- 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:
- The GURPS-based Discworld Roleplaying Game has a skill called "Shouting At Foreigners", which essentially turns translation by volume into a character ability.
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.
- Drood has John Jasper and Reverend Crisparkle attempt this approach to Helena and Neville Landless (unaware they actually speak English), with Crisparkle adding gestures.
- In Assassin's Creed III when Haytham slowly enunciates his English to Ziio, a native, she is confused as to why he's doing it in excellent English.
- Fire Emblem Tellius has a scene where one of the Hawk Tribe is trying to talk to the Heron princess, who only speaks an ancient language, by talking loudly and slowly as he helps her pack for a trip. Then he tries to find out why she screamed right before the Black Knight kills him.
- In one of the Freddi Fish games, Freddi and Luther must ask a foreign fish if they can borrow something of his. The first time they speak to the fish, it's clear he can't understand them at all. Should the player try speaking to the fish again without using the proper item (a translation book), Luther will attempt this trope. It's lampshaded by Freddi, who points out that speaking slower and louder won't do them any good.
- In The Autobiography of Jane Eyre episode "Cleaning House", Grace Poole tries speaking ultra-clearly and somewhat loudly using just words and not forming a full sentence and adding one gratuitous "por favor" when she instructs two maids not to clean Jane's room. Little does she know that Susanna-Maria Ramirez Gonzalez and the other maid understand and speak perfect English. The girls just deliberately mess with her because this way, she will bug them less. See it here.
- 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:
- This The 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'.
- SF Debris: Conversed 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.
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.
- Parodied in a Irregular Podcast episode (as a pastiche of The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy), with an alien race who spend so much of their time as tourists that they end up speaking only this way, until the language devolves so much it just becomes the word "Lardil" repeated with varying volumes and stress patterns.
- Not Always Working records an employee of a café attempting shouting to a deaf person.