For a couple of years now I watch series primarily in English. At first it was Anime with English subtitles, later there were many different shows that I wanted to check out.
Though I do believe I decided that I should watch more in English because I utterly failed at understanding Sherlock in A Study in Pink. He just talked way too fast for me.
Now several series later, I can understand him quite well and my next goal is Vicky Pollard from Little Britain. >_<
Anyway, what I discovered is that some shows like to include German elements into their plots – be it names, characters or other things – and as a German native that really likes the German language I consider these moments to be quite interesting.
Though in most cases they are also quite frustrating.
Let’s add some German things!
We Germans are fully aware of our past and as I mentioned in the post linked above, is it often still shoved into our faces, even though we are three or four generations after those who fought in the war. So it is not surprising that the most characters with German backgrounds that are included in shows and movies are Nazis or somehow involved with them.
Personally I think this is really annoying and whenever a show had this plot point I considered turning it off and lost a little respect for it. I mean in shows that cover historic elements it is good – and necessary – that they also deal with that part of the worlds history as it should not be forgotten, but in shows that focus more on entertainment than on, well, teaching, it just subtracts from its credibility if they have to use Nazis to fill episodes.
If that wasn’t enough are the actors portraying the supposed German people rarely even native speakers.
Whenever I notice that the language spoken isn’t English and sounds remotely like German, I listen again to understand it better. On the one hand is it difficult to switch between the languages, on the other hand is the pronunciation often really weird and hard to understand. Especially if they simply choose native English speaking actors, give them some German words to learn and let them play a German character.
So far – if I remember correctly – I only came across three (!) German native speakers that portrayed characters with German background (all Nazis, but, well, I can’t be that picky …): Thomas Kretschmann in Dracula (the series) and Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ludger Pistor and Wilfried Hochholdinger in X-Men: First Class. With Daniel Brühl there will be a forth when Captain America: Civil War airs (Basically: Marvel does a good job at casting the right people).
Still, not all English native speakers are bad at portraying a German accent.
Reed Diamond’s German accent as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Daniel Whitehall, for example, was so well done that I had to look him up, to check if he was German and I’m still highly impressed by it – and I don’t give this complement often.
But even if they do it well, what is said does not always need to be correct …
They don’t talk like we do?
Apparently, beside not wanting to cast actual German native speakers are those responsible for the dialogues fans of literal translations and don’t really care about using actual German grammar for the things the characters have to say.
Though you don’t really hear complains about this from the actors or people involved.
But after having to order someone to
Schieß dem Fenster! (grammatically totally wrong: Shoot the window)
in Die Hard and being informed about its wrongness afterwards, Alan Rickman, for example, decided to never again take up a role of someone speaking German.
It is way easier to translate things word by word and not use the actual meaning of it – and we German’s aren’t spared from that as most people’s English is not the yellow from the egg – but I believe that in a show/movie viewed by thousands of people there would be time and effort put into properly translating phrases in a different language.
Besides German; Spanish and Russian – just as Japanese and Chinese – are used as foreign languages, but my Russian has become too bad for me to notice mistakes and my Japanese was never that good to begin with and I never learned the other two, so I can not say how well/bad they are doing with those languages.
(If anyone is interested: Mr. Rickman should have ordered the other guy to „Schieß auf’s Fenster“ to make it understandable)
It is also interesting how English native speakers seem to think German’s talk. I for one can’t watch a certain scene in Sherlock’s The Blind Banker without getting utterly annoyed and being really disappointed in the show …
Still, this gives me stuff to rant about.
Lost in Translation
For a long time I have contemplated how and if I should do this, but I have decided that I just want to get this out of my mind. I really like the German language, so it pains me if it is used poorly.
Starting with this one I will publish posts about the portrayal of the German language or culture in series and movies. I’m not sure how entertaining this will be for English native speakers, but I do believe those of you that want to learn a bit German (culture) might find it an interesting view on what writers actually throw at their audiences.
Definitely covered in this post-series will be:
- The Wesen of Grimm and other words that are barely German
- The infuriating tourist from The Blind Banker
- The court scene from Sherlock’s Many Happy Returns
- The repeated appearance of a certain historic figure (e.g. Doctor Who – Let’s kill Hitler; Grimm – The Three Coins)
- The polite Daleks in Doctor Who’s Stolen Earth (thanks to hexenadia for reminding me of this one!)
If you watch/ed a series or movie where German was/is involved, let me know and I will check out if they have done it justice.