Lost in Translation


The other day, my Spanish ‘suegra’ starting talking to me about one of her favourite musical called ‘Sonrisas y Lagrimas’ (smiles and tears). I hadn’t heard of the film but she insisted that it was a Hollywood classic. Finally, she started to hum a tune from the movie and it became clear that she was talking about:‘The Sound of Music.’ crying-smiley-thumb12030139

As well as dubbing films into Spanish, the Spanish film distributors also feel the need to modify or completely change the titles of movies. Here are a few, translate them into English and then see if you can work out the original English titles

(Feel free to comment and I’ll reveal the answers in my next post)

question mark

1. Casarse esta en Griego

2. Milagros inesperados

3. Mi pobre Angleito

4. Experto en Diversion

5.  Secreto en la Montana

6. Que paso ayer

7. Vaselina

8. Muertos de risa

9. Amor y Desafio

10. Perdidos en Tokio

Watching movies is an excellent way to learn a language. Cinema is primarily a visual medium: we can understand much of what is happening by focusing on the moving images and the facial expressions and gestures of the actors.

This leaves us with plenty of cognitive energy to deal with interpreting what is being said……

brain thinking

In Spain these days, our students have easy access to English listening material just by choosing to watch films in their original language.

However, many of my Spanish students don’t do that, claiming it to be too difficult. I always mention they have a range of options:

Watching a film in Spanish with English subtitles  will help them compare and analyse lexical and structural similarities and differences in English and Spanish with a focus on the written form

Watching a film in English with Spanish subtitles will help them compare and analyse lexical and structural similarities and differences in English and Spanish with a focus on the spoken form

Watching a film in English with English subtitles will help them compare and analyse the written and spoken forms of individual words, phrases and grammatical structures in English

Watching a film in English with no subtitles will help them deal with listening in real time when the listener has little choice but to interpret the utterances of the speaker based on their understanding of the context and situation, their reading of the paralinguistic clues being offered, and their functional knowledge of linguistic forms being used.

So, next time a student tells you that watching movies in the original language is too difficult, why not discuss this range of options with them? Mention that they can turn subtitles on and off and switch languages throughout the film depending on their cognitive energy levels.

Use the analogy of training for a marathon: at the beginning, people do lots of walking and brief bursts of runing but the ratio changes as running becomes habitual until finally they don’t need to walk to finish the race.


By training themselves to watch films in English, our students will progressively improve their listening skills and before long they will be able to understand individual scenes and eventually entire films with little or no recourse to Spanish subtitles.

Don’t forget to guess the titles of the original films. Some of them are as ridiculous as the American version of Abre los Ojos. What does Vanilla Sky mean anyway?