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The Fear of the Alien

For many of us, contact with a culture that is different from our own can be rather intimidating –  whether we like to admit it or not. This is only to be expected: being afraid of the unknown is something we all experience. Our planet is extremely diverse, and is home to a plethora of distinct peoples and ways of life. At times we encounter these differences, and are unsure of quite what to expect.

In Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, these contrasts between how life is lived around the globe are juxtaposed in order to evoke this same sense of unease in the viewer. It tells of how two Americans, played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, visit Tokyo, and how they are largely unable to integrate into Japanese life during their stay. One particularly poignant scene shows Murray in a lift in his hotel, standing in the middle of a group of Japanese men. He is notably taller than they are, his skin is paler, and his facial features are different. He is very clearly the odd one out.

Those of us who have been abroad have probably experienced what Bob must feel at that moment: the sense that you only exist on the fringes, that you are unlike the rest. However, what is noticeable is that people who speak more than one language don’t tend to view cultural boundaries as barriers. Since they will have inevitably come into contact with a new culture while they were studying languages, becoming familiar with different cultures is no longer such a frightening experience. Speakers of multiple languages tend to first see similarities between themselves and people from other areas of the world, while monolinguals are usually aware of their differences.

This is one of the great strengths of linguists: they are very culturally aware, and since they often have experience of living abroad, they are regularly able to understand references to foreign cultures. Please visit our page on multilingual translation services to learn more about how our language professionals can help you cross the linguistic and cultural divide.