Learning a language….. Simple?
We have all been there at some point in our lives where we have stepped into a situation where a different language was being spoken and had no idea what was going on. We could either only understand a few words, or no words at all. You would hope that someone who could speak your language was around to fill in the blanks for you.
What if this is not the case? How would you learn a language?
I recently re-watched the Tom Hanks film ‘The Terminal’. Tom Hanks (Viktor Navorski) is trapped at JFK Airport due to a military coup that prevents him from entering the United States. But at the same time he cannot return to his own country of Krakozhia. Viktor can only speak a few words of English. Not enough to understand that his country is going through a military coup. He is forced to stay inside the terminal until the coup ends and is passport and nationality can be recognised again by the US. He only finds out about the coup after seeing a news report of the event, where he recognises Krakozhia and sees the violence that is happening.
The film shows how he survives living in an airport terminal. With little money, he finds love, friends and triumphs over the JFK customs and security. To me, the most important aspect the film shows was how he combated the language barrier. Over the course of 9 months Viktor goes from knowing only a few little words such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to being able to speak with good fluency.
One of the most interesting parts is when he starts to learn English from the US TV show ‘Friends’. At the airport book store, he finds the English version and the Krakozhian version of a book about the making of ‘Friends’ and starts to learn. From here onwards he starts engaging in conversations with the workers at the terminal and his language improves. During the film, he also assists JFK customs by interpreting from Russian (a similar language to Krakozhian) into English. Viktor assisting in helping the Russian traveller keep his medication. This earns him the respect and adoration of many of the employees of the airport.
Obviously, this is an extreme way to learn a language!
Most of us might have learnt a language in school/ university or go to adult learning courses to improve language skills. Some of us might learn from watching TV shows and films. They are known for being a good way to pick up a range of vocabulary and understand the pronunciation of words. Most us would never have to learn a language because we are trapped in a country (or an airport) where nobody can understand you, and vice versa.
This film was made in 2004, when interpretation was a well-known profession. If this did happen in real life, an interpreter would have been brought in to assist in informing the passenger of what has happened and what will now happen. In the case of this film, bringing in someone who could speak the language would’ve taken away from Viktor the ability to grow and flourish into a very likeable character.