Strommen’s Dialect Coaching and Translation Work on Arrival – A Film About Language

No Spoilers 
If you like science fiction, and are interested in language, then we highly recommend the film Arrival. As it is a film that focuses on languages, it is no surprise that they chose the language experts at Strommen to help. If you have seen the film, keep in mind that we translated, dialect coached and performed quality control in all of the scenes with foreign languages.

We have worked on many films, TV shows and commercials, but we have never worked on a film that has languages and language learning as a central theme. There is a scene where Amy Adams speaks Mandarin Chinese flawlessly – our teacher Nicholas ensured a perfect delivery. There are scenes of news reports in over 15 languages: we translated those and did quality control before the film was released. There was even a last minute mistake (made by copying and pasting Arabic by the VFX studio) that needed correction.

An interesting coincidence: arrival-forrest-whitaker-frenchForest Whitaker is a Strommen student (studying French)


At Strommen, we also appreciate that the message of the film is that the world should unite and that language is ultimately the barrier. That we should not see ourselves as nations, but rather a planet; Buckminster Fuller called it “Spaceship Earth”. Languages are walls, and in the film these walls are torn down between humans and aliens as well as humans and humans and time itself.

We also like the idea that a linguist is used to communicate with the aliens. The physicist and the linguist argue about how to communicate, but ultimately the linguist wins. She teaches (and learns) how to simply introduce herself as the first step. Just learning how to say: “hello, my name is ______” goes a long way whether it’s an alien, or the cab driver at the airport in Italy. Languages are the key to cross cultural understanding and goodwill.

Amy Adams’ character tells the Chinese General a line in Mandarin (that we helped her pronounce). It is interesting to note that they didn’t use subtitles in that scene; a very interesting choice that meant non Mandarin speakers wouldn’t understand what was being said. The line was: “In war there are no winners, only widows.” This is what makes the Chinese stop the attack and re-open global talks. Again, in the film they chose not to use subtitles. Perhaps this was a statement that we treat each other as aliens. There were no subtitles for the actual aliens either. The author, Heisserer, said on Reddit:chinese-arrival-film-mandarin

“I worked so hard on the dialogue in Mandarin for Denis. Spent weeks crafting the lines that he finally approved! And then that scoundrel goes and doesn’t use subtitles in that scene. I guess there’s something to be said there about the nature of language. And I love Denis. But he’s also a mischievous fox.”

In conclusion: Strommen recommends this film. Two thumbs up (93% on rotten tomatoes too!)




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