As I sat down on a drizzly Edinburgh evening, ready to be whisked away to sunny Mexico by the coming-of-age Spanish language drama Y Tu Mamá, También, my severely uncultured flatmate recoiled in disgust at the mere sight of subtitles. Granted, as a language student I might have some bias towards anything in a foreign language, but her attitude struck me as small-minded.
Yet streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have made foreign language TV programmes much more widely accessible, and indeed popular. Nordic noir has taken over our lives, from the woolly knits we are fishing out of attics to what we are glued to every night. However, it is not just Scandinavian whodunnits that have captured the attention of British audiences – Narcos is one of the most popular programmes on Netflix, and French political drama Marseille was well received this summer. But it is often crime dramas that create the most hype – Danish Forbydelsen (The Killing), and the Italian Il Commissario Montalbano (Inspector Montalbano) to name a few. These gripping shows have all become household names over the past few years, and yet there remains a significant stigma about watching television in foreign languages.
Perhaps that is because it feels like doing work? Reading subtitles elevates the watching of TV from the passive to something active, something you have to engage in – which might not necessarily be ideal for a Netflix and chill. However, generally, since when was being engaged in what you are watching a negative thing? If anything, having to read the subtitles draws you into the action, in a world where we are too glued to our phones to fully concentrate on what we are watching.
Not only this, but languages bring credibility. You cannot truly feel transported to another country without being immersed in its language. Funnily enough, English actors putting on dodgy accents fails to have quite the same effect. In the same vein, there have been several remakes of foreign-language dramas that just are not as good. The Returned and Wallander have both been remade in English, which is not only insulting to the originals but also the intelligence of their viewers. Despite still being set in France and Sweden respectively, the lack of the genuine language removes a lot of authenticity from these programmes.
Getting hooked on a new series is one of the finest things in life, and there is a whole world to discover through other languages so why not expand your horizons and learn something new at the same time?
Image: Marcus Bengtsson