Plays in a Foreign Language

Attending a play in a foreign language sharpens, without any doubt, the senses. How can we say that?

If a person has one of her senses impaired, all the other senses will be heightened to balance the loss. Listening to a foreign language can be compared to a mild case of deafness: if you are deaf, all your senses will have to be on maximum alert to make up for the fact that you cannot hear, as one of the channels you understand the world through is shut down.

Attending a play in a foreign language is like having one input channel, possibly the favourite, precluded to you: you have to make up for this by challenging your senses to note elements that you never took notice of, never cared about before. The comparison is more an analogy than an accurate one: you will be able to discern the rhythm, even if you do not understand the foreign language. So, while the commodity of having the story narrated to you with words is lost, you can earn much more in a lot of other ways. Every language has, of course, its own musicality, but after a while you can understand fairly well if people quarrel or not, if they talk calmly or in a passionate way, if you are looking at a love scene or at two people chatting about the weather. Missing the meaning of the words leads you to make an effort to detect the intonations, the tone colour, the way these words are said. Not understanding what the actors say, moreover, obliges you to pay more attention to the setting, the choreography, to the facial expressions, the body language and so on…

I think I can safely say I know something about this: I have enjoyed “Mother Courage” by Bertolt Brecht in German, at the Berliner Ensemble in Berlin, and a the time when I could not speak German at all. I have watched a play on the story of Buddy Holly in London, when my English was practically non-existent (I am not an English native speaker). I do, furthermore, dearly love Opera: understanding the lyrics without the Opera book is, as far it regards me, quite challenging, if not impossible. Lyric could be easily considered a foreign language on its own!

Not comprehending the words is a challenge for the mind, expecially in our society: we do live in a words-oriented world. If the words you hear are reduced to mere sounds, your senses will have to do considerable work to overcome the difficulty to decipher something without your main decipherer key.