Study Guide

Lost in Translation Language and Communication

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Language and Communication

If you've ever traveled to a foreign country, we don't have to tell you hard it is to get around when you don't speak the language. That's why Shmoop can ask "Where is the train station?" in eleven different languages. Coppola at times plays the language barrier for laughs, but mostly she uses it to heighten the sense of isolation and alienation that Bob and Charlotte feel.

No matter where in the world you are, though, some things are universally hard to translate: like love, for example; or trying to explain an inside joke or a hilarious anecdote to someone who wasn't there; or a deep sense of disillusionment and alienation.

In Lost in Translation, Bob and Charlotte can communicate with each other in ways they aren't able to connect with others: not Lydia, whom we only hear as a disembodied voice on the phone. Not John, and definitely not the photographer who thinks Roger Moore is the best James Bond.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. What do you think Bob wants to communicate to Lydia? Why can’t he do it?
  2. Same question, but from Charlotte to John.
  3. Does the film lean too hard on Asian communication stereotypes? Does it matter that Bob's the chump in this comedy of manners?
  4. What scene do you think best uses the language barrier to communicate the theme of isolation and “lost-ness.”

Chew on This

Lost in Translation presents language as both a great unifier and an obstacle to truth.

The conversations that Bob and Charlotte have are the kind you can only have with people you've just met and probably won’t ever see again.

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