A few weeks ago, I played a game whose protagonists were speaking in a language that I did not understand. After doing some research, I found out that the language spoken was fictional (which is why it wasn’t dubbed nor were there subtitles) Beyond the challenges within the game, what caught my attention was that despite not understanding the language, the story was easy to follow and the character’s feelings, along with the tasks at hand were comprehensible. And that is what led me to pose the question that is the title to this post.
It goes without question that to go to the doctor or sign a contract we need to speak the same language or hire an interpreter in order to communicate. Despite of this, we oftentimes decide not to use words even when we speak the same language as the other speaker. For example, we can hold an entire conversation using only emojis, GIFS or pictures. In general, though, we do this as a game, to have fun with friends, but the fact is that we still understand each other. Within the same line of technology, think of all those videos going around the internet that make us laugh or cry despite our not understanding what is being said.
The same thing happens with music. It is not necessary to understand the lyrics of a song to know if it’s a sad or happy song: the rhythm, chords, tone and intensity in the singer’s voice allows us to enjoy (or hate) the song. I know several people who listen again and again to the same song without knowing what it is about. And there is also the case of children, who even knowing the language cannot understand the lyrics or the meaning of the song, but they still like it and enjoy it. And what about silent movies? Nobody talks, but the stage, the posters, the music, the gestures and the gestures help us to understand perfectly what happens.
Language is not just spoken or written. There is also a gestural language that helps us communicate (even if we speak the same language). As language professionals, we must always bear in mind that, when people communicate, they use more than words. Gestures and context are also part of the message. If we are interpreters or audiovisual translators, for example, the entire context surrounding the words plays a very important role in achieving a much more accurate translation.
And to answer the question that gives title to this post, I think we can say that it is not always necessary to speak the same language to be able to understand each other. And with this I do not mean that learning languages is not necessary, just showing that they are not the only form of communication. Can you think of other ways of communicating or other situations in which we do not need to use words?