Georgian is a difficult language, no doubt about it. After more than two years living here, I’m nowhere near fluent and even struggle to read and hold complex conversations. I get shy about speaking and it stands in the way of my improving. Part of the problem is that I have precious little free time or money and can’t fit Georgian lessons into my schedule. Part of the problem is that I work with an office full of fluent English speakers and live with an American. Part of the problem is that my Russian is quite good and can be used as a crutch in a pinch. But all of these problems are just excuses. There are plenty of concrete steps I can take (and you can too!) to improve my Georgian.
I have a TV in my apartment that stays unplugged. I used to try to watch the news in Georgian but my vocabulary and comprehension were so poor that it was more of a nuisance than an asset. The issue was that my understanding fell short of the critical mass needed to learn something new. It was an exercise in frustration more than anything else. I needed to listen to something I already understood and slowly build from there. Enter Star Wars.
Before I continue, let me take a moment to talk about Star Wars. I love Star Wars. As a kid I was a card-carrying member of the Star Wars Fan Club. Literally. When I signed up they mailed me a card and I kept it in my Ninja Turtles wallet. Yes, I was a child of many varied and refined tastes. I’ve seen those movies hundreds of times and could probably identify just about any quote or character from any of the six films. I won’t keep boasting in this space, but I will admit that dozens of ancillary characters flipped through my mind as I contemplated inserting and identifying a photo of a background character. I’ll spare you.
The point being, I am very familiar with the Star Wars trilogies (Yes, both trilogies). This means that I don’t need to understand every word to know what’s going on. It’ll give me an opportunity to listen carefully and learn what I can hear while being able to still follow the story.
I found a Georgian-dubbed version of Star Wars online and proceeded to begin my foreign language self study!
Before I continue, let me take a moment to talk about dubbing. Dubbing is a tricky art that can make or break a film. Personally, I prefer subtitles. While the need to constantly watch the bottom of the screen takes me out of the movie a bit, the authenticity of listening to foreign languages more than makes up for it. On the other hand, some films, Das Boot comes to mind, are so artfully dubbed that I spent half the movie wondering whether it was a German or American film. Post-Soviet dubbing is another story entirely.
From what I’ve been told, the philosophy of Soviet and Russian voice-over actors was that they wanted to convey the content of the film without trammeling the original actor’s acting. What this largely means in practice is that you can hear the original soundtrack with a monotone Russian voice layered on top as he emotionlessly reads the script. While I appreciate the preservationist streak, it’s quite distracting and usually unpleasant. While I can’t speak for the other Former Soviet Republics, this dubbing culture has lingered in Georgia. Some friends and I saw The Hunger Games (შიმშილის თამაშები) last spring and it had been artfully dubbed into Russian by actors and then sovietically dubbed into Georgian by monotoners. This led to much confusion and mayhem as we struggled to separate the Russian and Georgian dubbing and make sense of the movie.
In Star Wars, two Georgian voice-over actors take it upon themselves to dub the entire franchise. There is a woman who does the voice of Princess Leia, and a man who does the voice of Everyone Else.
The male voice makes a valiant effort at giving characters distinct voices, but when Obi-Wan sounds like Darth Vader sounds like Jabba the Hutt, things can get tricky. But the good news is, I’ve been able to catch some phrases!
From the droids’ bickering at one another, “What are you talking about?” (რაზე ლაპარაკობ?? [Ra-zeh laparakob??]) to Luke saying to R5-D4, “Well, c’mon, Red!” (წამოდი, წითელო! [Tsamodi, tsitelo!]), I’ve begun picking up new words and phrases. It’s slow-going and sometimes difficult to understand when two characters with the same voice are talking to each other, but overall I’m quite pleased with my efforts! Besides, I really enjoy hearing the Georgianized names of the characters! Obi-Vani Kenobi? See-Sami Peh Oh? Er-ori Deh-ori?* It doesn’t get much better than that!
So if you find yourself short on time but harboring a strong desire to learn more Georgian, pick up a copy of your favorite movie in Georgian. If you can get past the dubbing, you’ll find yourself picking up new lingo before you know it! It’s a fun adventure hearing and learning new little phrases in context.
Good luck, and
*ობი-ვანი კენობი, C-3PO, R2-D2 (While Obi-Wan Kenobi has been Georgianized, the droids’ names have been straight up translated using the names of the Latin letters and the numbers)
** May the Force be with you!