Language can be limiting

Though I love languages, language learning, and language teaching, I have come to realize that language can be limiting. Most communication requires much more than spoken or written language to serve its purpose. Facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures… all contribute to the messages we wish to convey.

I showed Caro Babbo to two of my students from Editorial Design today. I hold Natalie and Karol close to my heart; having them in the classroom has been a very enriching experience. These students are deaf, so I have needed an interpreter to communicate with them and another one of their classmates in this course and in two others.

Language can be limiting, but emotions are not. This is a screen capture from Caro Babbo by Vanessa Arita.

Both the interpreter and I teared up after showing the girls Caro Babbo.

What does Caro Babbo look like in sign language? It was beautiful. It gave brand new meaning to the closing lines in the film, and it was the first time I teared up showing the film to friends who are not blood relations.

What trouble I got myself into by showing this film today! Voice-over in Italian, with English subtitles meant little to nothing to three young girls whose primary form of communication is sign language… in Spanish. This meant I had to simultaneously interpret from Italian to Spanish — with a little help from my English subtitles to keep up the pace — while the interpreter signed for them. Of course, this was no easy task. I was forced to press pause plenty of times.

While language can be limiting, emotions are not

Editorial Design is one of my favorite courses to teach, because the final project in the class is a book project called “Top 20,” where students choose a topic divisible into 20 chapters that will aid them in telling an autobiographical narrative or narratives. In prior sections of the course, the challenge posed was to create this autobiographical text without the use of representational images. Textures and geometric shapes were fine, but students were to primarily rely on typography and the treatment of text to convey their messages.

This term, students are allowed to use photographs and illustrations, provided they are the creators of each image used.

The way deaf students use language can be limiting in comparison to what a hearing student might be able to use. I know, for example, that most verbs during dialogue are kept in the infinitive form or in the present tense, and that tenses are mostly understood through context. (For example: “I eat pizza yesterday.”) For this reason, writing can come to be a great challenge for deaf students, and this was one of Natalie’s and Karol’s concerns with the project.

My concern, on the other hand, was that they understand what the objective of the project is, beyond learning about the typography and layout skills required in editorial design.

By showing the film, I was trying to make a point about how projects can help us to get to know ourselves better, and that we can use methods other than “selfies” to show ourselves to the world. So, in discussing their projects, I explained to both Natalie and Karol that we are able to use other people or other strategies to represent ourselves in artwork.

That’s where Caro Babbo came in. I explained that the two girls in the film were meant to be representations of me, because I was in fact writing a letter to my father.

Emotions play a large role in effective communication. As visual communicators, we must be able to tap into emotion to reach the communicative objectives set forth in our projects. Though editorial design has little to do with film, I was able to use Caro Babbo to illustrate this need for emotion in our work and the need for connecting with our audience. Showing the film was a practical way to tap into these students’ emotions and help them understand how they are expected to communicate through their projects.

And the best part? I got to send my dad his letter in yet another language.



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