movie language

Hispanics make up for 18% of the U.S. population — but they buy 25% of all movie tickets, according to the latest figures published by the MPAA. A good enough reason for the National Association of Theater Owners to consider how to reach more of this movie-mad demographic.

According to NATO head John Fithian, theater owners would love for Hollywood to produce more films aimed at their highest-volume customers. They are also testing an app that lets audiences use their smartphones to listen to multiple-language versions of any movie.

myLingo is an iOS and Android-compatible app that syncs up with a movie playing on a theater screen and plays a translation of the audio track. “Since smartphones can also record,” Fithian said, “we want to make sure the apps are usable when the devices are in your pocket, so ushers don’t have to worry about a lot of people pointing phones at the screen and trying to guess if they are pirating.”

According to Entertainment Weekly, myLingo is being tested with the biopic Cesar Chavez, about the Mexican-American civil rights activist. Since the film was filmed primarily in English but appeals to a Hispanic audience, it made a natural case study for the app.

So are on-the-fly translation apps the wave of the future? Not so fast: myLingo doesn’t actually produce the translation in real time. Instead, it downloads a Spanish-language audio version before the user goes to the movies and then syncs up to the film by using the smartphone’s built-in microphone. The actual audio track has been produced by the studio for foreign markets, with the use of high quality, human translators and voice-over artists. In that sense, myLingo is not really a translation tool but a tool for distributing translations — even to places and theaters were dedicated screenings in another language don’t make sense.