So I'm (re)watching season 3 of "24" while I work out, and something occurred to me about the use of foreign languages on TV shows for Americans. . . . The apparent villains of this season of "24" are two Mexican brothers. We are repeatedly shown scenes where the two of them speak in slightly accented English. That got me wondering: why?
I mean, if they really are meant to be speaking in English, why? Their English is quite good for a second language, but if I were speaking to my brother about my supersecret plans to buy a deadly virus to sell to terrorists, I'd do it in the language I was most comfortable with (i.e., Spanish for these guys).
So instead, maybe they really are speaking Spanish, and it's just been "translated" for viewers. I wouldn't have a problem with this as a narrative convention. (In fact, the best use of it that I've seen was in "The Hunt for Red October," where a scene early on starts with a character speaking Russian, and the camera zooms in slowly, then stops, and when the camera pulls back out, he's speaking English.) But . . . in the very same episode, we see another character speak in some Eastern European language, which is translated verbally for us!!!
I think I'd rather that everything be "translated" for us, with the implicit understanding that conversations are in the appropriate language given the situation. Good actors like Joaquim de Almeida, who played one of the Mexican brothers, can convey nuance that would be lost if we had to rely strictly on subtitles. Besides, the subtitles are often sufficiently inaccurate so as to change the meaning of the dialogue -- a fact that my wife noted when we watched the season 6 "prequel," which is available on the season 5 DVD set.