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Spoilers regarding Rey and BB-8 from The Force Awakens below:

It seems like everyone can suddenly understand droid speak (from at least BB-8) in The Force Awakens. If I remember correctly, from the moment Rey comes in contact with BB-8, she seems to be able to comprehend the droid (more than just understanding intonation, but actually understanding specific “thoughts” the droid is communicating through bleeps and bloops).

How is this possible?

Wouldn’t a translator of some sort be needed unless there was deep familiarity between the droid/human, or only basic intonations or feelings were being communicated? (see this related question about understanding astromech droids, where all the answers seem to cite this sort of situation).

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    Well, I can confirm 100% from novelization she understands his beeps. No details on how, yet – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 20 '15 at 7:13
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Found the answer in the Alan Dean Foster novelization (all quotes form there unless otherwise stated).

Not everyone understands BB-8. Finn does not. So it's plausible that Rey - being mechanically gifted scavenger - learned Binary (UPDATE: TFA Visual Dictionary Data explicitly includes a snippet that Rey had contact with off-worlders and learned Binary from them).

“Okay, look—we have to know the location of the Resistance base. You heard Rey. She thinks she can get us there—but you have to tell us where it is.” The droid emitted a flurry of rapid, soft beeps. An impatient Finn waved them off.

“I don’t speak that, but I think I got the gist. You just accused me of not being with the Resistance, didn’t you?”

This theory is confirmed kinda, because Chewie can talk to BB-8:

Striding effortlessly alongside, Chewbacca groaned assent. Behind Finn, BB-8 beeped a question to which the Wookiee readily replied. Droid and Wookiee then entered into a rapid-fire conversation, the sound of which made Finn’s head hurt.

Obviously, Poe - who was a pilot with BB-8 as his astromech, was a good candidate to understand him. Yep.

“I wasn’t dead, just momentarily out of it,” the pilot explained. “Came around long enough to see that you had got out. Pulled out of the dive just long enough to set down—hard. Impact threw me clear. Woke up at night; no you, no ship, no nothing. Went looking—in the wrong direction. Got picked up by some itinerant trader.” He grinned. “Tell you all about it sometime.” A plaintive beep caused him to turn and look down. “Beebee-Ate says that you saved him.”

However, we know that almost nobody understands R2-D2: Luke barely does (he needs X-Wing translation in canon); Leia doesn’t understand R2-D2 in TFA either (and neither, seemingly, does Poe who translates for BB-8 but not R2-D2, who needs C-3PO’s translation)

An excited Leia moved closer. Of all the organics in the room, no one had a more personal relationship to the little droid than she did.
“What’s he saying?” she asked.

The protocol droid explained. “If the information you are seeking was in the Imperial archives, he believes he may have cataloged that data. He’s scanning through it now.”

Rey stared at the diminutive droid. “Artoo has the rest of the map?”
“He’s certainly implying the possibility!” C-3PO told her. “I’ve never heard him beep with this much energy before.”

Emitting a long, sustained whistle, R2-D2 projected a full three-dimensional image of a huge navigational star chart. No one in the room could fail to notice that it was missing a substantial fragment. In response to the hovering image, BB-8 began beeping excitedly. “Yeah, buddy, hold on,” Poe told him. “I have it.”

Now, this all doesn’t explain the how.

However, we know from novelization that BB-8 spoke DIFFERENT droid languages - perhaps one variant was more understandable to organics?

In the dark, dusty storeroom he rolled over to the R2 unit and beeped a greeting, the transmission sequence too rapid and too exhaustive for any human to follow. It didn’t matter. There was no response from the immobile R2 unit.

BB-8 tried again, utilizing a different droid language. When that also failed, he moved forward and gave the other mechanical a forceful nudge. Like everything else, that too failed to generate a response.

We also know that his primary language is related to standard Binary but is a more evolved generation of it, which may go a long way to explaining why many people understand it.

27th generation droid-speak code, a compressed variant of the most common astromech language (source: TFA Visual Dictionary, or SFF.SE)

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    It was also CLEAR in the film that finn could not understand BB8, On the note of droid languages the beeps BB8 defaultwise produces are QUITE different in tone and pronounciation than what R2 produces thus it sounds like completely different dialects (C3PO also mentions something in ANH that some droids have a quite......bad dialect of sorts). +1 btw – Thomas Dec 20 '15 at 11:33
  • Pssst, her name is Rey. – user31178 Dec 21 '15 at 2:23
  • @CreationEdge Spelling, grammar - A Jedi craves not these things – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 21 '15 at 2:51
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    @CreationEdge - Aing-Tii, rather – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 21 '15 at 3:05
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    "Droid and Wookiee then entered into a rapid-fire conversation, the sound of which made Finn’s head hurt." — so I guess the next question is "How can BB-8 understand Chewbacca?" – Nefrubyr Dec 22 '15 at 10:06
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This is explained in the in-universe factbook 'Star Wars: Rey's Survival Guide'.

Over the years Rey has salvaged a large number of computer cores which she uses for entertainment and as part of her survival regime. This includes flight simulators, the technical schematics for a wide range of Empire, Republic and Rebellion-era ships and, crucially, the Star Wars equivalent of language tapes. It seems that learning to speak alien languages and droidspeak gives her a substantial edge as a scavenger.

What do I do when I'm home? Mostly, I refurbish gear at my workbench - it costs too much to make extensive repairs at Unkar's washing tables in Niima. I have an old Y-wing computer display I use to study schematics of rebel and Imperial starships and run flight sims. I practice alien languages and droidspeak so I can talk to people in Niima. And I sleep - I made myself a hammock when I was just a kid. At first it was huge, and I would feel lost in the middle of it. Now it fits more snugly.

1

Rey may have used the Force to read the mind of and understand BB-8. For example, she was able to read the mind of Kylo Ren in the "Mind-Force War" scene. It wasn't easy though. If she was able to do a task like that, then an untrained Force level so high, may have easily read the mind of a droid. Therefore, she understood what BB-8 was saying.

Another idea I have is that droid language was taught, or picked up from companionship with droids. However, Finn couldn't have learned (or picked up) the language because his job was sanitation, so he may have only been taught about, well, sanitation. Rey may not have gotten an education on droids, after being kidnapped onto the desert planet at such a young age. Therefore, we do not know if there were schools. However, Rey may have been taught it after working with and selling technical things, so she was more likely to have interacted with droids.

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    Does the Force work on droids? – Adamant Jun 5 '16 at 1:26
  • Do droids have minds? – TGnat Jul 12 '16 at 20:49
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Y'all forgot who built c3p0 . A protocol driod . Anakin did. And I don't remember Anakin needing it uless he is flying a fighter then it is displayed. Anakin had to have some great understanding of binary if he to build C3p0 originally to help his mom . And Luke could understand r2d2 . Remember him cleaning r2d2 then the hologram of Leia is displayed then finding out about old Ben Kenobi. Then about Rey in ep7 their could be familiar traits between her and Anakin to Luke strength in the force. Mechanical knowledge. Pilot skills .. the reflexes see things before they happen listen to qun jinn in ep 1 . Explaining the force to Anakin s mother.

  • Could you make this a bit more clear? – Adamant Jul 12 '16 at 20:51
  • Knowledge of languages is not passed down genetically, it is something that has to be learned through experience. I think it's possible to inherit a knack for picking up languages, but without ever being exposed to a language there's still no way to learn it. Also, how does your answer explain how Chewie or others can speak to BB-8? – childcat15 Jul 12 '16 at 21:17

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