Created By: norsicnumber2nd on October 14, 2012 Last Edited By: lakingsif on January 26, 2013

But Not Too Fluent

The foreign character speaks their language not badly, but not well either due to a bad translation.

Name Space:
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Possible Names: Name Crowner

I've looked through Translation Tropes and not found this, and I am not complaining about bad translation, either.


So, Bob is now el Bob-o and lives in the beautiful Tuscan Madrid, speaking the Spanish with all his definitely Spanish friends. Of course, the writer of this work isn't Spanish. He isn't Captain Obvious, either. And, more importantly, doesn't have the time to find someone who speaks Spanish to write the Spanish. el Bob-o is now a Spanish man who does not speak Spanish as you would expect a Spaniard to speak Spanish. Instead he speaks Spanish as that unbranded translator which language teachers tell you not to use for your homework speaks Spanish or the English/Spanish Dictionary does, resulting in Spanish-speaking (or listening, or reading) audience members to raise their eyebrows in confusion at the relative in-correctness of it all.

Basically, in a works, the writer will not necessarily speak every language his characters do (and in film and television often the actors can't, either). When there is no actual living translator to hand, the writer may resort to a dictionary or internet translator for the foreign characters' speech and the result is a fudged translation when the speaker should be fluent, causing speakers to raise their eyebrows (and probably laugh).

This isn't Gratuitous Foreign Language, as it is usually clear as to what the character is trying to say, even if it isn't correct. For example, aforementioned translator says that "My name is Bob" is, in Spanish, "Mi nombre es Bob", whereas its really "Soy Bob" or "Me llamo Bob". In this example, the translation provided is perfectly literal, which just doesn't happen in Real Life.

This doesn't happen all that often any more, as productions now usually employ a foreign-language speaker. Not that they always help much. You can still criticise the foreign languages in airports, for el Pedro's sake!

  • For example, some of the English in Dark Blue World is this; the film being about Czechoslovaks in WW2 and made by Czechs. The British soldiers (and French, at some points) have a mildly bad case of this.
  • The 2011 film The Flat (Die Wohnung in Germany) was released in Hebrew, German, and English with 'primitive' translation used for the former and latter of the languages. This when narrators who supposedly spoke Hebrew and/or English stumbled through in near-German.
  • The German translation of Michael Crichton's Next fixes a German headline. The original had the headline as "Affe spricht im Dschungel, Flüche George Bush", which is a word-to-word translation of "Monkey speaks in the jungle, curses George Bush" - only that Flüche is not the verb, it's the noun. So the German version corrected it to something more headline-y, something to the effect of "Affe schwingt Reden, Zeugen verschlägt es die Sprache", which would be in English: "Monkey talks big, witnesses are speechless".
  • Thunder Force V's boss descriptions, which were already in English in the Japanese version, were rewritten in correct English. The voice that reads out the description, however, still goes by the descriptions from the Japanese version.
  • Ranka Lee from Macross Frontier sings "Ni Hao Nyan" during one of her concerts. The writers likely assumed this would translate to something like "Hello (meow!)", since "Ni hao" is Mandarin for "hello", and "nyan" is the Japanese onomatopoeia for a meowing cat. However, in Chinese, "nya/nyan" means something akin to "sissy" or "gay".
    • That's not the only problem: placing an adjective after "ni hao" translates to "you're very [adjective]"...
  • In The Remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu meets with another of his species who had been living on Earth for a long time in the guise of a Chinese man. The two proceed to converse in Mandarin, and while the writers (and Keanu Reeves) try pretty hard, they don't get it quite right.
  • An episode of Bones has a plot revolving around a Chinese family's burial ritual. Emily Deschanel's Chinese is at least understandable.
    • A season 4 episode also had some rich kids attempting to sass Booth in (horrible) Chinese. Booth wasn't amused.
  • In Fallout 3, you will run into recordings, holograms and whatnot, all using the Chinese language...and every single one will make you cringe. Considering Bethesda habitually uses a small pool of voice actors for very, very large casts of NPCs, it seems unlikely that they couldn't find one guy who could actually speak the language and still stay on budget.
  • The opening of Lilo & Stitch uses an upbeat Hawaiian chant -- except that it's actually parts of two chants about two different people. The translated result is a bit weird. Another song, Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride, uses Pidgin English and surfer slang. Nani and Paul use Hawaiian Pidgin English, but their voice actors grew up in Hawaii.
  • Hunyak in the musical Chicago has a few lines in Hungarian (mostly in "Cell Block Tango"); Ekaterina Chtchelkanova generally mispronounces them in the movie version. In the script of the musical, many of the vowels in those lines carry incorrect accent marks, some of which are not found in the Hungarian language.
  • Empire Total War has unit responses in multiple languages. While the Swedish versions have okay pronunciation it is also painfully clear that they are direct translations of English terms.
  • In The Simpsons episode Frinkenstein, Lisa mispronounces some Swedish... the writers put "Tack for att ni forarat var stad" instead of "Tack för att ni förärat vår stad" (Thank you for honouring our city), altering the meaning to "Thank you for the graced on the every city." With the American accent, it's probably utter codswallop to Swedes. Mentioned as one would assume Lisa to know this.
    • In episode Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore the Hindi is just as scratchy - even though the language spoken in Bangalore is Kannada, not Hindi.
  • Averted in Torchwood with Gwen's Welsh. Though an English show, actress Eve Myles is Welsh and it's filmed in Wales, with a whole team of Welsh crew to boot.
  • In Homestuck, Damara Megido is from East Beforus, which is the Beforus equivalent of East Asia. Her speech is comprised of incredibly lewd and badly spoken Japanese.
  • Stargate SG-1 featured passages of Gratuitous Russian on occasion, and with few exceptions it was grammatically correct but horribly pronounced.
  • In Scrubs, Carla's brother gives Todd a pick-up line for Spanish girls (albeit one that will never work), but "Yo tengo herpes genital para ti" would be better as "Tengo herpes para tu", and so it is clear that the character, though Spanish, isn't very good at it.

Often results in a "Blind Idiot" Translation and sometimes just becomes a Translation Train Wreck, usually given a Translation Correction when exported. When the writer is aware of how awful it will probably be, the character will most likely Switch to English relatively quickly. The opposite of this is Eloquent in My Native Tongue. Commonly done in FanFictions.
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