Learnt English from Watching Television
"How are you able to speak our language?" asked Proton.
"I have been monitoring your electronic wave-signals," said the alien. "10,000 channels of reality TV is enough to convince anyone you're worthy of extermination."
— Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space
When a writer wants to acknowledge that some foreigner or alien would not speak English, rather than just having Aliens Speaking English
or not having the sort of setting with Translator Microbes
, they'll have the character pick up the language from, of all things, TV and radio transmissions
Often this gets done too quickly to be realistic with Instant Expert
maybe used to indicate a super-intellect but depending on the medium, it may fare better depending on how much TV/radio/books the character has watched/heard/read. Part of the importance of the historical Rosetta Stone was that it provided a way to connect Egyptian hieroglyphics to languages we already could translate and provided a starting point. Generally any other first encounter would have to start with the basics (e.g. the "rock" and "tree" scene in The Iron Giant
) so probably radio and books aren't that useful but television, with an audio-visual combination, could perhaps provide enough reference points. There are many foreign students who learned their most basic English knowledge in elementary school, but improved it to fluency through the media. After all, the best way to learn a language is immersion, like a baby.
May make the character liable to Speak In Shout Outs
. It's also easier when Aliens Steal Cable
which in turn makes it easier to handwave Aliens Speaking English
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Anime and Manga
- In one episode of Seven of Seven, Nana is tutored in English by Funny Foreigner Melody Honey, who speaks Japanese with a bad kansai accent. At the end of the episode, Nana asks her how she learned Japanese, and she mentions watching videos of manzai comedy routines.
- In Lucky Star, Patricia Martin learned all her Japanese vocabulary from watching anime and manga.
- In Dragon Crisis!, Rose can only speak one or two words at first, but a full night of watching TV makes her very fluent in Japanese.
- In Super Dreadnought Girl 4946, Isaac Montana claims to have learned Japanese from watching anime. She was good enough to pass the Level 1 JLPT (which basically means she's as good as a native speaker), leading her classmates to wonder how much anime she had watched. However, she might have been lying, since she was The Mole before her Heel-Face Turn.
- In Parasyte, while Migi learned Japanese from reading books and hence speaks quite politely, Shaba learned English from Japanese tv and therefore speaks crudely. When Shinji and Uda meet, he compliments Migi for being so polite while lamenting that Shaba is a bit rude.
- Parodied in Peepo Choo. The African-American fanboy Milton thinks he learned Japanese from his favourite anime, Peepo Choo. Unfortunately the anime was a deranged, dada Mind Screw that was subbed in English with completely different dialogue to turn it into an orthodox kids' show. Hilarity Ensues.
- Blue Devil once met aliens who learned English from watching reruns of I Love Lucy beamed into space. "Little Ricky" was an exclamation along the lines of taking the Lord's name in vain.
- Some backstories of DC Comics' Martian Manhunter has him learning English by watching TV in his apartment during his free time.
- The all-ages version of Power Pack has Whitemane learning English this way. It helps that he gets to be something of a movie buff.
- Horidus, a side character from Savage Dragon, learned English mostly by watching TV while chained in a basement. Keep in mind she is an American citizen and spent her life in the Mid-West. Since she was a genetic Lizard Folk mutant, her parents locked her up downstairs, never letting her out.
Film - Live Action
- Madison from Splash speaks only...Mermaidese at the beginning, but just as Allen has gotten into the swing of making excuses for her not speaking English, she picks it up from watching TV at Radio Shack.
- At the beginning of The Fifth Element, Leeloo speaks only the Divine Language of the priests ("bada-boom"), but her perfect, genetically engineered self, is able to pick up the basics from a massive dose of future Internet. This also leads her to unfortunately absorb human war and hatred (and presumably a lot of porn).
- And of course, "please help" when she crashes into the hero. Where she learns it from READING it. Not quite sure how that works...
- In Explorers, the three kids meet aliens who pick up English from watching television. One alien did a better job than the other, so the latter communicates by speaking in TV catch phrases and clips from old black-and-white TV broadcasts.
- A possible variation in The 13th Warrior film: Ahmad ibn Fadlan doesn't speak Norse at the beginning, so he can communicate only via some shared Greek and Latin with one of them. Thus the audience doesn't get to understand them, either. However, in a montage of them travelling and talking around the campfire, more and more start to turn to English as Ahmad begins to understand more until eventually he surprises them at a campfire but insulting them in their own tongue. When asked how he learned their language, he just replies, "I listened."
- Mac, Teebo and Wiploc from Earth Girls Are Easy also learn English from watching TV.
- Wayne's World:
: Hey, where'd you learn to speak English? Cassandra
: College... and the Police Academy
- ET The Extra Terrestrial learned some basic words (y'know:"phone" and "home") from Sesame Street in a fairly well justified way: the show had basic words sounded out next to a picture of what it was talking about. It is a show directed at preschoolers, after all.
- In the live action Transformers film, Optimus Prime tells Sam and Mikaela that they learned English from the Internet, with the exception of Bumblebee, who uses the radio to speak Junkion-style (and one of the soundbites he plays is the alien from Explorers).
- The Incredible Hulk: Justified Trope: Bruce Banner is shown learning Portuguese by watching the Brazilian dub of Sesame Street with a dictionary in his lap. Unfortunately he hasn't even learned enough to make a proper threat.
- Averted in Threads. The language skills of children born after the nuclear war are very underdeveloped, leaving them barely able to form simple sentences. While there is a scene which shows a woman attempting to improve the speech of a group of children by showing them a videotape of Words and Pictures and lip-syncing with the presenter's dialogue, none of the kids are making any attempt to copy her.
- In John Grisham's The Pelican Brief, a Lebanese assassin perfects his Southern (US) accent by watching local television as part of his cover.
- Mentioned in The House on Mango Street, when Esperanza's neighbor's son starts repeating a Pepsi commercial.
- In "The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School" by Kim Newman, which is set before the invention of television, there's a character from a remote part of Asia who learned English from American pulp magazines, and litters her speech with stereotypical gangster slang.
- The novel I Want to Buy a Vowel is about a Guatemalan immigrant who learns English from TV and as such has a tendency to repeat lines from game shows at inappropriate times.
- The Stainless Steel Rat was sent back to Earth in 1974. He learns English first from a Hell's Angel he turns the tables on, and then from TV in his hotel room.
Live Action TV
- In Red Dwarf, it's explained that The Cat's race learned English from watching the American movies (specifically John Wayne movies) in the ship's hold. Of course, The Cat obviously learned his mannerisms from watching James Brown , though it's never mentioned in series.
- In Skins, Anwar tells the Russian girl he meets what he'd like to do to her and becomes embarrassed when she reveals she speaks English and learnt it from watching Friends. Cue her saying "How you doin'?"
- In an episode of the TV show spinoff of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a cat accelerated to human intelligence and body-swapped with a human learned English by watching television.
- In the Fawlty Towers episode "The Germans," Manuel practices several English phrases he knows, including "I learn to speak English while watching television." Unfortunately for the Major, he sees a moose head while Manuel is behind the counter, leading the mystified Major to think that the moose head is speaking (and that the "television" note somehow explains everything).
- One of Denis Norden's anecdotes on My Word! involved a Swedish au pair who talked in a broad Oop North accent due to learning English from Coronation Street.
- GURPS Aliens. The Engai learned the language used by the rest of the interstellar community by monitoring radio transmissions.
- In Starship, Bug learnt English from watching old recordings on the starship.
- It is common for TV to be the most widespread form of mass marketed entertainment even in places that have never heard of English before, and because TV shows are usually directed with the lowest common denominator (and cost) in mind, subtitled, English language shows become the chief means by which the people learn English while getting entertainment.
- This is true for some children. Because given a choice between sitting in a class room and listening to a teacher drone on about adverbs, grammar rules or what not, OR watching cartoons (in English), the cartoons, and English language will will win the day for children's minds and limited attention spans.
- Courtesy of being a U.S territory, many Generation Y and younger children of Puerto Rico have access to American television, and even English versions of video games, which in turn leads to many of them being bilingual from a young age.
- Victor Borge learned English by watching movies.
- Mila Kunis learned English by watching The Price Is Right. She thanked Bob Barker for talking slow enough for her to understand.
- In non-English-speaking parts of Europe, it's not uncommon for English-language Harry Potter books to be under the "language education" section of bookstores, since lots of kids just learning English become better at it by reading the English books and comparing them to a translation.
- This is occasionally inverted in England, where school libraries will stock non-english versions of popular cartoons and popular young adult and children's books.
- Ricky Martin says this is how he learned English.
- Joanie Rochette, a French Canadian Olympic figure skater, says that no one in her family speaks English. She learned it by watching Scooby-Doo.
- Jackie Chan has said he learned some English from listening to American music. Country music, to be precise, since the words are generally sung more slowly and are easier to follow.
- It is common for foreign language learners to hear their teachers advise them to practice the language they are studying by listening, reading, or watching media in the said language. This is to be familiar with the common use of the language, word pronunciation, and vocabulary words.
- United Nations translators read newspapers and comic books to keep up with all the latest jargon and slang in the languages they specialize in. (According to the nonfictional DVD extra about them in The Interpreter.)
- There is evidence that suggests watching Eastenders makes its watchers pronounce 'th's like regular 't's.
- While The Internet has sites in hundreds of languages, most users pick up at least a passing understanding of English as a Wiki Walk is nearly guaranteed to lead one to an English-speaking page.
- Some Israelis have learned English off Cartoon Network, which aired without subtitles in Israel for many years before being cut off first from cable and later from satellite.