Sometimes, characters are casually given skills with languages which would be very remarkable in real life, if not downright unrealistic. Most people find it hard work to achieve native-level fluency in just one foreign language, even when they're a full time student of it, but a fictional character might speak thirty languages well enough to be mistaken for a native speaker in each. Or the character might somehow learn the local language fluently just by chatting while playing cards each evening for a few weeks. Or perhaps, due to having taken evening classes for a month when they were twenty years younger, they are able to win debates on metaphysics in a particular language. At the very least, they read the Genius Book Club books in the original language.
Sometimes there may be justification for this—perhaps it's a superpower, perhaps the character is immortal (and thus had the time to learn the languages the regular way) or perhaps they had an Upgrade Artifact. And sure, some people genuinely are good at languages. But sometimes, it just seems to be research failure — the author is just not aware that learning a foreign language properly can be quite difficult and time-consuming (perhaps because the author has never properly learned a second language himself). The result is a sort of Charles Atlas Superpower.
Also has an annoying habit of being introduced via Suddenly Always Knew That; "Whoa, you speak Finnish? You never mentioned that!" "Well, You Never Asked…"
The fact that young children are better at learning languages than older children, adults, or teenagers makes this trope easier to justify if the character in question was either A) raised in a highly multilingual environment or B) a Child Prodigy who learned languages for fun when they were four years old.
Such a character may be a Cunning Linguist, but that's a character role rather than a trait. A Mary Sue can easily have this feature. Also may be a trait of The Face: they know ten languages instead of fighting styles like The Hero.
Not to be confused with the website Omniglot.
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L from Death Note can speak enough languages to communicate with police all over the globe. He knows basically everything. He's the threegreatest detectives in the world.
Lupin III speaks or at least gets by in pretty much any language the gang encounters in their heists. This includes several computer languages.
Johan from Monster speaks French, German, English, and Czech, and Latin. He learned most of those while still a fairly young child.
Kirika Yumura of Noir is supposed to be fluent in multiple languages, presumably so that she could make herself understood in any region she is trying to track down and kill someone in. However, since the anime auto-translates for the viewer, this is an Informed Ability, and the exact languages she knows are never explicitly stated.
One of the abilities that a Campione! has is that they pick up and speak any language whatsoever. Kind of boring for the standards of this series, but very useful for the protagonist Godou.
Sora in No Game No Life knows a few languages but not enough for this trope. His sister Shiro on the other hand knows 18 languages including their classical versions. This is topped by the Flügel Jibril who states to know 700 languages and it's a plot point as well since the fact she has never seen Japanese script confirms the claim of Shiro and Sora that they weren't born in Disboard.
Wolverine speaks 12 languages fluently and a couple others pretty well, including at least one extraterrestrial language. This is the same man who does not know his own real name and is prone to memory loss. Though he's also over a century old and a world traveler for most of that time, and brainwashing might be involved.
Captain America can speak English, German, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, French and Italian. There might be even more that he is lingual in.
Shadowcat of the X-Men also speaks a wide amount of languages. Kitty herself knows fluent royal and standard Shi'ar, and has some moderate knowledge of Gaelic, Hebrew, and German. When Illyana Rasputin came to stay with the team, Xavier telepathically taught them all fluent Russian, and when the team went to Japan for Wolverine's wedding to Mariko Yashida, he likewise taught them Japanese.
Her Platonic Life Partner Nightcrawler is similarly gifted. Justified in that he spent his youth travelling around Europe as the star performer in a circus and knowing the language of wherever they were that week was very handy. Aside from the Russian and Japanese everyone learned he also speaks German (his native laguage) English, French (which he also teaches), Spanish, and Italian.
Shadowcat's pet dragon Lockheed knows more languages than Beast, even though everyone treats him as a quote unquote "starlet'schihuahua", as Abigail Brand put it. He's less a pet dragon as he is from a race of insect-like highly advanced aliens. He now teaches at the Xavier Institute.
The X-MenspinoffNew Mutants featured the character Doug Ramsey/'Cypher' whose power was to do this with any language, even if it should have been completely incomprehensible to the human mind. This extended even to raw computer binaries, dead written languages for which no "Rosetta stone" exists, and an alien Starfish Language.
As of the Necrosha arc, in which he was resurrected and insane, he became capable of doing this with body language as well. His first appearance involved reading all of the unspoken parts of a reunion between the New Mutants and Xavier, and he later used it to hand them their asses in a fight. Though this only works when they're of their own minds. When Karma took control of the entire team, he could no longer predict what they would do.
While we're on the X-men, Xavier himself can psychically learn any language by reading the mind of a fluent speaker. Presumably he knows quite a few of them.
One of the benefits of having so many telepaths running around the various teams of X-Men is that they've mastered how to hit field operatives with short-duration language programming, mostly by reading the minds of people in the area they're visiting. Recent examples have included teaching Frenzy several local African dialects; programming the entire field team with local customs and languages when they visited a spaceship graveyard in Indonesia; and Cyclops becoming fully fluent in Cantonese for a couple of weeks when the team undertook a mission in Hong Kong. Xavier is also responsible for teaching Illyana Rasputin fluent English over the course of a single night by programming it into her brain while she slept.
Silver AgeSuperman, by virtue of super-intelligence, being one of his (rarely used) powers. He went and taught himself every language on Earth just because he wanted to be able to talk to anyone he was saving in their native tongue. Speaks a few alien languages, too.
Impulse's mom learned English in 8 seconds thanks to super speed.
Max Mercury duplicated the trick... mostly... when he was introduced to Impulse's mother. Bart gave him a "speed course" in Interlaq with a few 'errors'.
Max: "I am pleased to meet you. I am Bart's loyal teacher and butthead."
Starfire of the Teen Titans has the power to learn any language, just by physical contact with a native speaker, but she usually kisses the speaker in question (The original Dick Grayson lampshades the situation during a crossover with the X-Men set just after the Dark Phoenix Saga when he apologizes to Professor X for Starfire kissing Colossus when he mutters to himself in Russian.). It is unknown how many languages she currently speaks, but it looks like she has the potential to speak... all of them.
But then this is a trait of her species, and she still has an "accent" if you call it that.
In one Golden Age story, a time-traveling Mary Marvel used the Wisdom of Minerva to speak Atlantean. Her arch-enemy, Mad Scientist's Ugly Daughter Georgina Sivana was also able to speak it just because she's a genius.
The Green Lantern Corps' green lantern rings let them speak any language (with extremely rare exceptions when the ring doesn't recognize the language), which is useful, considering that they are something akin to a galactic police force.
All Asgardians, and probably all deities in the Marvel Universe, can speak every language thanks to a handy little ability called the Allspeak, in which what they say is understood by every species in their own native language. This rather makes sense for a race of Gods. After all, it's pretty difficult to tell your followers what to do if they can't understand a word you say.
Shatterstar, then a member of X-Force, possesses enhanced learning capabilities and mastered Spanish by watching television. He's since been shown to be fluent in at least one other language (German), and probably speaks several others.
Batman, not surprisingly, has mastered quite a few languages. In addition to his native English, he also speaks Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Russian, at least two dialects of Chinese, Latin, Kryptonese (and you thought Latin was a dead language), Urdu, Arabic, Vietnamese and presumably many more.
He could not speak Arabic in the continuity of Batman: The Animated Series, however (as seen in the episode "If You're So Smart Why Aren't you Rich?") and needed to use his portable computer to translate it.
And in the same universe, David Cain (the father of former Batgirl Cassandra Cain) can say "That's nice. Now get me a Scotch or I'll rip your lungs out." in every Earth-native language in existence.
Dick Grayson also speaks many languages including: English, some Romani (though mostly from circus slang), French, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, the alien language of Tamaran, and American Sign Language. He is occasionally shown to have trouble reading Japanese though.
In the Star Wars extension comics, according to Han Solo, the warlord Zsinj can swear fluently in nearly 60 languages.
Drinking water from the Fountain of Youth gave Detective Chimp of Shadowpact this ability in addition to extreme longevity. He can speak "any language of man, beast, or monster". Since Rex The Wonder Dog has the same origin, and also speaks to humans, he presumably has the same Omniglot ability.
Mark Waid's run on Daredevil features Austin Cao, a client of Matt Murdock's. Austin worked in Language Services at Midas Investments; he speaks 17 languages fluently and another 10 passably.
Tony Stark, in addition to English, speaks fluent French, German, Russian, Chinese... That's not counting his armor's translation software.
The New 52 version of Silver Banshee can instantly learn any language she hears, which allows her to talk to Supergirl who can only speak Kryptonian.
In the Ultimate Universe, Ultimate Namor became fluent in English by listening to the Fantastic Four speak to SHIELD agents for roughly five minutes.
In "Lifeboat" in Creepy #34 a genetically-engineered "superman" whose brain contained the minds of his entire dying race complained that he could speak "over two hundred and eighty-three languages, but there's no one to talk to."
This is almost a running gag in Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics. No matter where in the world the ducks travel, Scrooge always knows the language there, and will explain offhand that he learned it back when he “sold lawnmowers in the Sahara” or some equally implausible feat.
Father Leo/Ultraman Lugeno from Ultraman Moedari can speak any earth language from any time and a plenitude of alien ones. Madame Kandakai/Ultrawoman Lunaram seems to do the same.
In Luminosity, this tends to come with the territory of being an immortal—perfect recall and the time for anything. Notably Bella and Edward cultivated this skill, and Bella passed it on to Elspeth.
Quite possibly Aro, and hence Addy, Elspeth, Siobhan, and everyone in range during Helper.
The Pony POV Series has Private Running Gag, a member of Shining Armor's team in his Arc. His special talent is languages, and, in a manner similar to Fluttershy's ability to communicate with any animal on first meeting, only needs to hear someone speak in that language once or twice to be able understand and speak it. This, obviously, makes him a very handy translator to have on a world tour. It also comes in very handy during the Changeling invasion in the Wedding Arc.
Two words: Sikko Warner. Her ability to speak nearly every language results in lots of Bilingual Backfires. This combined with her voice imitation ability gets played for laughs, like her perfect imitation of Jakko Zarner singing "Wakko's America" in Finnish from "Sikko's Plan." Just don't ask her to translate for Beaker. She doesn't understand his language (and it's the only language she doesn't know).
Also, Wikko Warnerpuff, one of the newest students at Acme Looniversity. Justified because she is a parody of Bubbles. And she can understand Beaker.
Captain Kanril Eleya of Bait and Switch is fluent in English and several dialects of Bajoran besides her native Kendran dialect. She also had to be conversant in Klingonese and Cardassian to qualify for offworld service when she was in the Bajoran Militia, although she's not fluent: in "The Universe Doesn't Cheat" she speaks a few lines in tlhIngan Hol which are described by an onlooker as "accurate, but badly accented".
In The Infinite Loops, Fluttershy eventually realizes that anyone who bears an Element of Kindness (currently being her, Silver Spoon, and Chrysalis) gains the ability to speak and understand every language, even those from other Loops.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy claims that the Nazis will never find Marcus Brody (who has the Grail diary) because he speaks a dozen languages and can blend in with the natives. Cut to Marcus on a busy market square in the Middle East asking if anyone there happens to speak English... or possibly ancient Greek.
Played straight with Indy himself who speaks English, Spanish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Chinese, Hindi, Swedish, Russian, and Quechua, and can apparently understand many more. Canonically it's over 30 languages.
Indy: It's too bad the Hovitos don't know you like I do, Belloq.
Belloq: Yes, too bad. You could warn them... if only you spoke Hovitos. [Turns around and starts giving orders to the Hovitos]
C-3PO of Star Wars is a protocol droid fluent in over 6,000,000 forms of communication, and thus acts as an interpreter. This was at first treated as a throwaway character trait just to get Luke's uncle Owen to buy him and thus become a part of Luke's life (not to mention relay what R2-D2 says to others), but Threepio's linguistic abilities eventually become important in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, when the Ewoks see him as a god and he gets their support in defeating the Galactic Empire. He also occasionally proves useful in being able to identify some codes. Despite his abilities, C-3PO is absolutely horrible interpreter incapable of understanding any allusion or context of the conversation.
The protocol droid turned bounty hunter (really!), 4LOM (seen briefly alongside the other bounty hunters in The Empire Strikes Back) is a newer model, fluent in over 7,000,000 forms of communication.
Threepio's language database is so expansive that in Vector Prime he's able to translate the language of the Yuuzhan Vong, which initially no non-Vong in the entire galaxy speaks. This is handwaved by the language being similar to that of another alien species.
Also, at one point, he actually manages to speak the Sith language
Besides C-3PO and any other droids, Han Solo, besides speaking Basic, can understand Huttese (he's never seen speaking it, but can obviously understand it) and enough Shyriiwook (a Wookiee language) to understand whatever Chewbacca says, resulting in some Bilingual Conversation between the two.
Anakin Skywalker, besides speaking Basic, also spoke Huttese, verbal Binary (droid language), and (after becoming Darth Vader) the Sith language.
The Atlanteans in Atlantis: The Lost Empire are implied to know every single language in the world in addition to their own (including, but most likely not limited to, English and French). The main character also qualifies. He seems knowlegable about a lot of languages, converses with the Atlanteans in several, and can read Atlantean just from comparing it to others. Milo justifies it by being a linguist, having studied language almost all his life.
In the film Carlos based on the life of Carlos the Jackal, the titular terrorist speaks flawless Spanish, French, German, English, and Arabic - and that's just what we see; he presumably speaks at least some Russian as well, given that he studied at a university in Moscow. The actor who plays him is also fluent in all of these languages except Arabic and Russian.
Similarly, in The Forbidden Kingdom, a 20th-Century kid from L.A. (who happens to be a fan of classic chop-socky movies) lands... literally... in Mythic China. When he first awakens, he can't understand anyone, which proves disconcerting when a group of unpleasant soldiers start yelling orders at him. Jackie Chan's character arrives, defeats the soldiers with Drunken Boxing and tries to talk to our hero.
20th Century kid: (speaking loudly and slowly) I. Can't. Understand. You.
Jackie Chan: (speaking in perfectly clear, slightly accented English) That's because you're not LISTENING! (after which point every character starts speaking English)
Hans Landa of Inglourious Basterds is a multilingual Nazi capable of speaking in German, French, English and Italian, and each of these skills becomes a plot point. Christoph Waltz actually does speak German, French and English, but his Italian is Faux Fluency. Tarantino nearly dropped the project after having difficulty casting the role.
According to the doctor narrating in the beginning of Twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character (as a experimental result of creating a super baby by combining sperm from six athlete and scholarly fathers) can speak twelve languages along with excelling in all school subjects, physical and spiritual training.
Which actually makes a lot of sense. Hungarian is the largest of the Uralic language family, and not closely related to the Indo-European family that most other languages spoken in Europe are in.
The Bourne Series: One of the first things Jason Bourne learns about himself after his amnesia is he can speak several different languages including Italian, French and German.
The Boondock Saints: The boys speak multiple languages, apparently because "[their] mother insisted on it."
The science fiction story Omnilingual is not about this trope; it features a group of archaeologists on Mars who discover the ruins of an ancient Martian city and lament that there's no hope of ever finding a "Rosetta Stone" that will allow them to decipher the inscriptions. Then they come across a Martian school, and one of the chemists points out that a particular diagram is clearly a periodic table...
Most of Vladimir Nabokov's characters fit this tropes. Humbert Humbert, the main character of Lolita, speaks English, French, Italian and German fluently. And Van Veen from 'Ada or Ardor' speaks even more languages, including Russian.
Nabokov was, of course, himself a polyglot.
Indiana Jones is said (in Expanded Universe material) to have picked up twenty-seven languages, mainly just by traveling around and talking to people. A book set when Indy is 8 uses this trope as Character Development - when he was in Egypt, Indy met a tall, scary man who sounded practically demonic to him. T.E. Lawrence shows up, told Indy all the man was doing was asking what he was studying, and acted as translator. He then explained to Indy that the first thing you should do when entering a new country is learn the language, which breaks down any barriers you may have.
Rincewind is inexplicably talented with languages, despite not being an excessively intelligent character otherwise. This mainly serves as a plot device which allows him to travel around the Disc without resorting to the use of some sort of Translator Microbes. The justification given for this is that he, a consummate coward, wants to be able to scream for help and be understood in as many places as possible.
"Rincewind could scream for mercy in nineteen languages, and just scream in another forty-four."
Carrot, as The Chosen One, learns languages unnaturally fast, but not perfectly.
Tiffany Aching, after A Hat Full of Sky can understand most languages, especially ancient ones, thanks to the remnant of a wizard's memory stuck in her head.
Most male protagonists of a Dan Brown novels. Most notably the guy in Digital Fortress (his being able to speak Spanish was the reason he was sent to Spain that and so his fiance's boss could get him killed). The only exception, strangely enough, is Robert Langdon (you'd think a historian would know a few European languages to be able to read primary historical sources), and his inability to speak French or Italian would go on to bite him in the ass quite a few times.
This part being, as is usual in the author, Dan Browned. The character is supposed to speak Spanish so well that he can fake a Burgos accent. But that's like saying someone can speak English so well as to fake a perfect "neutral accent" such as the RP or Midwestern.note Being in the heart of old Castile, Burgos has the same standard Castilian accent spoken over most of central Spain and the one in which virtually every film and TV in Spain is produced, so far that Spaniards sometimes joke that "The Burgos accent is the not-accent".
Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels knows many languages and learns new ones remarkably fast. He might be a parody of this trope, as Gulliver's Travels is partly a parody of improbable travel narratives.
Some of Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar characters have good relations with a species of sentient telepathic deer-things, which will obligingly use their telepathy to pick up languages and put them into people's heads. This gives native-level proficiency in the language.
Bean from Enders Game is noted to pick up new languages with incredible ease: after spending just a few months in Thailand, he's nearly fluent in Thai. This is actually somewhat Justified: since his brain is constantly growing new neurons, he is still capable of the intuitive leaps that young children perform in learning their parents' language. By the end of the first book he's taught himself at least five languages and by the end of the fourth speaks at least a dozen
Flashman, in Fraser's works, seems to pick up foreign languages far more easily than can be explained for reasons beyond the requirements of plot. Notable exceptions include Danish and Apache, which he finds impossible to learn even when immersed in the culture.
Phedre of Kushiels Legacy knows thirteen languages by the end of the third book. Some of which she studied as a child, sure, but she picked up a lot more in conversation in the course of traveling through many countries. Her foster-son Imriel is nearly as adept at learning languages.
Imriel's a much more realistic example. While Phedre's gift for languages is remarkable to the point that it's lampshaded a few times, Imriel learns to make himself understood in a variety of languages because he spent months in an environment that spoke many different languages interchangeably. After he returns to Terre D'Ange, he rarely uses any language besides D'Angeline, and as a result loses most of what he learned as a child.
Most dragons in his world learn languages literally before hatching, but Temeraireand presumably other Celestials continue to absorb languages like a sponge when they reach full growth.
The wanderer Tharkay, while lacking draconic natural advantages, has demonstrated good to excellent knowledge of Cantonese, Mandarin, multiple Turkic languages, and the language of a wild dragon tribe in the Tien Shan mountains.
Ayla from Earths Children can learn a new language in approximately a week.
And let's not forget she can also talk to birds, well enough for actual birds to be confused and think she is one. Those are some adaptive vocal chords.
Evan Tanner, the "sort-of" spy in Lawrence Block's The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep series, had his "sleep center" destroyed by a piece of shrapnel in the Korean War. This means he never has to sleep again, so he learns as many languages as he can through Berlitz tapes (to help with his globe-trotting espionage activities.)
The eponymous character of Baudolino is able to learn any language incredibly quick.
Conan the Barbarian speaks at least a dozen languages, and can read most of them. Pretty good for a barbarian.
Doc Savage knows an astonishing number of languages and those he doesn't know he picks up freakishly fast.
Although in the movies Tarzan can barely speak English, in the books he speaks a variety of languages, including at least one non-human one (Ape).
The People of the Artemis Fowl books are capable of speaking any language, including those of non-human species (such as dogs). This is explained as due to a combination of magic and the fact that every language is apparently descended from Gnommish (the fairy language).
The latest depiction of Thrawn, in Outbound Flight, has him learning Basic very, very quickly by taking lessons from a human who shares a trade language with him. The human is slightly alarmed by his progress. He tries to teach the human the Chiss language at the same time, but this works less well due to its complexity. "You are a fishing boat?"
The fishing boat example isn't due to the complexity of the language, but the fact that most speakers of Basic don't know how to make that soft "p" sound. Presumably Basic, like English, usually has a puff of air accompany the "p" sound. This isn't part of the language but simply how it's spoken. The Chiss language, however, uses both as different phonemes. Car'das was so used to Basic that, try as he might, he couldn't make that soft "p" when the language called for it. Spanish speakers, from what I've been told, do the opposite; they don't make the puff of air that English-speakers do.
In Harry Potter, Barty Crouch, Sr. allegedly speaks over 200 languages, including Gobbledegook, Mermish and Troll (though Fred and George claim all this involves is pointing and grunting). Granted, we hear this from Percy, who hero-worships him.
Dumbledore can apparently speak Mermish and possibly Parseltongue, given the memories seen in the sixth book. The latter is usually an inborn trait that Dumbledore would not apparently have, but we know from Ron that people can learn it normally.
In the Left Behind series, Nicholai Carpathia speaks nine languages and insists on using them all at every opportunity. The former is justified because he's the Antichrist. The latter is just unnecessary.
Stephen Maturin of the Aubrey-Maturin series can speak English, French, Spanish, Catalan and Latin fluently. He can speak Ancient Greek and Portuguese well, though of the latter he says in one of the later books that he has trouble with pronunciation. Over the course of the books he learns Urdu, Arabic and Malay, as well as picking up some Polynesian, Turkish and Berber. His cradle tongue was Irish, but by 15 he had forgotten it; by the second book he can subconsciously understand the Irish-speaking mutineers, and by the fourth he is writing political propaganda. In the rest of the books, he is fluent again.
The protagonist of Brazilian novel O Homem Que Matou Getulio Vargas (released in English as Twelve Fingers) learns many languages before becoming a teenager due to being raised on a traveling circus.
In The Jungle Book, Mowgli — and by extension his teacher Baloo — know all the languages of all the creatures of the jungle. Baloo knows them because he's old, wise, and accepted everywhere, and he teaches Mowgli them because being a "mancub" means that nobody will accept his presence at all unless he learns their language. Mowgli eventually one-ups Baloo by adding the Indian human tongue to his list.
Kelhus of Second Apocalypse has a perfect memory, above-genius level intellect, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. It's no surprise that he learns new languages in about a week, just from talking with people who speak it. He even became fluent in the ancient language of magic in two weeks—which took his genius teacher six months to learn the grammar.
Tirla of Anne McCaffrey's Pegasus series has a Talent for communication that she used to survive in the slums as a messenger. At one point, it's mention that she can speak 93 languages like a native.
Norse and Teutonic folk hero Sigurd/Siegfried gained the ability to understand the language of birds after drinking the blood of the dragon Fafnir. Dragons being masters of language is a common power in western mythology.
In The Firm, Mitchell's brother, Ray, has a natural affinity for languages, and is using the immense free time he has in prison to learn several new ones.
In Andrei Belyanin's Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency books, the titular tsar is fluent in the language of any nation with which his tsardom has diplomatic relations. When the amazed modern-day protagonist calls him a "polyglot", the tsar is offended, being unfamiliar with the term. Then he waves it off, saying it's a requirement of his position. Apparently, they've never heard of interpreters. When he later marries an Austrian princess, his speech to her is filled with both Russian and German phrases, mostly of amorous nature.
The Shadow speaks and reads whatever language is necessary for that adventure, fluently, including Chinese, Italian, Turkish, and Russian.
The Sartan and Patryns from The Death Gate Cycle have the ability to learn languages instantly with their magic; this leads to a scene in the fourth book where Patryn Anti-Hero Haplo is dipped in magic nullifying water and loses all languages apart from his native tongue- and then instantly gets them back when he dries out, much to the amazement of the locals who'd rescued him.
Suleiman-bin-Daoud was wise. He understood what the beasts said, what the birds said, what the fishes said, and what the insects said. He understood what the rocks said deep under the earth when they bowed in towards each other and groaned; and he understood what the trees said when they rustled in the middle of the morning. He understood everything, from the bishop on the bench to the hyssop on the wall
Mars, the Incarnation of War, in Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series. There aren't any language barriers when it comes to War.
In the Xanth cycle we have the friends pair Dor the Magician, who can speak to inanimate objects (endowing them with intelligence, cunning and bad humor) and Grundy the Golem, a rag doll that speaks any living language. Good Magician Humphrey supposedly knows every language dead or spoken, but rarely bothers to show.
In Time Enough for Love Lazarus Long claims that he can usually tack on a new language in a week, but refuses to do business with the Howards in any language but mid-20th century American English, which the Chairman learns in two days. Suggesting that it's a common trait for people who've lived multiple centuries.
The Star Trek novel A Singular Destiny introduces Sonek Pran. As he's a respected scholar and political analyst, we might expect him to know a few prominent languages, certainly more than the usual. But when it’s revealed he can speak perfect Lissepian (the Lissepians being a reasonably well-known trading culture but nothing special), he definitely crosses into Omniglot territory.
Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Some instances of this trope have popped up. The Vigilantes all speak English for starters. Kathryn Lucas reveals in the first book Weekend Warriors that she knows German (to what extent is not revealed), and she is quite fluent in Spanish. Yoko Akia is quite fluent in Chinese as the book Vendetta shows, Free Fall indicates that she can speak Japanese, but she states in Hide And Seek that she can't speak German, because it's so gutteral and too hard on her tongue. After the book Free Fall, the Vigilantes are required to learn Spanish and German. Despite this, Isabelle Flanders is unable to speak Spanish very well in Cross Roads. The book Fast Track has the Vigilantes finding out that Rena Gold speaks three languages, but they just scoff and one of them says, "Yeah! Fluent in Brooklynese, Southern belle, and kitchey-coo!" Harry Wong apparently knows a lot of languages, but it is never stated what they are or how many he knows, and it seems that he just uses them for cursing and showing that he is beyond furious.
In Lisa Mangum's Hourglass Door trilogy, anyone who uses the titular door (a time machine) gains a gift — causing pain, seeing "ripples" in the future, and so on. When the main character, Abby, finally travels back in time, to Italy, she learns that her gift is Language- no need to learn Italian. while this is handy, even more handy is the fact that not only does it apply to "regular" languages, it applies to the language of Time itself.
In the Warrior Cats series, Midnight the badger is able to speak Badger, Rabbit, Fox, and a few types of Cat, whereas everything else in the series can only speak in the language of its own species (except for one case where a cat knows a little bit of Dog). Why and how she managed to learn all of these is never explained.
Bix in the Dinotopia series, though it may be a natural ability of her subspecies — Protoceratops multilinguous, the translator Protoceratops. She can speak most of the saurian languages on the island and many human as well. The one other translator we meet, Chaz, in Hand of Dinotopia and Dinotopia Lost is the same way.
In Good Omens, Crowley and Aziraphale have universal fluency. Justified, of course, in that they're a demon and an angel, respectively. It would be rather silly (and interfere with their work) for them not to have this ability.
One of the earliest things learned about Agaton Sax is that he decided to learn a highly obscure language (less than 100 speakers period) just for the fun of it. Over the course of the first book, he shows at least some proficiency in Swedish (his native language), German (which he would have learned in school, given when the book was written), Graelic (the fictional and aforementioned highly obscure language), Brosnian (a fictional pseudo-Slavic language) and English.
Justified with Duncan in the Stardoc series. He has a telepathic ability that allows him to learn languages instantaneously by making physical contact with a native speaker.
The Dresden Files: Normally, Harry only speaks one other language (Latin), and not very well. But when Lasciel moves in to his mind, she gives him the ability to understand any language she knows. And she knows all mortal languages, and many immortal ones. She, and this ability, are gone as of 'White Night.
Taken to its logical extreme in the Young Wizards series. Being proficient in The Speech allows a wizard to hold conversations with literally anything. Humans, aliens, trees, animals, rocks...
The 1960s kids' series, Christopher Cool TEEN Agent, established its titular hero as one of these from childhood. He spoke French, German, Romani (the language of the "Gypsy" people), Turkish, Swahili, Apache — and those are just the ones I remember.
Omniglot is just one piece of the assigned superpower package for the Angels of Death in Geoph Essex's Lovely Assistant. Less pan-lingual (but more impressive, since she learns languages the hard way) is CarrieRaymond, who her husband describes as a polyglot. She is known to speak English, Latin and flawless Portuguese (leading to an awkward moment!), probably speaks at least some Cantonese and/or Mandarin as well (this may be insinuated from certain plot points), and learns a language that human beings shouldn't even be able to speak! VincentRaymond himself speaks English, Japanese, and some Spanish.
The Seersa race in the Paradox universe were designed to be this, its said that every one of them knows twenty tongues and they developed the Universal language for The Alliance and most of their Pelted kin's original racial languages.
An example is when he speaks to Sebastian in Romanian in City of Glass.
Jace: "De ce crezi ca va ascultam conversatia?"/"Why do you think I was listening to your conversation?"
Sebastian: "M-ai urmarit de când ai ajuns aici. Nu-mi dau seama daca nu ma placi ori daca esti atât de banuitor cu toata lumea.” / "You've been watching me since you got here. I can't tell if you don't like me or you're just this suspicious of everyone."
Croaker, physician, historian, annalist, and later, Captain of The Black Company has a gift for languages (including sign language, which he refers to as "finger speak."). This hardly surprising, considering his life as both as a traveling mercenary (requiring him to learn the local tongue, wherever "local" happens to be) and as Company annalist (requiring him to read from the Company's history, meaning he needs to know how to read the older volumes that were written in different/archaic languages). Murgen credits him as speaking twenty languages, but later confesses to have been in awe of Croaker at the time. Some tongues that Croaker speaks are always referred to as dialects, so he may speak a few languages with local variations.
Sunny and her friends in Akata Witch all speak more than two languages. Sunny, Orlu, and Chichi all speak Igbo, English, and Nigerian Pidgin English. Chichi also speaks Efik. Sasha speaks English, French, Spanish, Hausa, Igbo, and Arabic.
Kahlan in the Sword of Truth series speaks virtually every language used within the Midlands, thanks her her childhood training as a Confessor, including the languages of various small tribes who are typically unfriendly or homicidal towards outsiders. Partially averted later, as she never bothers to learn High D'Haran so she can help translate all the ancient books of knowledge the heroes keep needing to read.
Belisarius is fluent in, at a minimum, Latin, Greek, Ge'ez, Persian, Kushan, and Hindi — the last of which he has to hide for a while, since there was no reasonable explanation for how he could learn to speak it fluently with a native accent in a matter of months. Justified in that his learning is being assisted by an AI from the future.
Tommy apparently matches his skill handling a quiz on obscure topics responding in whatever language Dick asks him in.
Daniel Jackson from Stargate SG-1 says he speaks 23 languages in "1969": since this was relatively early in the run, he's almost certainly picked up more.
Although the series has long-divorced the movie, the beginning of the movie balances out Jackson's prowess. He had remarkable linguistic skills and anthropological knowledge but implied to be at the cost of an unstable social and financial existence (to say nothing of his allergies and lack of physical prowess).
And let's not forget the events of the movie, in which Daniel picks up a new language not even vaguely resembling any modern language to the point of fluency just by talking to one woman for a little while. Justified in that the language was extremely similar to Ancient Egyptian, which Jackson, being an archeologist specializing in Egypt, was very familiar with (the woman in question was pointing out hieroglyphics, which he could read, and teaching him how to pronounce the words).
By the end of the series, he's added at least two extraterrestrial languages (Ancient and Unas) to his repertoire.
Dawn Summers somehow found the time to learn at least Turkish and Sumerian(!) off screen in a matter of months. Not many languages, true, but pretty impressive.
Somewhat more expansively, any Watcher (including Rupert Giles and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce) may be assumed to know an arbitrarily large number of ancient and demonic languages.
Andrew Wells is good at speaking demon languages as well as summoning them.
The introductory scene of the Season 5 Big Bad Glory has her effortlessly changing from Czech to English in mid-sentence. She can speak demon languages too, and it's implied any other language as well, as she's a Physical God.
Angel, though not a professional scholar, is also heavily multilingual, well versed in both human and demonic tongues. As a vampire born in 1727, and having lived in most of Europe and the U.S., he presumably has had plenty of time to learn.
Gunn as well, though justified due to his brain upgrade.
Heroes has a character named Traveler who has this very power. Only it's not limited to any spoken language, but hand signs and animals as well.
Cameron from The Sarah Connor Chronicles shows fluency in every language she has come in contact with (English, Armenian, Russian, Spanish, and Japanese as of the end of the second season). It stands to reason that she knows many more as well, as she does have a very good memory.
Hoshi from Star Trek: Enterprise is made of this trope. It's not only the main reason that the character exists, but the in-story justification for why she's assigned on the Enterprise (given that she's not a good fighter, afraid of the noises the ship makes...).
In one episode when encountering a telepathic alien he makes specific note that she has an abnormal mind; it's apparently hardwired to understand languages and that's why she is so good at them. She even ended up translating tonal pulses from a Starfish Alien and communicated back. Hoshi eventually ended up as the one to program the early Universal Translator that the later series take for granted.
Star Trek: Voyager ("Hope and Fear"). Captain Janeway encounters an alien whose species has a natural aptitude for languages (he knows over 4000). And not just natural languages, a bit later he decodes and falsifies an encrypted datastream in his head, despite Voyager having spent weeks trying to break it with powerful computers.
Neelix: "I was trying to negotiate with a Xenon-based life-form when the Universal Translator went off-line. Arturis here stepped in and acted as a perfect go-between—and he'd never heard either of our languages!"
In an early episode when Riker considers a promotion to captain of his own ship, Picard informs him his first officer is known for his command of over 40 languages.
Presumably, Data can speak several languages and can learn one simply by flipping through a dictionary, though this is never used thanks to the Universal Translator... until someone needs to learn sign language on short notice. Which he does.
Subverted in The Star Wars Holiday Special, with Luke Skywalker having trouble understanding Chewbacca's family unless they speak slowly. Understandable, since by that time he hasn't known Chewie for a long time.
Chuck from Pushing Daisies is a passionate student of language, speaking French, Japanese and Mandarin (though her grasp of the latter is 'rusty'), and probably others.
Sydney Bristow, the main character of Alias, can literally speak every language that has ever been mentioned on the show. It is unclear how large her mental linguistic database actually is. During the show's run, its section on ABC.com featured "files" for individual characters which included lists of spoken languages. You can find Sydney's here; not counting English, it lists twelve(!) of them. It should be noted though, any viewer who can actually understand the languages in question should be able to tell that her pronunciation is atrocious, to say the least. This isn't really a problem except in episodes where she's passing herself off as a native speaker of the language.
John Doe: John Doe can speak and understand any human language, but that's part of his Omniscient Hero power. This becomes a plot point in one episode, when this episode's Big Bad is talking to someone in Farsi, thinking that no one around him understands the language. Doe not only understands it but also knows that the phrase "Bedouin Prince" refers to a ship.
Doogie Howser MD once picked up the basics of the Hmong language in a single half-hour episode, while treating a Hmong patient and conversing with the patient's relatives.
Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap speaks seven modern languages and four dead ones (Including Egyptian hieroglyphs). Interestingly enough, the languages he didn't speak (such as Italian or Hebrew) tended to be plot points more than the ones he did.
The language skills of Indiana Jones mentioned above were also illustrated in the television series Young Indiana Jones. Indy is about eight and meets one of the locals, also about the same age. They start by giving each other a counting lesson and by the end of the day Indiana up to conversational fluency in the language, to the mild amusement of his parents (there is no mention of his new friend's proficiency in English).
Used for humour in when teen Indy engages in a duel of languages with a girl he's met in England, loses and is asked: Is it possible that someone named Jones doesn't speak Welsh?
Later in the series, Indy encounters another omniglot who claims to speak more languages then he does. The man challenges him to a wager, which Indy wins using sign language. The man calls a draw. In Icelandic.
Although the TARDIS automatically translates languages, the Doctor is shown to speak alien languages without the TARDIS as well, including Judoon in "The Stolen Earth", English in The Three Doctors (when the TARDIS was temporarily in another universe), and even an obscure language that is "spoken" by the movement of eyebrows. Justified by being at least 900 years old by his sixth incarnation. A language that was older than the Time Lords however, was indecipherable to him. In "Planet of the Dead", he tells his companion that he speaks "every language". Considering that he was cut off from the TARDIS and chatting with a giant fly at the time, there's no reason to doubt him. In "The Enemy of the World", the Second Doctor says it's going to take him a while to learn a new language in order to impersonate Salamander (presumably Spanish). The Doctor knows a few Sycoraxic insults in "The Christmas Invasion".
The Judoon are examples of this trope. In their first appearance, their commanding officer barks orders in their language, records an utterance from one of the medical staff using a device, and plugs it into his armor; he then spends the episode speaking in fluent "Earth English".
In the special "Doctor Who and the Curse of the Fatal Death", both the Doctor and the Master are shown to be able to speak a language spoken entirely by the modulated passing of wind. This episode, however, is not canon, even though it was written by current show runner Moffat.
The Eleventh Doctor even speaks baby. As in, he understands what a baby is trying to say when it gurgles.
The Doctor: And really, you should call her "mummy" not "big milk thing."
This joke continues with him being able to speak horse. He must have learned both Baby and Horse at some point in his Eleventh incarnation, since when he was in his Ninth and Tenth forms, he spoke to a baby Rose, several cats and a horse from pre-revolutionary France lost on a spaceship.
Dr. House speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese, Hebrew and Hindi. He probably also knows quite a bit of Dutch - his family is originally from the Netherlands and he calls his grandmother "Oma". Though he can't speak much of Mandarin, he can only count to ten, say hello and say "your daughter is pregnant." The Japanese is justified - his father was in the military and he spent part of his childhood on Okinawa. He can also ask if one's sister is of legal age in Korean. He could also correctly guess that Chase's father is of Czech origin just from his accent. Joked about by other characters: "Do you actually speak six languages, or were you betting on never being interviewed by someone who does?"
Ziva David from NCIS speaks ten languages. However, she suffers from severe Blunt Metaphors Trauma when speaking English, and presumably any language other than her native Hebrew. The identified languages are: English, Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, French, Pashto (which she refers to as "language number 7"), German, Italian, Russian, and language of love. Neither the actress (Cote de Pablo, born in Chile) nor the writers speak Hebrew, so this trope is probably the reason Ziva almost never speaks a line of her native language.
Callen from NCIS: Los Angeles. Highlighted in a dialogue with another agent in which they repeatedly change languages. His partner Sam is no slouch either.
Dollhouse: Due to the multitude of personalities that are downloaded into Echo's consciousness, it's not surprising when she speaks mostly in Spanish in one episode to gain the trust of an abused female immigrant, which she does freely even in the presence of the police guards since they can't understand what they're saying. One of her personalities is a Russian girl, so she knows that language as well (although the actress is pretty bad at it).
Sikozu of Farscape can apparently learn to understand a new language over the course of a single conversation. Of course, it helps that everyone around her has Translator Microbes, so she doesn't have to actually learn to speak any of the languages and can direct people (in her own language) about what to say to help her understand them... This skill is necessary for her, as she has an allergic reaction to the microbes and can't take the easy way out, being a bioloid. Other members of her species can understand unfamiliar languages as easily as everyone else.
On The A-Team Murdock can apparently speak several languages including Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Japanese, Russian and Mandarin Chinese. He can also speak Italian, but it quickly strays into My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels territory.
"What can I say? One day I had a gonzo headache and before it went away I could read and speak Chinese. And it was a bad afternoon, too, lemme tell you."
Neal on White Collar speaks French, Japanese, and he may also speak German—he can at least read it (Diana needed a German-English dictionary to translate the manifest; Neal just read the titles right off the page).
Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother seems to randomly know a number of languages including Korean, Mandarin, Latin, French, and possibly others. He's said to speak Ukranian to his tailor, but it is in fact Russian.
Chuck's Intersect contains several languages which he can speak (after flashing on them).
Like all his Intersect 2.0 skills, it lasts only a few minutes.
Michelle from Skins is shown to speak fairly fluent French and Spanish. She's also the only one to laugh at a disparaging comment made about Sid in Italian.
Law & Order's Ed Green can speak English, Spanish, French, and "enough Russian to get a date". It's unclear if he's fluent in French, however, and this is partially explained by the fact that he moved around a lot as a young child, sometimes living in French-speaking African countries.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's Olivia Benson speaks English, Italian, some Spanish and French, and is able to read the Miranda warnings in at least two other languages.
Stabler at one point mentions he knows "a little" Spanish.
Burn Notice has Michael able to speak pretty much any language the big baddies of the week speaks, except Spanish. And his Urdu's a little rusty, leading to a My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels moment in a first-season episode.
In Vikings, due to his background as a Catholic monk and scribe, Athelstan has a fluent or working knowledge of several languages, including Old English, Latin, Greek, Old Norse, and probably High German because of his time in Charlemagne's court. He's also shown to have a natural gift for picking up dialects. It was this demonstrated ability that initially caught Ragnar's attention and resulted in him sparing Athelstan's life.
Beckett can understand Russian, having spent several months as an exchange student in Ukraine. She never speaks it on the show, though, and instead goes with Just a Stupid Accent. Note that Stana Katic, who plays Beckett, can speak 5 languages: Serbian, Croatian, French, English and Italian; and can do the accents in: British, Irish, Eastern European, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and South African.
Anna in the fourth episode of Alphas has the power to understand every language, but due to a severe case of apraxia, she relies on computer programs for her ability to actually "speak" them.
Monk's brother Ambrose is shown in his first appearance to be able to at least read and write dozens of languages and speak at least English and Mandarin. Justified in that he's got extreme agoraphobia and is pretty much unable to leave the house, so he learned the languages in order to pass the time. He uses this skill to write instruction manuals.
Annie Walker, the protagonist of Covert Affairs was recruited into the CIA in no small part due to her skill with languages. The show never actually says how many languages she is fluent in, probably so that they can have her be fluent in whatever language is necessary for the plot that week. The implication, though, is that she can pick up new languages very quickly when needed.
In the pilot, she is sent to meet a Russian man at a hotel. The guy starts hitting on her, using Russian-sounding diminutives on her. Except she quickly figures out they're not Russian. She checks with her linguistics professor who confirms that they are, in fact, from one of the Baltic countries. This is a clue that the guy she met wasn't the Russian man she was supposed to meet.
Person of Interest: Reese speaks at least four languages (English, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish).
Howard Wolowitz knows sign language, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Farsi, French, Klingon, and is implied to know many more. Although it may be an attempt to looksexy, as the waiter of a Chinese restaurant describes him as 'the one who thinks he speaks Mandarin.'
Sheldon Cooper reporterly speaks English, Klingon, Swedish, Finnish and Mandarin (very badly). Justified as he finds learning a language a more palatable activity than, to say, speaking to people.
On Strong Medicine, Andy is fluent in five languages, including Tagalog, due to having been an Army brat.
On Charmed,Whitelighters are apparently fluent in whatever language(s) their charges speak. When Piper and Leo magically Swap Roles she's surprised to find herself suddenly speaking French.
The characters in Mission: Impossible often traveled to various made-up Eastern European countries, where they never had any trouble communicating with the local bad guys. On the show, all the foreigners spoke English with Just a Stupid Accent, but by all appearances this is just the Translation Convention, and our heroes are "really" speaking dozens of Eastern European languages flawlessly.
Marguerite from Sir Arthur Conan Doyles The Lost World has a talent for languages and can communicate with many different people. A conversation with Malone reveals that it's an innate talent she does not understand.
Michael Robert Rhein, frontman of the German medieval rock band In Extremo performs songs written in, in order of frequency: his native German, Latin, Galician, Old Icelandic, Old High German, Occitan, Old Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, French, Gaelic, English, Hebrew and Ladino.
Madusa speaks Japanese and even recorded a music CD in the language.
Meng is an interesting case. He can speak English, his native Tongan and other languages, though, in character, he chose not to most of time.
In "Doubt Academy", Emilia speaks multiple languages, even a few dead ones.
In Aberrant, each point of Linguistics grants fluency with a language group, like Scandinavian languages or multiple dialects of Chinese. A MegaIntelligence enhancement quadruples this.
The Ars Magica 4th Edition Grimoire lists a merit called Gift of Tongues, a quasi-magical trait that when bought at character generation allows the character to effectively speak every human language as if he is a native speaker: the character can understand and talk to any human being, but can only speak one language at a time (meaning that if two people do not share a language, the character can converse with character A in one language and character B in another, and freely translate between the two, but cannot speak a language that both understand at the same time). The merit does not extend to understanding written texts. But it is a common trait, not restricted to mages only, and thus very useful when combined with merits like Widely Travelled.
Dungeons & Dragons features this trope in spades. In 3.5, just one skill point can enable your character to read, write and speak an entire new language. Or if you don't feel like spending skill points, there's the "Master Linguist" feat, which lets you learn one new language whenever you gain a new level. Or if you don't feel like using feats, there's the 3rd level spell Tongues which allows you to speak, read and understand any language ever (for the duration of the spell, unless you spend experience and cast another spell to make it permanent). Or if you don't feel like learning magic, there's the fact that you automatically start the game knowing more than one language if you have a + 1 Intelligence modifier or greater. Monks also gain the ability Tongue of the Sun and Moon, allowing them to understand all languages, at a high level, for no apparent reason. And finally there's an Epic-Level feat that lets you speak and understand in its entirety any new language that you come across within minutes, down to the most regal or impressive accent, aptly named "Polyglot".
Tongue of the Sun and Moon is actually significantly more awesome: rather than speaking mere languages, it permits the monk to speak with any living thing.
4E does not use skill points, learning additional languages has been relegated to the (relatively) valuable feats. Since feats are so valuable and languages don't give a direct combat advantage, each feat is worth THREE new languages at full fluency. Even better, you may change one of your previously acquired feats (or powers or skills) whenever you gain a level. This means that you can spontaneously learn how to speak Draconic, Primordial, and Abyssal by entirely forgetting your previous fluency in Elven, Dwarven, and Goblin.
It helps that core 4E D&D only has ten languages, period, and that every player character starts out fluent in at least Common and one other of them already. (Also, since characters flat-out get more feats than they used to in the previous edition and the retraining rules mean a player is no longer stuck with a poor choice for the rest of his or her character's life, spending feats on extra languages is arguably easier to stomach. Note, though, that Linguist does require above-average intelligence; without that, your character may never be able to learn any new languages at all after creation.)
Back in Second Edition, the Lillendi were able to speak any language perfectly, including non-languages like Dabus and Scramblespeak. But then, they're spirits of creativity, and this is explicitly a super-power granted by their deity. We also never find out whether it would work on codes and ciphers, or what would happen if a Lillend was faced with a page of randomly generated nonsense.
Second Edition also ties the number of languages a PC can know to their Intelligence stat, with a mere 10 Intelligence a character can have fluency in 2 languages. A perfect 18 Intelligence grants you an impressive 7 languages.
There's actually a trait for it in Eclipse Phase called Hyper Linguist — it reduces the time and cost to learn Language skills to one-third, lets your character automatically learn a language through a single day of complete immersion, and grants a + 10 modifier to interpreting languages they don't know. Given that you need 50 points in a language skill to be fluent, and you normally require one Rez Point per skill point and one week of studying per point, plus you're restricted to 5 points in a skill per month, this is very handy if you're not planning to rely on your Muse's translation program for communication. It can also be varying degrees of justified, as your character can be anything from a custom-programmed AI to a centuries-old world-weary immortal, and it's available as a fairly cheap Biomod though that doesn't transfer when you Body Surf like the trait.
There's also the Pattern Recognition psi-slight, which gives a + 20 modifier to interpreting any human language that they have had a few hours of exposure too, but can't automatically learn the language and only reduces training time by half. But it can be used to interpret alien languages as well, Hyper Linguist only works with human languages, and given a week or so can crack most cyphers. It also costs half as much, assuming the slightly insane prerequisites are already met.
Similarly, Exalted has Linguistics Charms that produce various effects of this type, ranging from "You pick up the language temporarily after listening to it for a few minutes" to "Your body language cuts through the linguistic barrier."
GURPS Supers has an advantage called Omnilingual. You don't actually know every language but every time you encounter a new one (no matter how absurdly obscure) you get to make a skill roll to see if you just happened to study it.
The basic set has Language Talent advantage, which coupled with decent intelligence makes learning new languages ridiculously easy.
Mutants & Masterminds has the Language skill - for every rank, you speak an extra language. One Power Point at character creation gives you four skill points, so for one point you can know five languages (the native one's free). Fans and some later books have tried to devise ways to make it a little closer to reality. A standard "fix" is to make each language cost two points instead: one to speak, and another to be literate.
Although that ratio seems less impressive in a system where one point can also let you breathe in space or casually stroll at 10 MPH
One of the Epic Intelligence Knacks in Scion is Language Mastery - if you listen to a language for a few minutes, you'll speak it with complete fluency. There is a drawback: you can also write that language, but you don't gain automatic mastery of how it's spelled.
One fan-made adaption of Shadowrun to the D20 system had a game balance error that allowed a starting Elf character with a halfway decent Intelligence to read and write every language ever spoken in the history of the human race (as well as Sperethiel (Elvish) and Or'zet (Orkish)).
Spirit Of The Century makes no pretenses toward being realistic in this area. A character can speak a number of additional languages equal to their Academics skill (maximum of + 5 for player characters), however the player does not need to choose their languages up front. Rather, these are considered language "slots" which can be filled as is convenient. This effectively makes any character with decent academics an Omniglot until they run out of language slots, as they can just fill in whatever languages they encounter. The "Linguist" stunt adds an extra 5 language slots, and the "Gift of Tongues" stunt takes this a step further. Any character with this stunt can speak any mainstream language by default and can spend their normal language slots on esoteric languages they have no business ever having learned.
The rulebook quote:
"Ancient Martian Frang'Twa dialect? I know a few phrases."
Spycraft tries to make this an Acceptable Break from Reality, and does so pretty decently; you're considered fluent in all the major languages in your area, and you can add them as you increase a skill (but in 4-rank increments) by area. However, you can only gain a passing familiarity with most languages in the area, and can only communicate with a communication check. A character native to North America is presumed fluent in English, for example.
All There in the Manual for Warhammer 40,000 describe the Kroot as extremely gifted in language due to their natural mimicry, making them able to pick up and speak almost any language with fluency in a matter of months. They can apparently even pick up Eldar and Tau language, which most humans can't speak due to exacting pronounciation. Most Kroot (except their leaders, who must be able to read the employment contracts) are illiterate on top of it and usually can't write any of the languages they may be able to speak.
White Wolf has the Linguistics skill. In early editions of their games, each rank in that skill (up to five) gained you one additional language. Eventually the writers realized that this wasn't nearly epic enough compared to the rest of the games, so now each dot doubles the amount of languages you speak. A skill level of five was supposed to represent top human ability, and knowing sixteen additional languages is about right looking at the Real Life section below.
As a funny side note: in the original rules of Vampire: The Masquerade, it was necessary to be a reasonably low-generation vampire (which is to say, a vampire who's only a few generations removed from Caine, the first vampire; the lower the generation, the stronger their blood) in order to get an attribute or ability score above five points. The old "Murphy's Law" comic strip/column, which highlighted fun errors and oversights in various games' rules systems, pointed out that this meant that in the World of Darkness, anyone who speaks more than six languages - such as, say, most of the people who work at the translation department at the United Nations - is, by the game's rules, at least a seventh-generation vampire. This may not have been specifically why White Wolf changed how Linguistics worked, but it could not have helped.
The trope itself gets parodied in some of the flavor text describing the Linguistic skill in Adventure!, when it turns out the team Omniglot...isn't. Sure, he speaks six dialects of Sumerian, but that doesn't mean he speaks Spanish.
The Jack of All Tongues Knack plays it straight: you double the amount of languages you know, and it costs half as much to learn new languages.
They also veered too hard in the other direction initially in the New World of Darkness. Each language you knew besides your native language was a separate one-to-three-dot merit, and you required two dots to be literate and conversationally fluent — one dot meant you were minimally fluent and illiterate. For reference, this means that it took nearly a third of a character's starting merit dots to be able to read and speak an additional language, and it cost as much in merit dots or experience as having an intuitive sense of impending danger or being a relatively significant celebrity. They quickly rewrote it in the errata so it now acts as the original version of the Linguistics skill, except as a merit.
A bunch of the game lines likewise have powers that take care of this. Werewolf: The Forsaken has at least three language-derived Gifts, ranging from "you instantly pick up the native language" to "you can understand what anyone says, but you can't converse back." Mage: The Awakening has Mind rotes that let you blow past the language barrier. Promethean: The Created has Transmutations that allow a Promethean to translate any written language and speak in a tongue that everyone understands. And Changeling: The Lost has a Merit that allows a changeling to temporarily draw upon a language by using the Wyrd to draw upon the collective unconscious.
If you have demons in your DNA (whatever that means), you can learn an infernal power, Tongue of Babel, that allows you to comprehend and speak any language, permanently.
The Willow Whisper cantrip from Changeling The Dreaming lets you literally talk to everything and anything in it's own language, with the exception of cold iron.
Warhammer has Wulfrik the Wanderer, a warrior who drunkenly boasted he could kill any warrior anywhere, and now wanders reality for eternity proving that. He has the ability "Gift of Tongues", which lets him speak any language anywhere. He uses this to deliver the most heinous insults possible to his enemies; in game terms, if he issues a challenge to another character, they cannot refuse, because they're too pissed off by his insults to back down.
In Hero System, a character with the Universal Translator talent doesn't technically know every language s/he encounters, but can communicate in them note assuming appropriate organs — few humans can communicate via light reflections off our wings. But Universal Translator would let a character understand what those reflections meant. with an INT check.
The Spy from Team Fortress 2 is French, and is fluent (apparently) in English, French, Spanish and Italian (and possibly other languages too).
Mrs. Arrow from the F-Zero games speaks over 40 languages, including Octoman's native tongue.
As the protagonist of Knights of the Old Republic, you know almost every language you come across, seeing them as subtitles. A Wookiee character is surprised that you can understand him - really, to facilitate Bilingual Dialogue most Star Wars characters understand if not speak several languages - and you have the option to wonder to an assassination droid with translator capacities why you can't understand the Sandpeople tongue. HK tells you that he knows you pick up languages with the help of The Force, but it doesn't substitute for actual linguistic training. Towards the end of the game, only you can understand Rakatan, which startles your companions. As the Dark Lord Revan, youripped the language out of their heads and forced them to comprehend Basic.
Knights of the Old Republic II handles the situation a little more believably; you don't actually know all those languages, but a small sonic imprint sensor you picked up in the first level is equipped with a translator unit that helps you out and you don't run across anyone who speaks anything obscure.
Solid Snake's trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, as well as various bios from the Metal Gear series itself, states that he is fluent in six languages. One of these languages is implied to be French in Metal Gear Solid 4, and if the Novelizations for Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 are anything to go by, he also seems to have a fluency in Russian due to taking courses in Russian as part of his FOXHOUND Training, and the Slavic Languages either during his membership in FOXHOUND or possibly even during his stint in the Green Berets.
Big Boss, his father, is not any different, being explicitly shown to know Russian and English (the former due to his tutelage under The Boss), and is implied to be fluent in French as well, and at the very least has some knowledge of Spanish in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. In one briefing tape, its also implied that he subconsciously learned how to speak cat.
Kazuhira Miller, aside from Japanese and English (the former being his native language), was also stated to be fluent in Spanish.
Liquid Snake's various bios also state that, besides English, he also knows Spanish, French, Malaguay, and has a mastery of Arabic. In addition, it is implied that he is fluent in seven languages, meaning there are two languages besides those listed that he also knows.
Gray Fox is implied to know English and German.
According to some bios and the novelization for Metal Gear Solid, Decoy Octopus is fluent in twelve languages, at least some of the languages being English, Spanish, French, German, and Ebonics (the first two are presumably his native languages, seeing how according to those sources, he was born in Mexico).
Fighting game characters seem to have this inherently. Two examples: Street Fighter includes people who should be speaking Japanese, English, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Thai, and Russian. They converse with each other without issues. Tekken is even worse ... Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish at least. And then there's four characters, none of whom share species, yet seem to converse perfectly fine. This doesn't even address why one Chinese girl seems to only speak Japanese, or the Mexican wrestler just uses jaguar snarls.
Soul Calibur is perhaps even worse. You got Greek, Japanese, Korean, French, English, German, Tagalog, Chinese (which has its own numerous dialects), one of the Native American Languages, Spanish, and that's to start.
Lampshaded in the background fluff where Mitsurugi had difficulty finding work as a mercenary in Europe due to language barriers.
Grobnar Gnomehands of Neverwinter Nights 2 speaks several languages including Gnomish, Goblin, Orcish, Elvish and Draconic.
In Alpha Protocol, Mike Thorton is noted as having an unusual gift for languages, which is why the agency recruited him. If you pick the soldier background, the e-mail describing Mike says he picked up Arabic during his tour of duty in Iraq, just by interacting with native speakers. He apparently speaks the language at a fluent level, as well as being capable of understanding and conversing in Russian, Italian and Mandarin Chinese with no apparent difficulty. Technical specialist Mike, meanwhile, has a PhD in linguistics and is outright stated to know English, Farsi, Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin (Chinese) and Japanese.
The Protheans from Mass Effect are shown to be capable of learning another language by using touch-telepathy to empathically view memories. Their technology is capable of similar feats, with Vigil learning English via radio-chatter.
Fenris from Dragon Age II is an ex-slave with no formal education and memory issues to boot, but nonetheless speaks at least three languages - his native Tevinter, the Free Marches common tongue, and Qunlat. He picked up the last one by listening to them.
Final Fantasy VI: Mog, a moogle who can speak the same language as humans effortlessly (when all other moogles can just say "Kupo!"). This is justified by the moogle himself, who explains that the Esper Ramuh taught him to speak their language in his dreams, and told him to seek the party out and help the cause. He still uses "Kupo!" at the end of some sentences, however.
R.L. in Kevin & Kell is Domain's version of this, understanding and speaking the species-specific languages of all his employees... including feline, which is how he knew Frank was going to challenge him for supremacy.
Considering Zoophobia's Perci is the teacher of languages at the Z.P. Academy, his ability to speak every language is technically justified.
According to the Girl Genius novelizations, Agatha speaks Latin, Greek, German, English, French, Arabic and Russian. This is in addition to her native tongue, which is Romanian.
Annie Carver of Gunnerkrigg Court can speak a wide variety of languages due to hanging out with various cultures' Psychopomps on a regular basis. This usually comes up with her ability to speak Polish, allowing her to easily talk to Gamma, who otherwise only talks to Zimmy due to not knowing English.
Vork from The Guild claims to know all languages at one point. Aside from English, we see him speak Korean and Hindi. This is very likely a reference to the quote at the top of this page.
Gordon Freeman, in Freemans Mind, has shown himself capable of speaking five languages: English, German, Haitian Creole, Hindi, and Spanish. He states having been to Haiti and India (in both cases, just before speaking a bit of the local tongue), and he also mentions his time in the city of Innsbruck in Austria (from his canon backstory). His ability to speak Spanish isn't specifically explained, but it's not really much of a stretch either—especially since he lives in New Mexico.
Gregorios of AH.com Eternals speaks 37 languages fluently, as well as several archaic dialects of said languages, and is stated to have a talent for them. Justified in that he's over 1500 years old.
Arbiter of Worm can learn languages exceptionally fast as part of her enhanced social intelligence.
Contessa can also speak any language as one of the many applications of her power which comes in handy for her as she is from an alternate Earth and doesn't know how to speak any of our languages normally.
The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Miss Blanche Ingram is a model and serious businesswoman, and she claims she's fluent in eight languages. However, at one party she owns to he friend Warren she hated when her Nanny used to make he "conjugate, conjugate, conjugate" as a kid.
The Simpsons: Although it doesn't come up very often, Homer and Bart consistently display the ability to pick up fluency in just about any language they encounter, sometimes in only a few hours.
Played with on a flight to Brazil. Bart learns and understands Spanish before they land, but the realization that Brazil's language is actually Portuguese prompts Homer to order him to forget it. Bart does so by hitting himself over the head with the phone in the back of the seat in front of him.
Lampshaded in possibly its first use. Bart is lamenting the fact that he can't speak French, since it means he can't denounce his evil exchange "guardians" to a friendly but uncomprehending gendarme. As he reaches the end of his complaint, he suddenly finds himself speaking perfect French.
Homer is such an omniglot he can even speak Penguin — and his comment that he can understand "food talk" in any language may mean he has a limited grasp of any animal language.
Bubbles of the Powerpuff Girls can apparently speak pretty much any language. This isn't limited to human languages, either.
In DuckTales, Scrooge McDuck knows enough languages to be able to speak with almost anyone, but then he spent the better part of his life traveling the world doing business, and it's easier to haggle when you know the lingo. If he doesn't speak the language, he might speak a similar one - when he ended up in the Lost World of Tralla La in Himalaya, he found the natives spoke a language similar to one he learnt while yak trading in Tibet.
In Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo, Raven is wandering around the eponymous city looking for something to do. She arrives at a news-stand and asks if they carry anything in English, German, Latin, Romanian, Ancient Sumerian, or Sanskrit. Apparently Starfire and her kind have the ability to gain and understand another's language just by kissing them (which she demonstrated by smooching a Japanese stranger).
Drew Saturday from The Secret Saturdays states she speaks 27 languages. Ulraj claims to speak 15 of their "surface languages", but he doesn't seem to know what countries they come from, but what do you expect for someone who lives underwater?
An episode of All Grown Up! shows Susie Carmichael knowing various words in various languages as part of a language contest. She claims that she has a "freaky knack" for this. Problem is, such an ability is attested only once outside of the episode in question. note In Rugrats in Paris, Angelica boasts that she's going to Paris and brags about learning the language. Susie responds in perfect French, "I feel sorry for the French people who will hear you." The even bigger problem is that this ability solely exists to eventually force Susie into picking helping her friends win the language contest over auditioning for a singing contest.
It's a little more subtle than most of these examples, but Velma on "Scooby-Doo" seems to be able to read absolutely any language, no matter how obscure or ancient.
Zack on Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? can speak a large number of languages, which comes in useful as he and his sister travel the globe chasing the titular villain.
Ferb speaks French, Japanese, Martian and Dolphin.
Word of God says that Superboy in Young Justice knows many languages (English, Spanish, French, Korean, Arabic, Russian, etc.). It's justified, as he was programmed with copious amounts of information by the G-nomes during his conditioning.
Danger Mouse can speak 47 languages fluently..."but gibberish isn't one of them." (From Close Encounters Of The Absurd Kind)
The Rankin-Bass version of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus has Tingler, who can not only speak any human language but animal languages as well. Justified in that he's a Sound Imp, who carry sounds from place to place and thus should be familiar with most any sound creatures are capable of making.
Ziad Fazah, who has been tested on national Brazilian TV, is listed in the Brazilian edition of the "Guinness Book of World Records" as speaking 56 languages at the time of publication (2001).
Harold Williams, was listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s greatest linguist (alive or dead) at 58 languages
In medieval times, before the empires and national states, when Europe was home to dozens if not hundreds of different ethnic and regional languages and dialects (even if they were a bit closer to each other than they're now), mercenaries and other travelling folk often picked up dozens of such dialects, enough to get themselves understood.
It's perfectly common for people in much of Africa and in many parts of Asia to easily know five languages or more even without any formal education, simply due to the fact that there are dozens of languages, often completely unrelated, packed into small geographic areas, and apart from the local languages it tends to be all but necessary to know the official language of your country, as well.
Same is true with most Western Europeans. Almost everyone speaks English and many speak French and German, on top of their native languages. The one major exception are the English who are more likely than the continentals to be monolingual (with the French getting an honorable mention, as they are less likely to speak English well compared to their Dutch and German neighbors). However, even the English are more likely to be at least bilingual than Americans.
Indian actress Asin can speak seven languages; Malayalam (her mother tongue), Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, French, English and Sanskrit.
India's former Prime Minister P.V.Narsimha Rao was reported to speak seventeen languages; Telugu (his mother tongue), Hindi, Urdu, Oriya, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Persian.
It's also very common in immigrant societies (New York is a great example.) In some suburbs of Sydney, Australia, you will find merchants and shopkeepers who fluently speak (with quirks) English, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, and, of all things, Lebanese Arabic. Guess what nationalities abound around that suburb!
J. R. R. Tolkien was a polyglot who spoke well over a dozen languages and had some comprehension of up to forty. He even made up a few of his own. Let's just say there aren't many authors who kept interfering with the foreign translations of their books to (correctly, see for instance the article on translator Ĺke Ohlmarks) point out how the translators aren't translating things properly into their native languages...
Jeremiah Curtain was said to speak over seventy languages at the time of his death. He certainly collected a lot of fairy tales in the original languages.
Noah Webster learned 26 languages for his work in dictionaries.
Mormon historian Hugh Nibley knew 13-plus languages, including Ancient Coptic.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks Somali (native language), Arabic, Amharic, English, Swahili, and Dutch.
Cleopatra was known to speak between 6 and 9 languages, depending on who you ask. The general consensus seems to be Aramaic, Egyptian, Ethiopic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, Greek being her native language, and Egyptian the language of her kingdom.
Robert Stiller, Polish translator, linguist and essayist makes professional literary translations from and to at least dozen languages (including Polish, German, English, Russian, French, Czech, Ukrainian, Hebrew, Yiddish, Hindi, Old English and Old Icelandic), knows of at least twenty more and possesses cursory knowledge of further few dozen languages and dialects. Although he claims to really 'know' only languages he uses on daily basis in his work.
Out of all the seiyuus out there, Tetsuya Kakihara is the only one who's known to be able to speak five languages and those are Japanese, German, English, Spanish, and Latin.
Sir Richard Francis Burton, Genius Bruiser that he was, spoke 29 European, African and Asian languages.
Polish-Russian linguist Jan Niecisław Ignacy Baudouin de Courtenay (AKA Ivan Nikolaevich Baudouin de Courtenay) knew 92 languages with reasonable fluency and reportedly had some understanding of several dozens more. There's a rumor that he once said that learning a language is only difficult if you're doing it second or third time, once you know five, learning one more is a breeze.
American voice actor Yuri Lowenthal is fluent in German, French, and Japanese, allowing him to pull off a wide range of accents (including a Russian accent, even though he doesn't speak the language). He jokes about how the only Spanish he knows involves ordering from Mexican restaurants.
Andrew Divoff, a Russian-Venezuelan actor you probably know best for playing Mikhail Bakunin on LOST speaks English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Catalan, Portuguese and Russian. And he knew how to speak Romanian, but forgot when he had nobody to speak to with it.
Christopher Lee speaks English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German; has proficiency in Swedish, Russian, and Greek; and if Sir Ian McKellenis to be believed, can handle a little bit of Afrikaans, Zulu, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Swahili!
British actor Jamie Bamber is fluent in Italian and French (along with spending some of his childhood in France, he studied them for his Modern Language degree). This is hilariously lampshaded in an episode of Law & Order: UK where he can't string more than two French words together while trying to question a witness. Additionally, he can pull off an American accent so convincingly that many people are shocked to learn that he's from London.
While it's not known how fluent he was, actor Paul Robeson studied Swahili, Bantu, Igbo, Yoruba, Zulu, Chinese, Russian, and Hindi.
Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774–1849) was fluent in 30 contemporary languages. Although some historians claim that his abilities could have been limited to the theological and religious matter, an ability to carry out a sermon or maintain a philosophical disputes in so many languages is definitely a mark of great fluency.
Emil Krebs (1867–1930), German diplomat, is considered the greatest polyglot of all times. He was fluent in more than 60 languages not counting the regional dialects and dead languages, and used 33 of them on daily basis. He was so proficient in most of them that native speakers were often asking for help in linguistic matters, which is no small feat, given he spent large part of his adult life in China. According to his contemporaries, he needed roughly 2-3 months to achieve relative fluency in a new language.
Ancient Jewish people, particularly under Roman rule, would often speak Aramaiac amongst each other, Hebrew in the temples, Greek for academic purposes, and possibly Latin if dealing with Romans on a regular basis. The New Testament of The Bible, for instance, is written in Greek despite mostly Jewish authors, simply because that was the language they usually wrote in.
Christopher Columbus spoke his native Italian (at least the contemporary Genoese variant—Ligurian), spoke Castilian Spanish as the servant of the Spanish kings, knew Portuguese and Arabic as a sailor experienced in sailing around the Mediterranean, kept the official records in Latin and an "unofficial" record in Greek. He was not especially exceptional, moreover, in his language skills among the contemporary sailors.
Pope John Paul II could speak at least twelve languages, and used at least nine as Pope.
His successor, the now-retired Pope Benedict XVI, speaks nine languages.
Before white invasion, Australia was home to over 250 languages all over the nation - it was a necessity to speak at least three or four. This also meant Indigenous Australians found it much easier to learn English rather than the settlers picking up the local lingo. It would also have helped if the settlers had made an effort.
Actor Brad Dourif speaks German, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, and Japanese. He can also pull off a British accent so flawless that he has fooled actual British people that he was one of them.
Uschi Digard, big-bust model and softcore movie star, taught herself to speak eight languages (German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, French, and English) as a child because she was a voracious reader and wanted to read every book in her town's library.
Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is fluent in Sinhala, English, Tamil, (these three being the official languages of his home country of Sri Lanka), German, French, Italian, Spanish, Bahasa Indonesia, (the official language of Indonesia, where he was Apostolic Nuncio from 2004-2005) Greek, Latin and Hebrew.
Nikola Tesla was able to speak at least 8 languages; Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.