Surprisingly Good Foreign Language
Truth #1: Foreign languages sound more exotic. Buying some body lotion is not the same as buying La Creme Luxueuse
, and driving a car is not the same as driving a Motorwagen
Truth #2: Unfortunately, not many people are fluent in foreign languages
Truth #3: But sometimes, they are
Horrible grammar and pronunciation of any foreign language is the expected norm in most works of fiction. Even if you do manage to get the grammar right (harder than it sounds), unless you either have an actor who is a native speaker or a very good language coach to help them, their accent is going to be blatantly obvious, and oftentimes won't even register to native speakers as the language in question.
But if you can
get the grammar and the accent right, viewers will be pleasantly surprised. This allows for a number of other language tropes, such as Bilingual Dialogue
and Bilingual Bonus
Surprisingly Good English
is an English-specific subtrope.
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Anime And Manga
- Sora No Wo To: Minor character Aisha speaks more or less OK Roman (actually German), though with an crazy accent.
- The Nodame Cantabile second season's ending is sung in perfect, unaccented French. As the singer uses colloquial French with a Paris accent she is definitely native.
- Wolfs Rain has Surprisingly Good Russian. The announcement on the railway station is spoken in flawless Russian, without any accent.
- One of the ending themes in Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase is sung in Surprisingly Good French!
- Gosick is chock-full of perfectly written French, including accentuated character and adequate idiotisms. The english parts of the ending are also very well pronounced.
- The "Brothers" song from Fullmetal Alchemist is sung in more or less decent Russian.
- Asuka Langley Soryu from the English dub of Neon Genesis Evangelion peppers her speech with some amazing German, courtesy of Tiffany Grant.
- In Tokyo Godfathers, the Hispanic-immigrant mother (and the boy who gets her involved) only speaks Spanish, and it is Surprisingly Good!
- Johnny Yong Bosch as Izaya in Durarara!! speaks a couple lines of Russian rather fluently.
- The Mandarin Chinese spoken in episodes 3 and 4 of Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid is actually pretty good, though somewhat lacking in the tension expected from the setting.
- One of the Glaciesan pilots in Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam, Viola, speaks fluent Russian, courtesy of her native Russian voice actor, Jenya Davidyuk.
- The American characters from the first episode of Eden of the East speak fluent American English. Although their acting might leave something to be desired, it's fairly acceptable and a welcome break from the mangled Engrish of other shows.
- In one episode from the second season of Ika Musume, Cindy is teaching Ika Musume English, speaking flawless American English.
- Zany To The Max provides multiple languages well spoken by Sikko, most notably Finnish.
- On Charmed, Cole speaks very good Italian.
- Whose Line Is It Anyway?: The game Foreign Film Dub with guest star Sid Caesar is actually a subversion. One of Caesar's gags is his apparent fluency in many languages, but he actually only speaks English and Yiddish.
- And Stephen Fry in a Questions Only game set in ancient Rome using only Latin (until he gets flustered when asked about the Parthenon)
- Jeff Davis in the American version speaks actual Spanish during a round.
- Flight of the Conchords: When Bret performs a Korean Karaoke song, both on the HBO show and on stage, his pronunciation is unexpectedly good.
- Stargate Atlantis: The episode Duet features two startlingly flawless lines in German from an extra. (There are no subtitles. The lines translate to "Ew, this is like the birth of my nephew." and "Damn, I knew this was going to happen!" respectively.) This is because the lines were ad-libbed and the actress was born in Germany. David Nykl, who personally translated some of Dr. Zelenka's lines into Czech, ad-libbed some swearing, and otherwise puts on a fairly good Czech accent for the role, also has Czech parents and spent some years in the country as a baby and as an adult.
- Same with the episode 1969 on Stargate SG-1. Michael Shanks apparently did work with a language coach which paid definally off.
- In Alias, the main character once had quite a few lines in Swedish. She couldn't have passed for a native Swedish speaker, but spoke better Swedish than many foreigners who have lived in Sweden for years.
- Artemus Gordon of The Wild Wild West uses a number of different languages over the course of the series, occasionally at some length, and does it very well. Mostly due to the fact that Ross Martin had an ear for such things and spoke something like seven languages fluently. Martin also put his skills to good use while playing a Hispanic in Mr. Lucky.
- Whenever a Jeopardy! clue comes up that uses a foreign term, host Alex Trebek will try to read the term in as close to that language as he can muster.
- On Heroes, both Masi Oka's and James Kyson's (Hiro and Ando) Japanese is surprisingly good (although they still have noticeable accents) considering Masi moved to LA when he as 6 and Kyson is from Korea. It was greatly helped by the fact that Masi was provided with lines in English, which he translated himself.
- On That Mitchell and Webb Look, one of their trademark sketches (the parody Game Show "Numberwang") was done entirely in Gratuitous German. The accent was a little off, but the grammar was actually quite good.
- Inverted in Saints Row 2 with Ronin leaders Shogo and Kazuo Akuji and The Dragon Jyunichi, who each speak Surprisingly Good Japanese.
- The Wii Punch-Out!! game has the enemy boxers speak their respective native tongue very well.
- Johnny Yong Bosch, Zero's English voice actor in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 pronounces the Japanese names of his attacks surprisingly well, so much so that Japanese people are surprised that Bosch isn't a native Japanese speaker.
- My Life as a Teenage Robot has one episode with Surprisingly Good Japanese. After a mission in Tokyo, Jenny loses her English-language disc, and can only speak Japanese for the rest of the episode. Her voice actress, Janice Kawaye, is bilingual and her lines are absolutely flawless.
- How to Train Your Dragon has an ending theme with parts in Surprisingly Good Icelandic, because it was done by an Icelandic singer.
- Specifically, by Jonsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós.
- In Code Lyoko, Odd speaks good Italian (the only school subject the Jeremie seems to have trouble with), possibly Justified by him probably being Italian (his last name certainly is). Also, Yumi seems to be bi-lingual, seeing as her native tongue is Japanese.
- In Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated Professor Pericles speaks surprisingly good German, when he does more than peppering his sentences with German words. It's mostly when he commands the 'bots (invented by another German character).
- It helps that Pericles is voiced by an actual German actor, Udo Kier.
- In the Roman Catholic Church, a candidate for Pope must be at least tri-lingual. For example, Pope John Paul II was believed to know as many as 12 (other than his native tongue, Polish), and utilized 9 languages as Pope.
- To become an official translator of any EU institution, you have to know at least three different languages: your mother tongue, then English and then either French or German. If your native language is any of those three, you need to know either all of them, or one of them and then a smaller language. Once you're in, you've the opportunity to learn new languages and get paid for it, with translators ending up knowing any number of languages from at least half a dozen up to twenty different languages .
- English rugby icon Jonny Wilkinson took one of his secondary school A-levels in French, and is fluent enough in French to conduct all of his interviews with French media in that language, with no interpreter. (He has played club rugby in France since 2009.)
- British comedian Eddie Izzard took French in school, loved it, and speaks it very well. In "Dress to Kill" he has an entire sketch based around speaking French, starting with the idea that common phrases found in high school French textbooks are very hard to easily slip into a conversation. He then proceeds to do the entire sketch in French showing just how nonsensical those phrases are, ending with re-capping the movie "Speed." He also does the entire sketch in English at another point. At the beginning of the former, he says that he had taken his last show to France and did it entirely in French, much to the surprise of his audience.
- Israeli news anchor Yonit Levi displays her fluent command of Italian whenever something big and interesting happens in Italy (for instance, when someone tried to attack then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) when she interviews someone in it. It happens rather rarely, leaving many Israelis very surprised when it does happen.