"Oh, you speak English! Good! (In German) You can turn off the subtitles now."Characters begin speaking in a language that is not English note , but find an excuse to switch to English so that the audience doesn't have to read too many of those pesky subtitles. Unlike Translation Convention or Translator Microbes, the characters who switch to English really are speaking English. Usually, a specific reason will be given in the work for characters switching to a different language in mid-conversation. There are many ways that the switch can happen. A common reason given to justify two non-native speakers speaking English to each other is that they do so in order to "practice". Conversely, sometimes Alice and Bob might discover that they are both from an English-speaking country and don't need to speak the vernacular of where they are in when speaking to each other. Maybe Alice will suggest to switch to English because she knows it better than the current language of the conversation, or maybe they are somewhere where few people know English and they don't want to be overheard, or so on and so forth. If this is done poorly, it can be jarring and seem forced, especially if the characters really have no good reason to switch. In addition, some non-English productions, such as Nordic cop shows, may feature this when two characters who can't speak each other's native language decide to both switch to English, which they can both speak - for example, Aliona can't speak Russian, Boris can't speak Italian, but they both can speak English; probably because they learned it at school. Keep in mind that some examples of Translation Convention can be mistaken for this. This trope only applies if there is a reason in universe for the characters to be speaking in a language the audience can understand instead of the characters' own. This does not apply to situations where the characters speak English for the convenience of the audience, but are understood to be actually speaking another language. Also compare Completely Unnecessary Translator, which is about a character speaking to someone through a translator only to reveal that he actually speaks their language perfectly fluently. See also Eloquent in My Native Tongue, which can be an inverse of this trope, as it may start with them speaking an unfamiliar language and switch to a more comfortable one.
— German Policeman, The Man with Two Brains
open/close all folders
- In The Hunt for Red October, when Jack Ryan, Burt Mancuso, and Jonesy first come aboard the titular Russian submarine, Jack breaks the ice by asking for a cigarette (until this point he's said, 'I don't smoke' every time an American offered him one), but does so with a gesture as if he didn't know any Russian. Naturally, he starts getting sick. The Russians notice this and start laughing. When Captain Ramius sees that Mancuso has a pistol, he makes a comment in Russian about it, and Ryan starts to chuckle.
Mancuso: What's so funny?
Ryan: Ah, the captain seems to think you're some sort of cowboy.
Ramius: (Russian) You speak Russian?
Ryan: (Russian) A little. It is wise to study the ways of one's adversaries. Don't you agree?
Ramius: (English) It is.
- At that point everyone onboard Red October speaks only in English. Tupolev's crew on board the Konovalov continue to use Translation Convention, though, and one Russian in a lifeboat lets out an exclamation in Russian.
- In the commentary track, director John McTiernan mentions that he recalled seeing this used in the film Judgment At Nuremberg.
- Japanese-American O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 precedes a speech to Yakuza members by explaining in Japanese why she's about to switch to English. "So you all will know the seriousness of my warning, I shall say this in English." We hear her Number Two translate it to Japanese, though.
- In Inglourious Basterds, Colonel Hans Landa is speaking to a dairy farmer in French, and he suggests that they switch to English because it is better than his French. The real reason is that the Jews that the farmer is hiding do not speak English, and Landa doesn't want to alert them to his suspicions too soon.
Lt. Archie Hicox: [in English] Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the King's.Major Dieter Hellstrom: [in English] By all means, Captain.
- Also happens later with Lieutenant Archie Hicox, whose German is flawless (although his strange accent arouses suspicion among German soldiers and an SS officer), after he is discovered as a spy.
- Moscow on the Hudson: During an early scene in Russia, two characters decide to practice their English by continuing their conversation in English.
- In Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Maria Elena and Juan Antonio are Spanish. Cristina is American. When the three of them gather to converse, Maria first talks to Juan in Spanish, but Juan comes up with the objection that it shows disrespect to Cristina, who doesn't speak Spanish. So then all of them switch to English merrily after some random arguments about Chinese.
- In The Man with Two Brains, Dr. Hfuhruhurr gets pulled over by a German-speaking policeman. When he replies to the policeman in English, the policeman says, "Oh, you speak English! Good!" and directs his partner to turn off the subtitles.
- Frequently happened in Until the End of the World: Claire variously speaks French and English, and also some German. She frequently switches to English to converse with others.
- In The Transporter, a Chinese father tells his daughter to converse in English with him (even though she speaks perfect Chinese), because language school was expensive. For reference, the film is set in France.
- In the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, two French characters have conversations in English, via the "you have to practice this foreign language" excuse.
- Inverted in The Legend of Zorro. After the title character rescues his son from the Big Bad's gang, they start a conversation in English. Then Zorro cuts the conversation off and requests that they converse in "the language of our fathers" — Spanish. The rest of the conversation occurs in Spanish with English subtitles.
- In Johnny Mnemonic, Takahashi and Shinji begin a conversation in Japanese, before Takahashi chastises Shinji for speaking "terrible" Japanese and demands Shinji talk to him in English. Towards the end of their conversation, Takahashi switches to English, as well.
- In Gung Ho, Takahara Kazuhiro's wife starts speaking Japanese to him in one scene, but he tells her to practice her English and they continue the conversation in English.
- In the Jackie Chan movie Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie comes to America and meets up with his uncle. The two speak in Chinese for a while but his uncle soon asks, "How's your English?". Jackie mentions that his English is passable so his uncle insists they speak it from that point on. The rest of the film is in English.
- Dialogue in Looking for Alibrandi fluctuates between English and Italian. This is because Christina is the daughter of two Italian immigrants to Australia (and her daughter Josephine is the only Alibrandi woman to speak only English).
- In the 2010 Robin Hood film, the King of France and the English traitor Sir Godfrey begin a conversation in French, before the King asks to switch to English. This is especially weird since as a 12th century noble Sir Godfrey's native tongue should also be French.
- Inverted in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock—the Klingons in an early scene start talking in English before switching to Klingon.
- A rather odd example happens in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and it occurs with the Translation Convention in place (after it's been non-humorously Lampshaded). During Kirk and McCoy's trial (which is conducted in Klingon, and Kirk and McCoy are shown listening to a translation with devices), the scene starts in Klingon, then switches to Klingon translators translating into English (or at least Federation Standard) then switching back to the trial itself, and now everybody is speaking English (Translation Convention). At one point General Chang starts yelling at Kirk about his background and says "Don't wait for the translation! Answer me now!" (in Klingon, but we see English) and Kirk responds, showing not only that he speaks Klingon, but that Chang knows he speaks Klingon.
- Inverted in the Russian film Gun with a Silencer, where two patients escape from an American mental hospital. Bob thinks he's a spy, while Jack thinks he's a woman for half a day. Both meet with a man who claims to be a general, who gives them a hot air balloon in order to infiltrate Russia and sabotage the "shameful peace" between the two nations. While in the air, Bob states that, from now on, they will be speaking the enemy's language. Up until then, they were speaking in English (dubbed over with Russian). Then Bob switches to fluent Russian, while Jack switches to fluent Ukrainian (he learned the wrong language by mistake). They accidentally land in a Russian mental institution and assume that this is a normal Russian community.
- Near the beginning of Iron Sky, Renate, teaching German schoolchildren on the moon, says that she will be conducting the rest of the class in English as practice. It certainly helps the audience, too.
- Happens in a weird scene in Desperate Journey. After the Allied pilots knock out Gestapo Major Baumeister and escape from his office, Baumeister calls in his subordinate to talk about catching them. All the Germans in the movie have spoken in German to this point, but the film needed to get some plot across, so Baumeister asks his underling "You speak English, don't you?" The rest of the scene unfolds in English, for no reason.
- Played for Laughs as a nonsexual Double Entendre in The Love Bug. Tennessee Steinmetz, Jim Douglas's mechanic and sidekick, is talking in broken Mandarin Chinese with a plaintiff whose property Herbie (the car) damaged. The sidekick tells the plaintiff about the car being Herbie. The plaintiff wants the car himself, once Dean Jones's character understands, the following (approximate) exchange occurs:
- Jim Douglas: All right, but we get to race it in the next race. If we win, you get the prize money, but we get to buy Herbie back for a dollar.Plaintiff: Now, that's the language I speak!
- In A Certain Magical Index, while working together in Japan, Stiyl (an English priest) and Agnes (an Italian nun) communicate in Japanese despite being fluent in each others' languages. Agnes claims that her English has an incomprehensibly thick Italian accent compared to her Japanese,note and that she would likewise wince at hearing Stiyl mangle her own mother tongue. Since Agnes is Catholic and Stiyl is Protestant, it also ensures that neither of them has an unfair advantage if an argument breaks out.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Burn Notice, Micheal pretended to be a Russian spy. He began talking to a contact in Russian, who suggested switching to Spanish, because his Russian was rusty. They settled on English instead.
- For a bit of context, Michael is fluent in several languages (as befitting a former CIA field agent), but not Spanish. Given that he was born and raised in Miami, this is funny.
- In another episode, an actual Russian spy does the same thing to a Cuban smuggler: "Mind if we speak English? My Spanish is not so good."
- Often happens in Covert Affairs. Annie will find her contact, begin speaking to them in their native language and then the contact will say something about being fluent in English and from there on out they will speak in English.
- In the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode The Cycling Tour, John Cleese is a Soviet officer making a speech in Russian to fellow Soviets, pausing for the subtitles to show, and then says in Russian, "Forgive me if I continue in English in order to save time."
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Curse of Fenric", a group of Russian soldiers are on a secret mission in England. The first scene has them speaking Russian with subtitles, then their leader says "From now on, we speak only English", and they do.
- In Brothers and Sisters, Sarah is in France and attempts to ask for directions from a Frenchman. After much struggling, the Frenchman casually reveals he can speak English and the rest of their conversations stays in English.
- In Stargate SG-1, Daniel Jackson is sent over to Russia to handle negotiations. Russian being one of the numerous languages Jackson knows, one would think that he'd speak in Russian while there. But it turns out that his Russian contact thinks his Russian is terrible, and asks that they stick to English instead.
- Inverted in the Blackadder short film Blackadder: Back and Forth. The 21st-century Blackadder and Baldrick have traveled back in time to when the Romans ruled Britain, where their identical ancestors are guarding Hadrian's Wall. All the Roman characters speak English; however, when General Melchett('s Roman ancestor) shows up, he compliments one of the characters on his excellent English—then switches into Latin, which everyone speaks for the rest of the scene.
- It's not the trope namer, but there actually was once a short-lived British game show called "Switch to English", in which people with a different first language competed to see who spoke English best. It was as thrilling as it sounds.
- In the episode "Blowback," Ducky goes undercover for a meeting with French Arms Dealer La Grenouille. They start conversing in French before McGee prompts Ducky via earwig to switch to English.
- The episode "Twenty Klicks" starts out this way:
Anton Pavlenko: (Russian) Where is your allegiance today, Sergei? What language shall we speak? Russian? Farsi? Chinese?
Sergei Mishnev: (Russian) Let's go with English. (English) You spend so much time sucking up to the Americans, by all means you should feel comfortable.
- In the Swedish series Arne Dahl, this happens on at least two occasions.
- One character goes to Estonia for a case (he ends up getting nailed to a wall, but that's another story) and speaks English to his Estonian counterparts.
- In "Europa Blues", Arto flies to Italy as part of the case. After trying his best at Italian, the Italian cop suggests that he switches to English.
- Murdoch Mysteries: Early in "Monsieur Murdoch" when Murdoch, Higgins and Crabtree find a man in a missing woman's hotel room, the constables tackle the man, who speaks in French, demanding to be released. Murdoch asks the man to identify himself in French, and the man does so turns out he's a member of the Paris police. Soon he insultingly suggests switching to English so he can butcher that language instead. Murdoch doesn't take the bait, but later on (once the two are working together), he reverts to French without provoking any complaint from the Frenchman.
- The Johann Strauss opera Die Fledermaus has a scene where two characters are pretending to be French at a Viennese ball. They exchange simple phrases and nonsense before the other guests demand they speak German like everyone else.
- In Anyone Can Whistle, when Fay, in her French-accented Lady in Red disguise, meets Hapgood, they have a subtitled conversation in Gratuitous French. When he asks her (still in French) about her red hair, their conversation switches back to English:
Fay: C'est une—how do you say? Wig?
Fay: Do you mind?
Hapgood: Not a bit.
Fay: I didn't think you would.
- In Half-Life 2, two Vortigaunts are speaking to each other in their native language, but when they notice Gordon Freeman is listening in nearby, they apologize for their rudeness and switch to English.
- They state that they will speak in English, unless they wish to say unkind things about you. All of their dialogue is still in their native language after this.
- This happens at the very beginning of Grand Theft Auto IV. Niko tries to speak to his cousin Roman in Serbian, but Roman switches to English, because he has not spoken Serbian for so long that he has forgotten it.
- Modern Warfare 2: "No Russian."
- In Rhythm Heaven Fever, during the practice for "Tambourine", a monkey gives you instructions in "ooks". When you get past the first set, he informs you, in Monkey, "As a reward, I shall now switch to English."
- The Korean release of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures includes the elusive Navi Trackers mode. Although the rest of the game is in Korean, Navi Trackers is entirely in Japanese. In effect, the game itself "switches to Japanese".
- In Saints Row 2 there are several points where Shogo tells Jyunichi to speak English rather than Japanese.
- In Rise To Honor the default option is to have all the dialogue in Hong Kong spoken in Cantonese, but it switches entirely to English upon Kit's arrival in San Francisco from Hong Kong. However, upon his return, he and the other characters revert to speaking Cantonese, including his friend Michelle who traveled back with him, even when the two are speaking amongst themselves, with no justification given.
- Can be an example of Truth in Television. Many people who have immigrated to another country may speak in the language most common in their new country instead of their native tongue for convenience's sake.
- In multilingual families, a conversation can start in one language, switch to another, and then switch back again. This is often because concepts may be easier to express in one language than the other.
- Invoked by France's then-Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at one meeting of The European Union Council of Ministers; the ministers had all sat down and donned their earphones, when Kouchner, who was chairing the meeting, said something of the effect of, "Guys, take those damned silly thingsnote off. Everybody here speaks English, we'll get more done that way, and we're not fooling anyone with this nonsense."
- A story from Rinkworks' Computer Stupidities page zigzags this trope in a hilariously confusing way:
"I used to work in tech support for a company in Sweden. Once a guy called and started talking in English. Well, I speak fairly fluent English, so this wasn't a problem. So I spoke English back, and we started troubleshooting his problem. After a little while I started to suspect something was up with this guy, because he didn't always seem to understand what I was saying, and he often fumbled for words. Right then, I heard a door open in the background, and a voice said, in Swedish, 'Ready to go to lunch, Sten?' He answered in perfect Swedish. I put the customer on hold and tried not to spit my coffee out from laughing so hard. When he came back on the phone, he spoke in English, and I spoke in Swedish. After about five more minutes of him following my instructions, he said to me in English, 'Hang on. I can't understand Swedish. Please speak English.' The rest of the conversation was in English."
- Truth in Television for most English speakers. Bill Bryson discusses the rise of English as the international language of business and politics in The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. One European corporation had roots in Italy, France, and Germany, so English was selected as the language for meetings, factory orders, etc. One member of the board noted "This way, we're all equally disadvantaged."