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As Long As It Sounds Foreign / Live-Action TV

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As Long as It Sounds Foreign in live-action TV.

  • A visual example of this appears on Korean television on variety programs when a foreign person is speaking in their native language and the network doesn't think the words are important enough to translate. The foreign speakers are usually subtitled with something like "!@%$$#@%* &
  • This skit about an international radio show co-moderated by several European radio hosts. Except for the first German sentences, everything is pure gibberish. Hape Kerleking used a lot of fake accents and this in all his shows.
    • And he does it so convincing he has fooled:
      • Moderators into thinking he is part of a Finnish Rap Band called Ripuli, which he told the moderator means Diarrhea.
      • A Panel of Music Theory Professors and Doctors that he is a Russian Opera Singer.
      • Numerous people that he is Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

  • In the season six finale of 30 Rock, we see Hasidic Jews speaking in their native tongue (presumably Yiddish) and complaining about the sale of pork hot dogs in a Jewish area. The actual language that they're speaking is surprisingly decent Hebrew. It's also possible that the writers thought Hasidic Jews from New York speak Hebrew (they generally do not). Knowing the writers of 30 Rock, it may also be that they knew this, and that was part of the joke.
  • The Agency: "Soft Kills" has a Spanish Defense Minister called Efron Montes. "Efron" is not a Spanish name. The closest would be Efraín or Efraim, but these are so uncommon in Spain that they would most likely be pegged as belonging to a Latin American immigrant. His wife's name being Adalia Montes might just be a coincidence, or an implication that she took her husband's name - which isn't the custom in Spain.
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  • In the Peruvian series Al Fondo Hay Sitio, there are the half American pilots, Patrick Redhead and Richard Battleship.
  • Alias is — unsurprisingly, with five seasons of jetting around the world with a new suspiciously Californian foreign location in each episode — a repeat offender, with dodgy background signage, made-up foreign character names and unintelligible pronunciation of whatever the local tongue is supposed to be. To the writers' credit, though, they often get the dialogue right in the script at least.
  • In the All in the Family episode "Gloria Poses in the Nude", there's a Hungarian painter called Szabo Daborba. While "Szabó" is a common Hungarian family name meaning "tailor", Daborba is not a name in Hungarian. Szabo is also used as if it was his given name (in Hungarian name order, family name is followed by the given name).
  • 'Allo 'Allo!: Parodied on the (British) comedy. A German spy, attempting to infiltrate Britain, is asked to demonstrate his supposedly realistic English accent. It comes out as something to the effect of "Fafafa fa fa fafa, fa fa fa fafa, Big Ben".
    • Good moaning!
  • The contestants on The Amazing Race are guilty of this every season, especially when they get into Eastern Europe or Asia.
    • Mirna Hindoyan (Seasons 5 and 11) became famous for her mangling of the English language, such that her "version" of Spanish was called Mirnish.
    • Sometimes it doesn't even sound foreign. In season 8, while asking for directions in Costa Rica, Linda Weaver asked a local "On righto or lefto?"
  • Parodied in Angel. A Mexican wrestler, who goes by the name of Numero Cinco, explains that he got that name from an earlier time in his life, when he and his brothers called themselves "Los Hermanos Numeros". Angel's reaction to this name: "The Number Brothers? Huh?"
    • Another episode has Angel talking to two Koreans. One of them speaks Korean fluently, but the other has lines that are technically correct but very simplistic and childish. When Angel speaks to them, his lines are complete nonsense that sort of sounds like an Asian language.
  • The A-Team: In the Season 5 Episode "The Crystal Skull", the Aboriginal natives pay homage to Murdock with chanting. While it's supposed to be in a native language, the words are clearly, Who wrote this? Who wrote this?
  • The Big Bang Theory: There's a strange example. At the end of one episode, some Chinese university students are remarking (in Mandarin) that their Internet-enabled dorm room lights are being controlled "by someone called Pasadena, California, in Wolowizard". It's probably just a typo in the script, since the actors' pronunciation is pretty decent and the rest of the dialogue is in passable Mandarin.
    • Also, an aversion: in one episode Sheldon is learning Mandarin. He's listening to a music player while checking the mail, and Penny surprises him from behind. He shouts out "Ai yo! Xia si wo le!" (哎哟!嚇死我了! ; "Gyah! You scared me to death!") in surprisingly good Mandarin.
      • Which makes you wonder why all other instances of him speaking Mandarin were completely out of translation.
  • In a Black Books episode, Bernard, Fran and Manny each have different assumptions as to which country their connecting flight took them, and each tries to talk with a bartender in a different "language". (As it turns out, they're back in England.)
  • In Bones, season 5, episode 5, the team finds an engraving in hanzi (Chinese characters) that Angela deduces comes from a pair of chopsticks. Angela then comments that she found out they're Chinese and claims that she could only find the meaning of one out of the two characters. "beauty", and that it related to... hair. Except the second character was clearly the character for "person". Not only that, said second character is written in two strokes, whereas the first one was closer to seven - which means she would have probably found out what the SECOND character meant much more easily than what the FIRST one meant.
    • When Hodges asks her what those two characters mean, since she's half Chinese, she replies something along the lines of "Why does white man think I speak Chinese?"
    • Averted in another episode, where Booth and Brennan are pretending to be carnies (a knife-throwing couple). The ringmaster tells them that they need a gimmick, and they agree to pretend to be Russian. Brennan actually says a few words in passable Russian, while Booth just walks around like a stereotypical Russian tough guy and keeps repeating "Da".
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • In "Selfless", there is a sequence that takes place in Viking-age Scandinavia somewhere, with the extras speaking gibberish and the two main characters speaking almost completely incomprehensible Swedish. According to the behind the scenes extras on the DVD they had been told that their dialogue would be dubbed over by native Swedes, but the actors went and actually learned their lines in Swedish, which was used for the final episode since they had gone to so much effort. Unfortunately, despite learning the words, their pronunciation and rhythm is terrible, so only parts can be understood by a native Swede.
    • The "Passion" also gives the pseudo Latin phrase "Formatia trans sicere educatorum" as the school motto. Most other samples of Latin in the series are accurate.
    • And yet one episode has a spell in real Sumerian. Sumerian! A 3-millennia-dead linguistic isolate! There is no known language related to Sumerian, either spoken at the same time, or descending from it; which obviously makes its study difficult. Linguists have figured out its vocabulary and grammar from tablets written in both Sumerian and Akkadian (a dead Semitic language), but no one has too much of a clue about how it was actually pronounced.
    • Then there's "Gingerbread" where we get to see what is supposedly the testimony of the first person to encounter Hansel and Gretel (it makes sense in context). The German in it is... let's say, erratic.
      ich, eine Geistlicher von nahe die Schwarz Wälder, tat finden das körper von das kinder meine selbst. eine wurde von die junge, die anderen von und mädchen. darauf meine eigene erforschen ich lernte... ("I, a male female priest from vicinity them Black Forests, made to find the one bodies of the childs myselves. One became from the girlboy, the others from and girl. Thereupon my own to perform research I learned...")
  • Castle features a female Czech victim called Eliska Sokel. While both names are legitimate Czech names - lacking diacritics and misspelled, respectively - the latter one is male. The female version of the Czech surname Sokol is Sokolová.
  • On The Colbert Report, Colbert parodies this with his K-pop hit single He's Singing in Korean.
So get into my Hyundai. We can eat some Kim Chi. What else is Korean?
  • CSI is guilty of this in all incarnations. All too often, the Chinese people spoke Korean, the Japanese Korean, and when finally Korean people came up they spoke Chinese!
    • Subverted in the episode "Suckers". The victim of an apparent art theft identifies himself as a Japanese businessman Yuri Yamamoto. He is later revealed to be a Con Man and not Japanese at all.
  • Meanwhile CSI: NY features some odd choices for character names from time to time...
    • Like that one girl named Risa Calaveras ("Laugh Skulls" in Spanish). The Spanish dub went around this by calling her Raisa, which is an Arabic name.
    • The Egyptian suspects in 'Seth and Apep'. An Egyptian viewer posted on another site that their names weren't Egyptian at all, but another Arabic-speaking area. Both are in fact Ancient Egyptian names for evil gods.
    • "Holding Cell" teams Mac with the head of the Catalan crime lab - Hector Vargas, a character played by a New Yorker of Cuban descent that makes his scenario reports in Cuban Spanish. Though such post would not be limited to a born and bred Catalan, it'd very likely be occupied by one, given that all public servants in Catalonia are required by law to be bilingual in Catalan and Spanish. Also, such a person would certainly not mispronounce his own agency's name (Mossos d'Esquadra) as Mossos de Estrada, like Vargas does.
  • Occasionally used on The Daily Show, when unpopular foreign news-makers (particularly dictators) are shown making speeches, coupled with an obviously incorrect voice-over translation. Usually in a silly voice.
  • Doctor Who: "Journey's End" has some problems with this.
    • The German dialogue has some grammar mistakes. And while "Exterminieren" is a German word, it's rarely used in that language. Although, given that the Daleks have probably never used German before...
    • "Dårlig Ulv Stranden", just like the last time, doesn't make much sense in Norwegian. (It's translated as "Bad Wolf Bay". "Dårlig" means bad as in "faulty" and "Stranden" means beach.)
  • Dollhouse: When Echo tried to speak Russian, you'd be hard-pressed to find a native speaker who could understand half of what she's saying. Particularly Egregious because she was supposed to infiltrate the Russian mafia. The words are mostly correct. The accent is pretty bad though.
  • An odd version appeared on Emergency! from time to time. Firefighter Marco Lopez (played by Marco Lopez) would sometimes be called upon to translate for a Spanish-speaking victim or witness. However, for some inexplicable reason, some of these conversations consisted of nothing but meaningless babbling between Lopez and the extra, even if the extra obviously could speak Spanish.
  • One skit on The Eric Andre Show features Eric and company pretending to be Black Scientologists who insist L. Ron Hubbard was actually a black man named L. Ron Hoyabembe, in a parody of black supremacist groups like the Black Hebrew Israelites that try to "reconnect with their cultural roots" (i.e., The Theme Park Version of Ancient Africa). Needless to say, "Hoyabembe" is a completely made-up name designed to sound stereotypically African, rather than being from any real African language.
  • Eureka:
    • In "Show me the Mummy", the purported hieroglyphs on the tomb aren't. At least, not Egyptian ones. The name of the queen, Nyota would have been in a cartouche, and would have ended in two glyphs not part of the name, that would indicate, that it was a female name. Not to mention the fact that Nyota is Swahili not Ancient Egyptian.
    • And in "Welcome Back, Carter", Sheriff Andy is supposed to speak Dutch at one point. He's not, the first line is pure gibberish.
    • The second line was hard to decipher, but the third is actually Dutch, albeit with a near incomprehensible accent.
      Andy: Ik ben net in de stad gekomen. Wie zou mij willen vermoorden? ("I've just come into the city. Who would want to murder me?") It's Dutch alright, but the first sentence is awkward and not entirely grammatically correct.
  • In Farscape, D'Argo's Luxan language is very clearly the actor simply spitting out some vaguely harsh and alien-sounding syllables, usually the same three or four ones repeated over and over. Averted, however, with Aeryn Sun's Sebacean language, which is the actress speaking English in reverse. (Not reversing the words, but actually reversing the sounds.)
  • The Fast Show's "Channel 9" sketch, inspired by baffling Central European television, has monologues like "Et-eth-etth-thethet-Chris Waddle." (A British footballer, chosen for no good reason.) It started out as a news broadcast, and expanded into adverts, dramas and a nativity play ("SPROG!").
    • The lottery skit - where the "random" numbers were clearly visible before being light up, and the sequence went something like: 9 - Tosis, 20 - Myxama, 29 - Myxama-Tosis.
    • "Scorchio!" Brrrr.
    • Boutros-Boutros-Ghali!
  • The Flight of the Conchords play a song, "Foux Du Fafa", that consists only of beginner French phrases in "Girlfriends".
  • Frasier: One episode had Roz break up with a French boyfriend who didn't speak English so Frasier translates. The boyfriend immediately reveals he was planning to break it off himself, so the French parts of the conversation drift off into where he can find a good steak while Roz works through the whole speech she had prepared.
  • Friends
    • Phoebe dates a prince from an unidentified (although presumably European) nation. Throughout the episode, the prince and his translator converse in total nonsense.
    • Phoebe tries to teach Joey French. While Phoebe can and does speak French (Lisa Kudrow's husband is French, which is probably where the plot idea started), Joey speaks gibberish like "Je de plee bloom"; he can't tell the difference between the gibberish and real French, no matter how hard Phoebe tries to explain. Ironically, Matt LeBlanc is himself a fluent French speaker (his father is French-Canadian).
  • Both played straight and averted in the 1990s Get Smart revival series. Agent 66 disguises herself as a Swede named Dr. Heynadeggjadeggi - not a remotely Swedish last name. Then averted as both she and another doctor speak grammatically correct Swedish.
  • Played with in the Glee episode "The Spanish Teacher", in which it is revealed that this is perennial incompetent Will Schuester's strategy for teaching Spanish: whereas the Spanish spoken by David Martinez (played by Ricky Martin) is both accurate and accurately translated in subtitles, Will's Spanish is appallingly pronounced and riddled with errors, and the errors are transcribed accurately in the subtitles, just to make the point really clear.
  • In The Golden Girls, all of Rose's "Scandinavian" terms and phrases are gibberish. (Betty White is often credited for ad-libbing them as needed). It's telling that the show can't even decide whether she's speaking Norwegian or Swedish, although such contradictions are par for the course on this show. By contrast, most of the Italian words we hear Sophia use are real, if pronounced with an obvious American accent. Still, the show Lampshaded this once: "Sometimes I think you make half those ["Italian"] words up".
  • Most of the Wesen names in Grimm are in Faux-German, usually two Real Life words smashed together in an illogical manner.
  • Have I Got News for You: On this topical news quiz Paul Merton felt that the trick to speaking French was 'all in the shoulders', probably referring to a French stereotype of shrugging while speaking.
  • Heroes is pretty accurate considering it's an American production, but there are a few name-related items that you'd think someone would have brought up when being translated into Japanese:
    • Yamagato (Industries) is not a Japanese name. This was likely taken from "Arigato". The writing in the show is 山形 which is "Yamagata": a surname, and city and prefecture in Japan, which would have been more accurate.
    • Ando Masahashi's name has caused some debate. Both names are surnames, and "Ando" (安藤) is a very common surname. There is no Japanese custom of giving a traditional surname as a given name like there is in English speaking countries. "Masa" is a common component of a Japanese given name, but "hashi" (meaning "bridge") is almost always in a surname. In the Japanese version, they write his name in katakana, usually reserved for non-Japanese people.
    • Similarly, "Kaito" (海藤) isn't a Japanese given name, but a surname. Also, George Takei's Japanese is very rusty (but far better than HRG's!)
    • "Hiro" is usually part of a given name in Japanese (like "Masa"). When the character is by itself, it is usually "Hiroshi". In Japan, "Hiro" would be used as a nickname, very informally. Typically, Japanese people do not introduce themselves with a nickname. His name is used because "Hiro" sounds like "Hero".
  • Hogan's Heroes is full of it when our heroes choose "German" names for themselves, and simply stick "-burg", "-meier", "-berg" or "-muller" after their own surnames. And the Germans never see through that? The "real" Germans all seem to have properly researched surnames, though.
  • How I Met Your Mother
    • The recurring character Ranjit is supposed to be from Bangladesh, and should therefore speak either Bengali or at worst Hindi. However since the actor is of Iranian origin, the rant he performs in the episode "Rabbit or Duck" is in Persian.
    • In another episode, Robin convinces Lily to get Thai food, by naming various Thai dishes before slipping into this.
      Lily: You're just saying random syllables and it still sounds delicious!
    • In "Cupcake" Barney and his tailor exchange a few words at which point Marshal is surprised that Barney speaks Ukrainian. They were actually speaking Russian.
  • Impractical Jokers: When challenged to get free yogurt, this was Sal's weapon of choice.
  • The IT Crowd: An in-universe example, played for laughs. Jen convinces her boss she can speak Italian by using a translation program, which works fine until she's asked to provide translation for a visiting Italian businessman and can't bring her laptop into the meeting. She bluffs her way through by babbling a mixture of Italian-sounding words and heavily-accented English, to the confusion and eventual anger of the visitor.
  • The Kids in the Hall had a game show called Feelyat! presented entirely in ludicrous fake Dutch, complete with Der Nederlander Footchoir (a bunch of people hiding behind a curtain except for their hands, which were dressed with socks and wooden shoes, clomping rhythmically).
  • In the original Land of the Lost, the Kroffts were actually ordered by the network not to do this for the Pakuni. So they hired Victoria Fromkin, a Ph.D. linguist out of UCLA, to create the Pakuni language: A grammar, a syntax, and a two hundred word vocabulary. The language is fully detailed in the DVD extras for season 1.
  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien: Gustavo, a smug European elitist who makes occasional appearances, is a shining example of this trope ("They're not shoes! They're flexifussen!"). This is played with by having him continuously refuse to name which country he's from.
  • In Lost, the French team at the beginning of season 5 all speak French with American or Canadian accents, and weirdly faked French accents when speaking English (to Jin).
  • M*A*S*H
    • Whenever Korean was meant to be spoken, Japanese was used instead. Apparently it was easier to find actors who knew Japanese than Korean. Not that surprising, considering that three of the most often recurring characters were played by Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (Japanese-American), Mako (Japanese) and Rosalind Chao (Chinese-American).
    • The character of Nurse Kellye was self-described in one episode as "part Hawaiian and part Chinese," but in a later episode she mocks Charles (who is wearing a kimono) in Japanese. However, given that before WWII, there were many Japanese immigrants in Hawaii, it's conceivable that she might have picked up a Japanese insult or two...
  • In Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, at one point, Dot has to pose as a Russian race car driver. Bert and Ced, being the wags they are, give her the pseudonym "Valentina Ranemalova". Say that last name to yourself a few times.
  • The rare moments of comic relief in Mission: Impossible frequently came from the intentionally incorrect pseudo-Slavic (called "Gellerese" after creator/showrunner Bruce Geller) that features in almost every episode taking place behind the Iron Curtain; it sounds — and more importantly looks — just English enough to be followed accurately by an English-speaking audience. The writers had a lot of fun coming up with gibberish like "machinawerke" for "machine shop", "zona restrik" for "restricted area", "entrat verbaten" for "no admittance", and (one of the perennial favorites) "gaz". The last example is, however, a case of Accidentally Correct Writing: "gaz" is the translation for "gas" (either as the vapour, or as a slang term for petrol) in several European languages.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • In the killer joke sketch, a joke so funny anyone who hears it dies laughing is rendered in mock German as "Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja, ober der beierhund und flipperwald gersput", which is nonsense, but several of the words are actually German. Translated, the joke is: "If is the nun piece git and slotermeyer? Yes, sputted over the meadow-dog and flipper-forest". It loses something in the translation.
    • In the Cycling Tour episode, where we get a Soviet General saying things like this: "Shi musks di seensand dravenka oblomov Engleska Solzhenitzhin." One of the Pythons seems to have remembered his Goncharov.
    • Also, the apparently offensive Hungarian phrase mistranslating "This will cost you six shillings" in the phrasebook sketch is "Yandelavasa grldenwi stravenka," which doesn't even sound like Hungarian.
    • The French scientists in the French Lecture on Sheep-Aircraft sketch intersperse real French with French-sounding mumbling and lots of sheep noises, and again, minus sheep noises, at the end of The Ministry of Silly Walks ("La Marche Futile?!").
  • The Swedish Chef of The Muppet Show and other Muppet-based features speaks gibberish (peppered with the occasional English word to let the audience in on what he's doing) in an atrocious faux-Swedish 'accent' that mirrors vocal inflection in Swedish but little else. The crowning example is his Catchphrase, "bork bork bork", which means absolutely nothing in either language. (Jim Henson got himself in the right frame of mind for the Chef's accent by listening to Berlitz tapes in Swedish.)
    • In one episode, Jean Stapleton (of All in the Family) and the Chef conversed fluently in what she explicitly identified as "Mock Swedish." The abashed Swedish Chef reverts to his "native tongue," at which point Stapleton throws her hands up and admits she doesn't speak 'Mock Japanese.'
    • In one episode of the show, a gypsy lady puts a curse on the show, the final stage of which turns everybody Swedish. Before long, the whole cast is talking like the Chef.
    • Whatever it is the Swedish Chef speaks, Björn Borg clearly does too. Fluently.
    • One story Brian Henson tells in a DVD special feature is about a Swedish business man who was in the UK for work and saw the show, and wrote a letter informing the writers that the Swedish Chef was not actually speaking Swedish. The writers responded with a letter thanking him for the information and saying that they had considered firing the Swedish Chef, but he had a family to support and they decided to show mercy.
    • In one sketch, Danny Kaye (see above) played the Chef's uncle.
    • In Muppets Most Wanted this is lampshaded when Sam and Jean-Pierre recruit a Swedish translator to help them understand the Chef during the "Interrogation Song." His confused response? "That's not Swedish."
    • The Muppet Show also featured occasional appearances by the Flying Zucchini Brothers, an acrobat troupe that spoke Italian-sounding gibberish with the occasional broken English inserted. ("Ay, Fettucini alfredo! Light-a da booma-booma!")
    • In the German dub of the Muppet Show, the character is called "The Danish Chef". Swedes find this change very funny.
  • Subverted in My Name Is Earl, where Catalina occasionally speaks in Spanish, implying to the non-Spanish-speaking characters that she is insulting them. She is actually saying things like "Thank you to our Spanish speaking audience, as I understand how difficult it is to learn a foreign language like English, and we appreciate your loyalty to our show".
    • Played straight in the DVD extra Las Passiones [sic] de Catalina, a fake trailer of the show done as if it was a South American novela starring Catalina. The voiceover is alright (and likely done by a native Spanish speaker) but the narration's grammar is awkward, with words spelled like in English sprinkled in (e.g. "La Violence" in place of "La Violencia") and the wrong gender assigned to many others (e.g. "La Karma" instead of "El Karma", "El List" instead of "La Lista").
  • Parodied in The Nanny in a flashback where Fran went to Israel as a teen. Fran hooks up with an Israeli guy and he asks her a question in Hebrew. She replies with "Uh, yeah, yeah, bagel bagel, shalom, matzo ball, shalom."
  • The Basque bomber in Narcos is Efram (Efras?) Gonzales. Not only is "Efram" neither a Spanish nor Basque name, Gonzales is also a spelling found in Latin America but not in Spain where it's spelled "González". Ironically, since the show is filmed in Colombia it is likely that the character was named after mid-20th century Colombian bandit Efraín González, whose name actually followed the European spelling!
  • Exploited by Ken Hotate on Parks and Recreation, preforming a "ritual". It starts with him apparently speaking another language, and then with English subtitles: "I am not saying anything. Nobody can understand me anyway. Doobee. Doobee. Doo."
  • Averted in many series broadcast by Australia's SBS like Pizza, thanks to the massive translation facilities that network has. It's funny knowing that Pizza puts more effort into its foreign dialogue than its (tongue-in-cheek low quality) special effects.
  • The Special Act of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon has Ami speaking in some kind of pseudo-English. Previous episodes had real English when required, however.
  • The Prisoner (1967) episode "The Chimes of Big Ben" introduces an allegedly Estonian Soviet Agent called Nadia Rakowski. Rakowski is a (masculine) Polish name, Nadia a name used by many cultures, but not by Estonians. A case of Fake Nationality and The Danza, since she was played by the Romanian Nadia Grey.
  • This sketch on Saturday Night Live. It's all complete gibberish except for Anna Faris's line "ninhonjin", which is very close to the actual Japanese word for a Japanese person, nihonjin. The fact that it's complete gibberish is kind of the point, as the sketch revolves around very ignorant American Japanophiles. Their Japanese Studies professor is there supervising them, and he's rather appalled by this, saying they're his worst students and "treading a thin line between homage and racism." Another, more classic, SNL example is John Belushi's Samurai character.
  • Star Trek:
    • Lt. Hikaru Sulu from Star Trek: The Original Series combines a Japanese given name with the name of a body of water (chosen by Gene Roddenberry due to its proximity to many Asian regions, since the character was meant to represent all of Asia). The name is obviously non-Japanese since Japanese doesn't use the letter L. Roddenberry also described Sulu as an affectionate rendering of "Solow," as in Herb Solow, the executive who helped get Star Trek off the ground. On the other hand, in the Japanese dubbing of Star Trek, Sulu was renamed Kato, a common Japanese surname.
    • The name "Khan Noonien Singh" combines an Islamic name (Khan) and a Sikh name (Singh). To make matters worse, Khan and Singh are both surnames, which makes the name combination sound like "Smith Jones." Gene Roddenberry apparently named Khan after an old war buddy named Kim Noonien Singh, which was evidently a legit name since it belonged to a real guy. Maybe the show writers just figured that "Khan" sounds cooler than "Kim." Retconned in the Star Trek: Khan comic, where Noonien Singh took "Khan" as a title rather than a name, having read about the Mongol Empire.
    • Although Klingon is a language unto itself, writers of Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager often didn't have the time or inclination to work out the proper Klingon translation, simply looking up the words and using them in a grammatically incorrect manner. Marc Okrand put a lot of effort into creating a coherent language given the preexisting words, yet the TV show still mangles the language, forcing retcon after retcon and Holy Wars between sects of Klingon language speakers.
  • The Student Bodies episode "Stand-Up Chris" featured an elegant, expensive, and pretentious French restaurant called "La Vielle Chaussette". Viewers who could speak French undoubtedly wondered why anybody would name a restaurant "The Old Sock".
  • The classic example is Latka Gravas, played by Andy Kaufman in Taxi. Carol Kane has said in interviews that, when she was hired to play Latka's girlfriend Simka, Andy had to teach her how to "speak" his gibberish language so that the two actors could make it appear that both characters were speaking the same language. He did it by taking her to dinner and conversing entirely in his "language", refusing to speak or "understand" English, and Kane was not allowed to speak in English, either.
  • In the comedy about Shakespeare's life, Upstart Crow, the character of Lucy, the pub landlady and former African slave, will occasionally say "Ah Ah Eh Eh" at the start of a bit of dialogue. It has never been made clear why she does this, nor what it is supposed to mean.
  • In an episode of The West Wing, the president and Leo have a conversation about the Icelandic ambassador, Ambassador Olafsdottir. While that would be a proper last name for a woman from Iceland (as the suffix 'dottir' means 'daughter'), the characters are clearly talking about a male ambassador, so the name should be Olafsson.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?
    • The American version featured a game called "Foreign Film Dub", in which the language was specified by the audience. Two of the actors would pretend to be in a movie made in a language other than English (French, Japanese, etc.), speaking nonsense words meant to sound like that language, while the other two actors would improvise humorous English "translations" of their gibberish. On at least one occasion the language was Klingon. On another occasion, the language was Canadian.
    • There was also a Bilingual Bonus playing where the foreign language was Spanish and Jeff Davis spoke real (if somewhat silly) Spanish.
    • They would often use well-known words and intentionally mistranslate them.
    • Subverted when Stephen Colbert was actually speaking German.
    • Comedian Sid Caesar has gotten much mileage out of this technique. He shows it off on his guest appearance.
  • The Wild Wild West. A director once asked some Native American extras to use their own language for a scene, but decided not to use it as they didn't sound "Indian" enough.
  • Justin and Zeke's "alien language" in Wizards of Waverly Place. Lampshaded by the actual aliens (who speak fluent American English, anyway) in the episode "Wizard for a Day".
  • Xena: Warrior Princess: In "The Titans", Gabrielle argues with a band of cultists over the correct way to recite an ancient chant that will free the titular Titans. The cultists recite it in an Ionian rythm, which fails to unleash the mighty Titans... and translates to: "Thank you very much! So and so! Hello, Good morning! Hello Goodnight! Hello... Kali noches!"note  Gabrielle says that they should recite the chant in a Dorian rythm; her attempt is more successful, if equally nonsensical: "Greetings greetings greetings hello greetings. Good greets. Moupolita moupolita.note  Chania Heraclion."note 
  • The X-Files clearly tried with the episode "Død Kalm". The Norwegian spoken is atrocious when it comes to pronunciation, and filled with grammatical errors and archaic words, but the general meaning can be identified with patience. For the title, however, they failed twice, first by attempting to translate an idiom directly, and then failing to do that by using a word that doesn't actually exist.
    • They rendered "Go to Hell!" as "Walk to Hell!", and used painfully stilted school-Oslo Norwegian... in the far North. Giving it much the same effect as seeing two "Texans" converse in broken British English. The fact that they placed the mysterious evil spot in the middle of Norway's most heavily trafficked tourist sea lane, though...
    • A few seasons later, this appears again. In season 6's "Triangle", every character is playing a different role than usual in Mulder's WWII fever dream. Skinner pops up as a Nazi, and as a result, speaks fluent German. In the DVD extras, Mitch Pileggi, who played Skinner and speaks German, said that at one point, he was reading his lines and a few of them didn't make any sense in the context of the scene. He brought it up to Chris Carter, who agreed that it didn't make sense and allowed for him just to make up something that fit in that moment.
    • Actually became a plot point in one episode where Mulder and Alex Krycek were captured while in Russia near Tunguska and put into a prison. Krycek was born in the US to Russian immigrant parents and claimed to speak Russian. He proceeds to do so and the guards remove him from the cell momentarily and take him somewhere. The inmate in the cell next to them speaks English and thus heard everything everyone says and informs Mulder that he shouldn't trust Krycek. Turns out, while Krycek did say everything he told Mulder he was going to, he was not speaking Russian the correct way a prisoner would speak to his captor, but in very informal terms, as if he and the guards were friends or close colleagues. This actually makes this kind of unique as the person getting it wrong here was relying on everyone involved to not know one of the languages involved in the scene, which is this trope incarnate. Also, while it raises bells with the cellmate, he doesn't outright accuse Krycek of being associated with the men, just that it was not the right thing to say in his situation. Of course, the audience and Mulder are already well aware that Krycek might have an ulterior motive (more because Krycek is a serial Jerkass than anything he has said or done in this episode), and this serves to confirm it. Note that this is in universe only. Another troper who speaks better Russian would need to take a look at the scene to see if the actors got it right.
  • Sid Caesar, Howard Morris, and Carl Reiner frequently did sketches for Your Show of Shows in a fake European-sounding gibberish.
    • Caesar's ersatz German, in particular, was said to be so convincing as regards inflection, cadence, and sound that, even though it was mostly gibberish, some German-speaking viewers reportedly had the uncomfortable and disconcerting feeling that they should be able to understand him.


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