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Bilingual Dialogue

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Han Solo: Keep your distance, Chewie. But don't look like you're trying to keep your distance.
Han Solo: I don't know, fly casual!
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

For whatever reason, two or more characters can't speak the others' language in anything better than heavily mangled, imprecise gobbledygook. However, all involved can understand the others' language when spoken. This results in unnervingly cool, creepy, or cantankerous scenes depending on the set-up, as you have two people listening and responding to each other in completely different languages, creating a Bilingual Dialogue (and sometimes acting as interpreters to any third parties present.)

What you end up with is a conversation that goes something like this:

Annette: La plume de ma tante est sur le bureau de mon oncle.note 
Benny: Oh, I'll go get it, then. Do you want anything else while I'm up?
Annette: Non, merci, c'est tout.note 

This is Truth in Television, and is technically known as Receptive or Passive Bilingualism. If one learns a foreign language by speaking it (as is common in many schools which use a listen-and-repeat teaching format), rather than by learning to read it, it is easier to passively understand what someone else is saying than to actively generate the language oneself. If each person understands the other's first language, it's easier to use this type of conversation than for one person to struggle to speak in a more uncomfortable second language. However, the same result can also happen when the opposite approach is taken (with each person speaking the language they're less comfortable in, because it's easier for a fluent/native speaker to understand a limited, pidgin version of the language than it is for someone with minimal knowledge of the language to understand complex sentences with uncommon words).


See also Bilingual Bonus and Eloquent in My Native Tongue. Compare Intelligible Unintelligible. A common theme with Translator Buddy characters.

Contrast with Language Barrier.


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  • A series of commercials for Sprint featured a strangely diverse family. (The mother seems to be less than a decade older than her oldest son, her father is black while she's white, and her husband is a hamster.) The daughter speaks only French while the rest of the family speaks English, but they understand each other even without translating.
  • A series of commercials for Hyundai of Canada featured a trio of executives from Hyundai's competitors in Germany, Japan and America, working together to find out why Hyundai's cars are so much better than theirs. Each one speaks in their own native language (outside of loan words and Hyundai trademarks, of course), but they all understand and reply to each other in discussion.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Lyrical Nanoha, all the humanoid or animal like characters speak Japanese whereas the various talking machines speak either Midchildan or Belkan (represented as bad English or bad German, respectively). There is most likely some Translation Convention going on here as Midchildans on Midchilda would presumably speak Midchildan to each other. Although why the machines don't get translated is unexplained.
  • In Tokyo Godfathers, the Hispanic immigrant mother only speaks Spanish, and Miyuki only speaks Japanese (plus a little English that she learned at school), but they manage to carry on a conversation (with the Spanish unsubtitled for either the Japanese or the English-speaking audience).
  • Subverted in Gigantic Formula. Every single one of the voice actors are Japanese, yet try their best to speak their characters' own languages. Later on in the series, the resident Russian pilot speaks dumbed down Japanese and claims he just learned it because of his being an international ambassador of sorts. By the end, all the pilots speak in Japanese, using headset-things called "automatic language interpreters" to translate their language for them.
  • Played with in Hana-Kimi when Nakatsu and Julia got into an argument, Julia speaking English and Nakatsu speaking Japanese. Julia can probably understand most of what Nakatsu is saying but Nakatsu cannot understand a word Julia says, yet they manage a back and forth argument. Mizuki and Sano even think 'Wow, they're fighting on emotion alone'.
  • In Saiyuki Hakkai, appears to understand Hakuryu/Jeep's chirps, although none of the rest of the party do nor the viewers. Hakkai occasionally acts as an interpreter.
  • In the Pokémon anime, most of the Pokémon themselves speak in languages consisting entirely of variations of their own species name (a Pikachu, for example, can only say the word "Pikachu" or single syllables of that word). While the human characters are consistently shown to be unable to understand this speech in most cases, there are numerous instances where two Pokémon of different species will carry on a conversation where they understand each other perfectly despite each being unable to speak each other's languages.
    • A notable example of a human being able to understand a Pokémon does exist, however. It's consistent that Ash is able to understand Pikachu at least somewhat, though he doesn't appear to fully understand any other Pokémon.
    • A straighter example occurs with Team Rocket's Meowth, one of the few Pokémon who speaks the human language perfectly.
  • Latecomer Aisha in Sound of the Sky speaks almost exclusively "Roman" (German), so most of her dialogue has the crew trying to guess what she might be saying.
  • Happens a bit in the A Certain Magical Index series. Most foreign characters speak Japanese for the benefit of Touma (it's the only language he knows), but Cendrillon in particular only speaks French (though she understands Japanese and English just fine). Subverted in the Shopping Mall Demonstration side story where Mikoto and the New Light cabal are speaking with one another in Japanese for Mikoto's benefit, but when the group switches to their native English, Mikoto switches as well and continues the conversation without missing a beat.
  • The Glacians in Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing speak Russian as their native language. One of their Navis acts as an interpreter for the main characters.

    Audio Plays 
  • In the Russian audioplay Space Opera, the protagonist Sebastian does this with his alien friend Byron. Neither can speak the other's language (which is why Sebastian calls him "Byron"), but they appear to have no trouble understanding on another. It probably also helps that Byron's species is empathic, so he can intuit from Sebastian's feelings what he means.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in Gear: Waffle the cat and Chee the mantis seem to converse in spite of their language barrier, and Waffle even has a change of heart immediately after one of Chee's comments. Then, as he turns to leave, Waffle adds, "By the way, I haven't understood a thing you've said."
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Black Dossier, Mina can understand the dolls, who speak in Dutch, and they talk back to her, but it goes past Allan Quartermain. This dips into a Bilingual Bonus as well when the dolls comment on the Gollywog.

    Fan Works 
  • Taken Up to Eleven by Dumbledore in The Parselmouth of Gryffindor as he messes with the people trying to arrest him in Durmstrang. Owing to the several nationalities represented among his accusers, he keeps saying every other sentence in a different language, from French to Polish, to the utter confusion of everyone else.
  • Zany To The Max:
    • Used with the Zarner siblings. Jakko will explain plans to Takko and Zot in Finnish, and Takko and Zot understand him completely. So does Sikko.
    • Jakko actually speaks both Finnish and English, as do Takko and Zot (though they speak Finnish much less often than Jakko).
  • Crossed with You Are the Translated Foreign Word in Red Fire, Red Planet.
    A voice over the comms. “Qap’gargh to mupwI’, we’re on your wing. Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam!note 
    No, it’s not, Meromi thought. It’s never a good day to die.
  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers human and Pokémon characters talking to one another would count as this most of the time, with the humans speaking either English or other languages and the mons speaking Monese.
  • In Kill la Kill AU's Aikurou Babysits, we have this sort of argumentative exchange occur with Satsuki and Nui.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, every conversation with Zombie Boy goes like this—at least, when he's only saying "Brains" before revealing that he speaks English just fine.
    Marik: What we came here to do is defeat Yugi Muto once and for all!
    Zombie Boy: Brains! [I came here for the free tacos.]
    Marik: By the way, there are no free tacos. That was a lie.
    Zombie Boy: Brains... [Figures...]
  • In Incompatible System, humans and thranx soon reach the point where they can easily understand each other's main language, but it's noted to be rather difficult for them to speak it due to biological issues. For thranx speaking English, it's because their mouths aren't as flexible as a humans. For the humans, it's because Low Thranx requires a lot of gestures involving body parts humans lack. A mention is made that those humans and thranx working closely together are creating a sort of hybrid between their languages.
  • In Fairy Tales and Hokum, Alex understands Arabic but doesn't speak it well, and Ardeth's daughter Maira speaks better English but prefers to stick to her own language. Their conversations are usually a mix and match of both languages and hand gestures.
  • In the Punch-Out!! fanfic Ma Fille, each boxer can understand each other without needing translations (which are provided to the audience).

    Films — Animation 
  • The Incredibles: "Fly home, Buddy. I work alone." "Et ton costume est complètement ridicule!" Although it wasn't really a conversation, as the only person who understood French was the one speaking it. Strangely enough in the French translation, his dialogue is still subtitled, despite all characters involved (and those watching) being able to understand it.
  • In Cars, Luigi and Guido often speak to each other, although Luigi always speaks in heavily-accented English, while Guido (except for the occasional mention of "pitstop" and "okay") only speaks Italian. Oddly enough, both are Italians, which means both should speak their native tongue with each other.
  • The Emperor's New Groove: Kronk (impersonating a fast-food cook) repeats an order given in regular English entirely in Hash House Lingo, proving he speaks it perfectly.
  • In Mulan, Mushu the dragon speaks English (or is heard in English; it may be Translation Convention from Chinese) while Cri-Kee the cricket chirps. They frequently converse this way.
    Cri-Kee: (chirps)
    Mushu: You're lucky? (laughs) Do I look like a sucker to you?
    Cri-Kee: (chirps)
    Mushu: What you mean "a loser"? How 'bout if I pop one of your antennas off and throw it across the yard, then who's a loser? Me or you?
    Cri-Kee: (chirps)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars does this fairly often. Alien species and certain types of droids will speak either Huttese, their native tongue or droidspeak, and a human character will understand and respond in Basic (English or whatever language the films are dubbed in). This is usually due to the nonhuman species not possessing sufficient mouth or throat structures to pronounce Galactic Basic. Sometimes the alien speech is subtitled, and other times you just have to infer what's being said by the Basic responses.
    • Han Solo especially. His conversations with Chewbacca all play this way, which is justified by the fact that they're long-term companions. He also does this with a repair droid on Hoth, Jabba the Hutt and Greedo, though Greedo's speech is subtitled.
      • As well, Solo reveals that Han can speak Shyriiwook as well as understand it, although it's evidently not easy and it comes out as You No Take Candle (to preserve the tradition, only his side of the conversation is subtitled). Him not speaking to Chewie in Basic at first is to keep their escape plan covert around the Stormtrooper guards.
    • Wookiees in general all do this. Their vocal cords are not capable of making the sounds necessary to speak Galactic Basic, but they can understand it. And it mostly goes the other way too, as humans cannot speak Shyriiwook without getting a sore throat from making the necessary sounds, but they can understand it. Out of universe, the Shyriiwook language was created by recording sounds of various animals, mostly big cats.
    • R2-D2's chirps and beeps are understood by everyone. In the novels, it's explained that Artoo communicates with despondent beeps, inquisitive beeps, affirmative beeps, etc. and people just get the gist of what he means. In The Empire Strikes Back, however, Luke has a text screen in the cockpit of his X-Wing that gives him a translation of R2's beeps.
    • Jabba the Hutt has similar bilingual conversations with several characters, though he is one of the few aversions to the trope by using C-3PO as a translator. When he's not using a translator, his dialogue is subtitled. At one point, Jabba uses C-3PO in a conversation with an alien who speaks neither Huttese or Basic, but understands the latter. In this case, it is a trilingual conversation, since both Jabba and the alien can understand Common, meaning that not only can C-3PO convey what each is saying to the other, they can also make sure that they are being accurately translated. Of course, it's actually Leia in disguise, who of course speaks Basic perfectly, but that's not the point. Most Hutts can and do speak Basic, but they usually perceive it as an inferior language to their own, and would rather rely on translators rather than demean themselves.
    • Jabba's Twi'lek stooge Bib Fortuna, whose dialogue with Luke in Return of the Jedi is not subtitled. Since Luke has Fortuna thoroughly mind tricked, it's not hard to work out what he's saying.note 
      Luke: You will take me to Jabba now.
      Bib: (in Huttese) I will take you to Jabba now.
    • Lando and Nien Nunb, his Sullustan copilot in the Death Star run in Return of the Jedi. Nunb is actually speaking Haya, a real African language, giving a Bilingual Bonus on their full conversation, which is full of Repeating So the Audience Can Hear:
      Nunb: I'm not getting any reading on the shield.
      Lando: We've got to be able to get some kind of reading on that shield, up or down.
      Nunb: I think they're jamming us.
      Lando: But how could they be jamming us if... if they don't know we're coming...
    • The scenes with Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi plays this trope straight... unless you're watching the 1997 Special Edition where his dialogue is subtitled. With Threepio still there translating immediately afterwards. Thankfully this has been reversed as of the 2004 Special Edition.
    • In The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron and Rey both understand BB-8's droidspeak chirps clearly. Finn... not so much.
    • The Last Jedi has C'ai Threnalli, an Abednedo Resistance pilot who usually speaks only in his native Abednedish because he has trouble properly placing his translator device. However, many other members of his species such as Ello Asty and Oddy Muva have taught their tongue to C'ai's fellow pilots, allowing for a more efficient communication with him, even if they always reply in Basic, which C'ai seems to understand alright.
  • Captain Douglas Gordon from Godzilla: Final Wars speaks English throughout, as does Kazama to a lesser extent. No one, not even the Xilien aliens, ever has difficulty understanding them, nor them anyone else. It's averted in the English dub, because everyone is speaking English.
    • The original Japanese version of the earlier The Return of Godzilla has a trilingual dialogue. When the Japanese prime minister arranges a meeting with an American and a Soviet ambassador to discuss the threat of everybody's favorite giant nuclear dinosaur, all three men speak their respective mother tongues and understand each other perfectly. In the English version, The Prime Minister speaks English while the Russian ambassador still speaks Russian. Averted entirely in the International version, where everyone has been re-dubbed into English, the U.S. envoy included
  • In Ichi the Killer, characters speak in Japanese, Chinese and English (at least) and all seem able to understand each other just fine. Which is just as well, since there are plenty of other things to misunderstand.
  • Hank Marlow from Kong: Skull Island is an interesting case. He's the only one who can understand the natives on Skull Island, and they him, with him carrying on in English while they answer and he interprets for the rest of the cast. However, the wrinkle in this is that the natives are all at least mildly telepathic, never speaking out loud. If they can "speak" telepathically to the rest of the cast, they never choose to, relying on Hank.
  • This occurs in all three of the Ocean's movies with Yen. In Ocean's Eleven, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt) can understand Yen's Chinese, but always speak to him in English, which he understands. This extends to the entire crew in the sequels.
  • Subverted in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. The title character speaks English to his best friend, who speaks French back, but they don't understand a word of each other's language. Even still, they seem to share a psychic connection and are always talking about the same thing.
  • In Ghost in the Shell Chief Aramaki only speaks Japanese while his subordinates speak English back to him, presumably because they are all using translation software in their neural augmentations.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Groot only speaks by saying "I am Groot" in different inflections which Rocket can somehow interpret into complex statements, which he replies to in English.
  • Played With in Last of the Mohicans, given the Indian penchant for Dry Humor. Native characters slide in and out of multiple languages, including Huron and Mohican, which are subtitled. Magua, being a Huron enslaved by Mohawk who became a French war captain turned British scout, speaks more languages than anyone else; in the final parlay, he alone understands the whole conversation (he is not happy). It's both subtitled and translated by Heyward, who speaks French — but not Huron — and he deliberately mistranslates a key piece of dialogue. Then there's this exchange, which doubles as a Big Entrance for Magua:
    Heyward: You there! Scout. Must. Stop. Soon. Women. Are. Tired.
    Magua: Three leagues. Better water. We stop there.
    Heyward: No, we stop in the glade ahead. Understand?
    Magua: [subtitle] Magua understands the white man is a dog to his women. When they grow tired, he puts down his hatchet to feed their laziness.
    Heyward: What did you say?
    Magua: Magua say, "I understand English... very well."
  • In 1941, the Japanese crew of a submarine speak only Japanese, and a German on board speaks only German. Somehow, they understand each other perfectly. It's a pretty goofy movie.
  • Also in Sayonara Jupiter. All the characters there have Translator Microbes clipped to their lapels.
  • In Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle a friendship is struck between an exiled Scotsman and a shipwrecked Spaniard, despite the fact neither understands the other's language.
  • Happens in some Canadian movies, most notably Bon Cop, Bad Cop,see the entry below, and The Rocket/Maurice Richard, the biopic of the legendary French-Canadian hockey player. Sometimes it's played for laughs or dramatic tension, but for the most part, you simply have different subtitles on the bottom of the screen, depending on the version of the film, and the dialogue stands on its own.
  • Bon Cop, Bad Cop, being a movie about the relationship between Ontario and Quebec as much as it is about the serial killer, has two bilingual protagonists, and several Francophone and Anglophone supporting characters. The dialogue of the movie is nearly equal in French and English, and there are a whopping SIX subtitle options on the DVD, for Francophones, Anglophones, and Bilinguals, with hard of hearing options for all of the above.
  • Several of Wong Kar-Wai's movies feature bilingual dialogue, the most notorious being 2046. This movie casts several Hong Kong actors, Chinese actors and one Japanese actor, all of which speak their own native language throughout the movie. The whole movie is filled with (seemingly) perfectly natural conversations where one person speaks Cantonese and the other speaks Mandarin. Not to mention that while most of the movie is narrated in Cantonese, the first five minutes is narrated in Japanese, making the movie virtually impossible to watch without subtitles.
  • The Pai Mei training scene in Kill Bill. She even says flat out she only speaks 'a little' Cantonese, but he continues to speak as if she's fluent... and she understands every word he says, apparently, without any problems. In return, she speaks with extremely halting and limited Cantonese and Mandarin peppered with English and he has no problems understanding her.
    • She tries to speak Japanese instead, which she knows much better, only for Pai Mei to immediately shut down the idea, claiming that he hates the Japanese.
  • In District 9, the humans and "prawns" clearly lack the vocal setup to speak each others' language, but the Prawns understand English perfectly well and human workers in the District understand the alien language.
  • In Michael Moore's Sicko, Moore does this with the French, who can understand his English.
  • Kukushka is based almost entirely on bilingual (sometimes trilingual) dialogue. The three protagonists only speak and understand one of Russian, Finnish and Sami, so neither understands what the other two are saying. This makes for some interesting misunderstandings, some with almost tragic consequences.
  • In Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010), Isabella of Angoulême speaks mostly in French, and everyone else responds mostly in English.
  • Used Extensively in Man on Fire. Justified, since Creasy can speak Spanish and it's a border town, so most people will understand English anyway.
  • In the movie The Fifth Element, Father Cornelius is able to understand Leeloo's rapid-fire delivery of her, "divine language." And she has no problem understanding his responses in English. Leeloo does eventually learn how to speak English, to a point any way.
  • In the movie Larger Than Life, Jack meets A Native American Chief. Chief says something, which is subtitled to English, then Jack replies, which is subtitled to Navajo.
  • It's pretty common in the movie Machete, but specifically for Those Two Guys who work as dishwashers. One will of the guys understands what his friend says in Spanish but will only answer in English.
  • Played with in The Beat That My Heart Skipped: The French-speaking protagonist and his Vietnamese-speaking piano teacher seem to understand the gist of each other's words, even though neither speaks the other's language. See them have a bilingual argument here.
  • In Seducing Mr Perfect, Robin, the American protagonist, speaks English almost exclusively but can understand several different languages. Meanwhile, Min Jun, the South Korean protagonist, has some difficulties speaking English but can understand Robin as long as he doesn't use American euphemisms and slang. Her response to him accusing her of "doing it" with someone was to genuinely wonder what he was accusing her of doing with said person. She was wrestling with her brother when he called, causing him to misinterpret the sounds and the meaning of her words. The phone was hung up before he could speak.
  • In Joyeux Noël, which depicts the World War I Christmas Truce between the French, British and Germans, most of the characters are unable to speak more than one language (and only two can speak all three), resulting in many exchanges of Bilingual and even Trilingual Dialogue.
  • Downplayed in Pacific Rim where there are moments where Mako speaks to Pentecost in English and he replies in Japanese and vice versa and also Raleigh talking to Mako in English and she answers in Japanese. But these are few and far between.
  • In Pacific Rim: Uprising, most of Newt's conversations with his boss Liwen Shao are in English on Newt's side and Mandarin on Shao's: she prefers to speak Mandarin, but is fluent in English and loathes Newt's You No Take Candle mangling of her native language.
  • An odd flipped version: in a brief scene from Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne in his early days has just been caught for stealing in China, a Chinese police officer speaks to Bruce in English...and Bruce responds in Mandarin.
  • Cronicas has a few instances where Intrepid Reporter Manolo speaks to his crew in English and they reply in Spanish. The team works for a Spanish-language TV channel that broadcasts out of Miami, so it's understandable they'd speak both languages.
  • Ernest Goes to Camp: Ernest and Chief St. Cloud speak this way, along with sign language.
  • The Peculiarities Of The National Hunt:
    • Partly played straight in this Russian film, in which a group of Russians go hunting with a visiting Finn. While the Finn understands and speaks Russian, to a degree, he still has trouble communicating with the gamekeeper. There is a scene in the film when both are shouting at one another in their native languages, obviously having absolutely no trouble understanding one another, while the other characters look at them in amazement. The general then asks the gamekeeper how he understands the Finn. The confused gamekeeper asks him "What Finn?" Apparently, he wasn't even aware he was understanding Finnish.
    • In another scene, the two characters get drunk and suddenly realize that they speak fluent German. Once they sober up, they forget the language.
  • Abel Gance's Austerlitz features a trilingual dialogue at one point. During a heated Allied strategy meeting where the Russian and Austrian generals are arguing in their respective languages, the French émigré Langeron interrupts them and certainly speaks for the (French-speaking) audience when he says: "I am French, General, and you know that I understand neither German nor Russian", prompting everyone to switch to French. (Ironically, the actual General Langeron was fluent in both languages.)
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley has a few examples of this with English and Irish. The film takes place in a period where Irish was mostly spoken as a first language by the older, rural population, but younger generations were taking a renewed interest in it and taking efforts to learn. This is shown when Michael gives his name in Irish at the beginning of the film and when Teddy identifies himself in Irish to make a political statement. When the main characters escape from prison and hide out in an elderly couple's cottage, the couple converse with them in Irish but they reply in English, which then prompts the couple to switch to broken English for the sake of the non-Irish soldier with them. In addition to this, urban Irish people sometimes resented Irish-speakers because they never had the opportunity to learn it properly, even if they might know some bits and pieces. This is best shown in the courtroom scene, where the elderly monolingual defendant declares "Níl fhios agam, ní thuigim" (I don't know, I don't understand) and the prosecutor contemptuously replies "What are you saying Níl fhios agam for? You know fine well!"
  • Pilgrimage: Characters in medieval Ireland speak in English, Gaelic and French, often in the same conversation.
  • In Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Ricky and Carla speak English at home, while their parents speak Spanish.
  • Saving Face: Around 40% of the film is in Mandarin. Often Wil speaks to her mom in English, who answers her with Mandarin.
  • Much of the dialogue in Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus is in a mixture of English and Spanish.
  • Breaking and Entering (2006): When Amira and Miro argue, Amira switches back and forth between Bosnian and English, while Miro sticks to English.
  • In Freebie and the Bean, Bean's wife talks to him in a mixture of Spanish and English, while Bean mostly sticks to English.

  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Per the films, almost anything involving Chewbacca (or most other Wookiees) has the characters talking to him normally, and the narrator giving a description of what he's saying back. One exception is The Black Fleet Crisis: Tyrant's Test, which features a string of Wookiee scenes from Chewie's perspective where Translation Convention is used instead. An exception is a Wookiee diplomat in The Thrawn Trilogy, who has a speech impediment that makes him unable to speak Shyriiwook properly, but ironically makes it easier for humans who are learning Shyriiwook to understand him.
    • Wedge Antilles runs up against his inability to understand Wookiee in one book of the X-Wing Series. Fortunately there was a translator droid on hand, even if he was rather more abrasive and sarcastic than C-3PO.
    • The Han Solo Trilogy:
      • The book combines this with Translation Convention when Han meets Jabba the Hutt for the first time. Jabba understands Galactic Basic just fine but is too much of a Hutt-supremacist to speak it, while Han conversely understands Huttese but can't pronounce the words very well (and tells Jabba as much to avoid insulting him). The scene is written from Han's perspective and he mentally translates for Jabba.
      • Also, Han is incapable of speaking Shyriiwook, Chewbacca's language. Chewie can't speak Basic. Both can understand the other just fine, however, so they get along with no problem (a surprisingly large number of other people also appear to know Shyriiwook too). Han also had this earlier with Jalus Nebl, a Sullustan.
    • Astromech droids speak in beeps and warbles known as "droidspeak", as in the movies. Most humans (and non-droids in general) can't understand it. People who work frequently with astromechs can get the gist pretty well, and a few characters who have interacted with a particular astromech for a long time (particularly Luke Skywalker with R2-D2) can understand it perfectly. And of course, protocol droids always speak Basic in their conversations with astromechs, regardless of whether there's any non-droids present that they're translating for.
  • In Richard Feynman's biography "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!", he says that when he taught Physics in a Brazilian university, it was easier to communicate with the students when they tried their usually crude English with him and he used his definitely crude Portuguese with them. He notes that it's easier to understand your own language said in an awkward way than hearing another language in its original form, even knowing that language well enough to speak. (That could be a more realistic way for Hollywood to portray it).
  • One of the recurring Discworld characters is the Librarian - a wizard turned into an orangutan early in the series. He understands Morporkian (English) perfectly well, but always speaks in orangutan, using words like "Ook" and "Eek". Most human characters have little trouble understanding this, but every now and again someone unfamiliar with the Librarian meets him and cannot quite figure out what that particular "Ook" meant. The Librarian tried to address this issue by writing an Orangutan-Morpokian dictionary, but has not progressed beyond "Ook" yet.
  • Translation Convention means everyone "speaks" English in A Tale of Two Cities; however, an In-Universe version of this trope happens when Madame Defarge barges into Lucie's house, intending to have her Revenge by Proxy, but is stopped by Miss Pross. The narrator tells us that both women spoke in their native language and neither of them understood what the other said, but their facial expressions and body language makes their intentions perfectly clear to each other.
  • Played for laughs in Backstage Lensman by Randall Garrett, a take-off of Lensman Space Opera. Sir Houston Carbarn is the most brilliant mathematical physicist in the known universe; one of only a handful of living entities who can actually think in the language of pure mathematics.
    Sir Houston Carbarn smiled. "(-1)(-1) = +1," he informed.
    The Starboard Admiral slammed his palm against the desk. "Of course! The principle of the double negative! Two negaspheres make a posisphere! Our Gray Lensman has genius, Sir Houston!"
    "?" agreed Sir Houston.
  • Used in Jane Eyre. Adele often speaks in (untranslated) French, to which Jane responds in English. Charlotte Bronte's social class was expected to know French.
  • In Xala, a few characters frequently switch between French and Wolof, the official and national languages of Senegal, respectively, often as an indication of their social status or politics. In particular, nationalist Rama refuses to speak French, leading to these exchanges whenever she interacts with someone in an official capacity, or with her Francophile father.
  • Blood Meridian follows a group of American freebooters in Mexico. All Spanish language is presented untranslated. The Americans can understand Spanish, but often choose to speak English to various Mexicans and Native Americans they meet.
  • Johannes Cabal and the Fear Institute: Invoked when Johannes addresses a ghoul in the ghoul's Black Speech, only for the ghoul to tell him that his accent is atrocious and he should stick to a human language.
  • In the Mageworlds series, the main non-human race, the seven-foot-tall saurians, understand human speech perfectly well but either can't or don't speak it themselves. Humans who have to deal with them learn to understand their speech and it's not uncommon for conversations to take place with each side speaking in their own language.
  • Miracle Creek: During Mary and Young's prison visits, Young speaks in Korean, while Mary speaks in English.
  • In Eye of a Fly, Ernest overhears a couple loudly arguing in Spanish and shouting death threats in English.
  • The L Word: Bette and Jodi, who's deaf, often speak in a mix of ASL with English during their relationship.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:

  • Carrascolendas and Villa Alegre were two American PBS shows for children which had some characters who spoke only English, some who spoke only Spanish, and some who spoke both.

By Series:

  • The Addams Family: Cousin Itt is perfectly intelligible to the Adamses, even though the audience has no idea of what Itt is saying.
  • Averted in 'Allo 'Allo! where the entire show is in English, but the characters all speak their own language (French, German, English, Italian) which the people who don't speak that language can't understand. (with the exception that the French and Germans can understand each other. - it could be that it is assumed all Germans know French and all French know German, especially during the occupation.)
  • Angie Tribeca has Lt. Hoffman — a dog — who speaks in un-subtitled barks and growls. Everyone else understands him without problem.
  • In the Korean Drama Bad Boy, Moon Jae-In is in Japan, talking with the artist in Japanese, with both Korean and English subtitles underneath.
  • The exchange between Webster and the baker, in the Band of Brothers episode "Why We Fight", after Webster orders the entire bakery stripped of bread for the victims of a nearby concentration camp, and the baker loudly protests:
    Webster: Shut up!
    Baker: [yelling] Man kann nicht einfach gehen und hier in...
    [Webster interrupts the baker by grabbing the man, pulling his pistol, and shoving it in the baker's face]
    Webster: I said, shut up, you Nazi fuck!
    Baker: [obviously terrified] Ich... ich bin kein Nazi! Ich bin kein Nazi!
    David Webster: Oh, you're not a Nazi? My mistake, you fat fucking prick. What about a human being? Are you one of those, or are you going to tell me that you never smelt the fucking stench?
    Baker: Toten Sie mich nicht! Bitte toten Sie mich nicht! Ich verstehe nicht was du da sagst!
    Lesniewski: Leave him alone, Web. He says he doesn't know what the hell you're talking about.
    Webster: [stares into the man's eyes for a moment, then lets him go] Bullshit.
  • Boardwalk Empire:
    • In one episode, Lucky Luciano mutters a comment in Yiddish to Meyer Lansky, who responds in Italian, showing their close relationship in spite of their different ethnic backgrounds.
    • Most conversations between Joe Masseria and other Italian mafiosos go this way, as Masseria speaks primarily in Italian while the others generally speak English as their first language. This is most noticeable in Masseria's interactions with Gyp Rosetti in season 3.
  • Done for effect in the Breaking Bad episode "I See You". Shortly after Hank gets shot by the Cousins, Gus Fring takes a phone call from Juan Bolsa:
    Gus Fring: [in English] Yes?
    Juan Bolsa: [in Spanish; subtitled] What the hell is going on up there?
    Gus Fring: I was gonna ask you the same question.
    Juan Bolsa: [subtitled] You know about my men?
    Gus Fring: I heard that they attacked a DEA agent. Why would they do that?
    Juan Bolsa: [subtitled] What's the matter? Spanish not good enough anymore? [in English] I didn't order this, and my men would never do this on their own. Someone gave the go-ahead.
    Gus Fring: Are you accusing me?
    Juan Bolsa: I'm just saying they wouldn't act on their own.
    Gus Fring: I am not in the habit of picking my own pocket. I assume that the next shipment will be delayed. Any thoughts on when it might arrive?
    Juan Bolsa: A week, a month. There's too much focus on the border. We lay low for the time being. We lay low, and then we get the real story from my man who survived.
    Gus Fring: Your man is in custody.
    Juan Bolsa: [subtitled Spanish] God bless America! [in English] He's innocent until proven guilty. Correct? I'll get him the best lawyer, and then we'll learn the truth.
    Gus Fring: Well keep me apprised.
  • Community: Betty White and an African tribesman switch between an African language and English mid-conversation in The Tag at the end of an episode. This is so another tribesman won't be spoiled by the English half of their discussion of Inception.
  • In Dae Mul, the Korean president is able to communicate with the American president and vice versa without the use of translators. Same goes for her and the Chinese leader whom she tries to negotiate sparing the lives of the Korean submarine who invaded his country.
  • In Danger 5, one of the eponymous team of five is Ilsa, who speaks to everyone in Russian. Her English speaking companions always speak to her in English (even the European Pierre). Hitler and various goons speak German, and everyone understands each other perfectly. All in all, the series contains correct English, German, Russian, Italian, French, Japanese, and Cantonese, a result of being from Australia's premier multilingual channel, SBS.
  • Portrayed quite realistically in Deadwood, as Al Swearengen and Mr. Wu (whose only understanding of English is mostly limited to the word "cocksucker") are able to communicate reasonably well through pantomime and drawings, as well as their clear emotions.
  • Doctor Who doesn't have this very often thanks to the TARDIS' psychic translation, but it happens sometimes:
    • "Planet of the Dead" has the Doctor separated from the TARDIS and cheerfully conversing with some Insectoid Aliens called Tritovores who speak in an insect-click language. Once the Tritovores get out their psychic translators, the Doctor goes back to English and they continue in their language.
    • The Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors both demonstrate the ability to speak baby, but the babies aren't heard to suddenly speak English.
  • In Father Ted, the "monkey priest" can only communicate in "ooos" and "aaaas" but all the priests understand him perfectly.
  • Sort-of employed in Firefly, where English and Chinese are claimed to be spoken in equal measure by everyone, but in practise the latter finds more use in unusual euphemisms.
  • In the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, Grandma Huang only speaks Mandarin, but seems to have no trouble understanding English as evidenced by her interaction with her monolingual grandsons and her understanding of the O.J. Simpson trial broadcast with her sister-in-law.
  • Gilmore Girls: Kyon and Lane have an argument in Korean and English respectively when they first encounter each other.
  • An episode of the historical documentary Hitler's Empire: The Post-War Plan features a meeting between two historians, Guy Walters (British) and Thomas Roth (German). Walters speaks English, Roth speaks German, and the two seem to understand each other perfectly well.
  • The Scott sisters do this from time to time on Home and Away. Bianca, who is half Italian, will say something to her half sister April in Italian. April, who is half French, will respond to Bianca in French. Both Bianca and April speak both languages and it's been said that April does this just to annoy her older sister.
  • This is prominent in the Belgian mini-series In Vlaamse Velden and makes total sense given the context. The story is focused on the Boesmans, an upperclass family from Ghent (in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium) during WWI. Most characters speak to each other and respond in Flemish, but the Belgian army uses French as the language of communication so the trope occurs often in battle scenes. Additionally, once the German army occupies Ghent, different members of the Boesman family will oscillate between Flemish and German when interacting with soldiers, although only one German ever tries to use Flemish, but they understand it well enough. Also, the mother of the Boesman household has a general preference for speaking French with her husband, but not her child for some reason.
    The same trope is notably avoided in interactions with the English army, during which everyone uses English.
  • In Jane the Virgin, Alba speaks Spanish to Jane and Xiomara. They respond in English.
  • Michael and Jin from Lost communicate in this manner while building a raft. Sawyer, predictably, calls them Han and Chewie.
  • In an early Magnum, P.I. episode, Magnum had a client who was a Chinese woman. She spoke Cantonese, while her 'father' spoke Mandarin. This happens a lot in television shows, because they assume the audience won't be able to tell the difference.
  • On one episode of The Muppet Show, in which a bunch of Funny Foreigner Muppets were guests, the Swedish Chef was able to converse with them with ease, even though no one else could understand them. Similarly, the Chef has been shown to understand/translate for the even more unintelligible Beaker.
  • A staple of The River, which makes sense as it takes place in South America.
  • Parodied in this Star Wars sketch of Saturday Night Live. A typical Star Wars-esque multilingual conversation between humans, droids, and aliens is derailed by a human who only speaks Human, and has no idea what is going on.
  • In Seinfeld, Jerry's landlord Harold speaks English to his friend Manny, who only responds in Spanish.
  • Frequent in Servant of the People where conversations in Russian on one side and Ukrainian on another are common, and flow perfectly thanks to the two languages being very similar. It is also Truth in Television.
  • Sooty, a British children's puppet show, has a dog called Sweep who speaks only in squeaks, but everyone else converses with him in English perfectly. The audience is given a translation by the fact that whenever he talks to someone, they repeat what he says anyway, but long-time viewers can translate him quite well via context and how many syllables he squeaks, since he actually does have a script for his words.
  • A rather strange example in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Small Victories". One of the Russian submariners in the opening scene is speaking (badly pronounced) Russian, but the other is speaking Ukrainian. (This is roughly equivalent to speaking Portuguese to a Spaniard: they might catch every third word.)
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the cameraman's universal translator for once can do nothing about the Breen language, so every line the Breen characters have is an electronic warble. But the other characters understand them just fine with their own universal translators, so conversations with them go something like this (from "The Changing Face of Evil"):
    Legate Damar: By the way, in case Weyoun neglected to mention it, the Dominion once sang Cardassia's praises as well.
    Thot Gor: *garble garble garble*
    Damar: It's really quite simple: They expected the war to be over long ago. It's not, and for that they blame us. Now, if the war isn't ended soon, they'll shift the blame to you.
    Gor: *warble garble warble*
    Damar: Maybe so, but win or lose, I wouldn't turn my back on Weyoun if I were you.
  • In another Korean drama, Sweet Spy, the male lead is a Korean-American actor. He spends the whole drama chatting away in English to his assistant, who talks back to him in Korean.
  • In Time Trax, Darien's conversations with the Procardian boy could almost be described as this, except it's really one-way, as the boy understands English just fine (having studied it before coming to Earth), but his vocal cords can't reproduce human speech properly (it sounds very Hellen Keller-like with wild pitch changes), so he just sticks to his language. Darien doesn't understand Procardian, so Selma translates. However, by the end of the episode, Darien begins to understand Procardian a little. It can be assumed that, after the official Procardian delegation arrives in the 22nd century, humans will be using this trope with them.
  • In British young kids' show Tots TV, one character spoke entirely in French (Spanish in the U.S. dub, English in the French dub [obviously]) while the others spoke English.
  • Most of Betty en NY is in Spanish but it also has a large amount of subtitled English due to it taking place in New York.

  • Played straight in the video of "La lunga estate caldissima" by Max Pezzali, set in Los Angeles, where, in the end scene, a cop stops Max Pezzali and a bilingual (English/Italian) dialogue happens:
    Cop: Where are you going?
    Max: Sto portando al mare le ragazze. (I'm taking the girls to the beach.)
    Cop: What girls? Driver's license and registration, please.
    Max: Va bene. Subito. Un secondo... (All right. Immediately. Just a second...)
  • Bonnie Pink's duet song with Craig David, "Fed Up", has this. All of Pink's parts, in which she is singing to David are in Japanese (save for one bridge), while David responds to her verse in English. Once he's done, Pink then replies back in Japanese again.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Independent wrestler Delirious speaks in tongues that are completely incomprehensible to audiences, but referees, managers and fellow wrestlers have and do understand him and hold conversations with him (occasionally during a match). Sometimes a Translator Buddy like Daizee Haze has to be employed.
  • Sexy Juliette The Huntress tends to speak English while working in Puerto Rican promotions like WWC, where pretty much everyone speaks Spanish, and Spanish while working for 50 state promtions like VWAA, where most people speak English. Rarely does anyone seem to mind.
  • The pairing of Shawn Daivari and Muhammad Hassan featured Daivari speaking in Persian/Farsi and Hassan in English. In this case, there were several wrestlers besides Hassan that couldn't understand Daivari, which allowed Chris Jericho to invoke this trope for their amusement. After Hassan's retirement, Daivari went back to just speaking English from TNA onward.
  • A significant portion of the roster of Lucha Underground speaks Spanish so some interviews and promo battles end up using this trope. Everyone seems to be able to understand one another, with subtitles provided for the benefit of the audience.
  • While the World Wonder Ring Stardom power stables Kimura Monster gun and Oedo~tai have always had many language speakers in their ranks, it was when Star Fire and "The Unstoppable" Thunder Rosa joined where one would need to be familiar with three different languages to catch everything said in their promos. Thunder Rosa would switch depending on who she was addressing, however, and Star Fire acted surprised when she wandered in on La Rosa Negra giving a speech in Spanish, though Negra still responded to Star Fire in English.
  • This is also the case with some of Oedo~tai's rivals, such as the Enemy Mine between Mayu Iwatani and Toni Storm, the latter of whom would sometimes seem to be speaking solely for the benefit of fans not watching the English subtitled stream.
  • Ditto when Chigusa Nagayo put Momono Mio and La Rosa Negra together with their NEWTRA rival Iroha Takumi in her Marvelous promotion. That said, Nagayo herself seems to speak it all and the rest did make progress towards one language conversation.

    Video Games 
  • In Escape from Monkey Island there's a drunk who speaks in unintelligible gibberish that Guybrush apparently understands, you can infer what's being said based on the dialogue options you're given.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In Knights of the Old Republic, minor alien characters usually speak their own language. The player character is experienced enough to understand most aliens and droid languages you come across (replaced with a version of Translator Microbes in the sequel), so their dialogue appears in subtitles in either perfect English, or not-so-perfect English when it comes to Strange Syntax Speakers like astromech droids and users of borderline Hulk Speak. This adds to the "Star Wars" feel, and also saves on voice acting, since it can be replaced by randomly generated alien gibberish (there's actually only about five or six lines that are used for multiple languages). It's discussed a couple times:
      • The player character is surprised when Mission speaks Basic instead of Twi'lek, and is told that a lot of aliens can do it, but most don't.
      • A very minor human Sith character on Korriban speaks Twi'lek and tells the player that it's because his Basic is so bad and everyone understands Twi'lek anyway.
      • Somewhat highlighted with a droid left behind by Precursors encountered in a tomb on Dantooine, which tries a couple different ancient languages on the party before hitting on an archaic variant of Selkath that the PC and Bastila can subtitle.
    • Star Wars: The Old Republic (by the same developer as KOTOR) does this with many alien and droid characters, including companions T7-M4 (astromech droid), Qyzen Fess (Trandoshan), Yuun (Gand), Bowdaar (Wookiee), Broonmark (Talz), Khem Val (Dashade), and Blizz (Jawa). Notably averted by two Hutt characters, though: the Archon and Dr. Oggurobb both address the PC in Basic. Unlike many nonhumans, most Hutts speak it just fine, they're just too proud to do so in public.
  • Dr. Breen's contact with the Combine Advisors in Half-Life 2. The Advisors' language sounds like unintelligible growling and slurring - and we get no translation of any kind. In fact, it's implied it has a psychic component to it which might explain how Breen understands it during his dialogue with one even though the Advisor doesn't speak in that scene but speaks in others.
  • In Ultima Underworld, all three varieties of lizardmen can understand English, but only one variety can speak it. The player can earn the lizardmen's favour by attempting to speak their language.
  • The multinational characters in the Tekken games speak various languages like English, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian or Arabic in their cutscenes and never seem to have the slightest trouble understanding each other (though subtitles are provided for characters who are not speaking the player's native language). Even novelty characters who communicate with clicks or animal noises manage to get their point across just fine.
  • Virtua Fighter has done pretty much the same in the later installments.
  • Happens with the English-speaking characters in Gun Hed.
    • And Gun Hed itself: 'Gun Hed Pilot: [speaks subtitled Japanese]; Gun Hed: 'You could say that, yes.'
  • In ICO, Yorda and Ico speak completely different languages, neither of them English nor Japanese; Ico's speech is subtitled in the player's language, and Yorda's in strange hieroglyphics. Luckily, "Don't worry, I'll catch you", "I'm tired, let's rest here", and "Holy crap, shadow monsters are trying to drag me off to some unspeakable netherworld!" are fairly easy concepts to get across.
  • In the Fire Emblem games Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, Leanne speaks the ancient tongue and has a great amount of trouble with modern tongue. The few times she speaks the modern tongue, she shows her difficulty ("I...fight...yes?"). However, even the handful of other people who are fluent in ancient tongue usually address her in modern tongue, and she has no trouble understanding exactly what they're saying in a language that she is physically able to speak, but apparently is very bad at.
  • In Mega Man Star Force 3, Solo's new EM-being Laplace only speaks through buzzing noises. Solo can understand him perfectly, and even tells him to shut up at one point.
  • In Yakuza 3, the character Andre Richardson exclusively speaks in English and has conversations with the otherwise all Japanese cast speaking exclusive Japanese relatively easily. It's at least justified in that he's either speaking with characters that know English or in Kiryu's case he's clear enough with his body language that Kiryu can pick up what he means.
  • Halo:
    • In Halo: Reach, this is heard between Jorge-052 and the Hungarian-speaking civilian Sara Sorvad at the end of the first mission.
    • In Spartan Ops, Dr. Halsey and Jul 'Mdama converse with each other in their native languages, respectively English and Sangheili.
  • The cutscene in Saints Row 2 introducing the leader and The Dragon of the Ronin gang consists of the former (Shogo) speaking English while the latter (Jyunichi) speaks unsubtitled Japanese, though this stops after awhile when Shogo tells him "we're in America, speak English"; from that point on, while Jyunichi does speak in both English and Japanese, which one depends on which language the other person in the conversation is using.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Jabun and Valoo speak ancient Hylian while the King of Red Lions speaks modern Hylian (which is of course rendered as whatever language you're playing the game in), making only one side of their conversation understandable and keeping everything incredibly vague. In the New Game+, all ancient Hylian is translated.
  • Averted in World of Warcraft: all Horde characters speak a native language and Orcish (except Orcs, who only know the latter), and vice versa, all Alliance characters speak their native language and Common (except Humans, who only speak the latter). The default languages are Orcish and Common, but as a player you can switch to the other language your character knows at any time; anyone who also knows that language will then see exactly what you type into the chat just like you were using the default language, but players whose characters don't speak your language will see semi-random gibberish instead.note  This is done primarily to prevent cross faction communication between the players. note 
    • The most famous of the gibberish is probably "kek", which is what Alliance players see when a character speaking Orcish says "lol". Less well known is the Common equivalent, "bur".
    • Of course, non-player characters appear to speak all languages—though that could be explained by some having learned both Orcish and Common, something player characters cannot do.
    • In the Mists of Pandaria expansion, mages can equip a glyph that, if they have cast Arcane Brilliance within the past hour, allows them to understand and speak all languages of their own faction. The glyph itself averts the trope because the understanding is two-way, but it does allow for more use of this trope by players/characters (especially on RP servers).
  • A rather bizarre example in the Fallout: New Vegas DLC "Old World Blues". The Courier, if he has a high enough intelligence, can be able to converse with Dr. 8, a brain in a jar that can only communicate using RobCo code script. The player won't understand a single word he says regardless, but the Courier's responses give enough of an estimate.
  • In PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, there is a rivalry cutscene between Heihachi Mishima from Tekken and Toro Inoue from Doko Demo Issyo. While Heihachi speaks Japanese, Toro speaks by meowing and they can understand one another. It makes sense for Toro to understand Japanese, but the other way around? Not so much.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution: During your trips to Hengsha in China, you'll frequently overhear conversations where one party is speaking English and the other subtitled Mandarin. The subtitles could also be interpreted as Jensen being able to understand Mandarin, possibly a result of his cybernetic enhancementsnote , but not speak it.
  • Played mostly for laughs during Leon's chapter in Resident Evil 6 with the gun store owner and the Japanese student. The student can only speak Japanese (though his sub-titles are in English for convenience), yet he and the gun store owner converse with each other in their own languages and are somehow able to understand one another completely.
  • NPCs in Jade Empire are voiced in either English or Tho Fan, though all the subtitles are in English. And there are some cases where they hold conversations in both languages, the Forest Shadow speaks Tho Fan while her elephant spirit bodyguard speaks "English" for instance.
  • The Sullustans, the Rodians, Chewbacca, and R2-D2 all speak their own respective languages in Star Wars Battlefront (2015), but that doesn't stop Mission Control from informing you on enemy whereabouts in English. Justified, unless you happen to be in fluent in Wookee.
  • In Nioh, the protagonist William is an Englishman in Japan who speaks solely in his native language while other Japanese characters typically speak Japanese. This is handwaved by a spirit magically granting him the ability to speak and understand the local language, meaning that he's actually speaking Japanese to them. This trait carries over in his appearance in Musou Stars.
  • In the Bayonetta series, the angels Bayonetta fights speak to her in Enochian, while she speaks to them in English/Japanese. Averted in Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, where she and the angels instead converse with each other in English/Japanese.
  • In Cyberpunk 2077, Saburo Arasaka only speaks in Japanese even when talking to non-Japanese people. This is due to his Japanese Imperialism causing him to despise the English language as well as the fact that since practically everyone in this setting has cybernetics that can translate his dialog there's no need for him to use any other language.

    Visual Novels 
  • At his first real appearance in Double Homework, Mr. Adler greets the protagonist with “Guten Abend” (“good evening” in German).
  • The protagonist of Melody once greets the owner of a massage parlor in Japanese.

    Web Animation 
  • Pom Pom and The Cheat, Homestar Runner and Strong Bad's friends respectively, are both unintelligible, but everyone else can understand them fairly well (and the other way around). However, when The Cheat loses a bet to Strong Bad, he says something that sounds a lot like "Yeah, yeah!", and in colouring, he says something that is unmistakably "Okay". And in the Powered By The Cheat (cartoons made by The Cheat), the voices are in English, despite it being The Cheat doing them.
  • Played with in Red vs. Blue. The Reds can never understand Lopez, until he poses as Simmons.
    Lopez: [Spanish] ...Hello.
    Sarge: Simmons, where in Sam Hill have you been?
    Lopez: [Spanish] Cave... study.
    Grif: You sound weird.
    Sarge: Yeah, almost like he's speaking a foreign language. But he's speaking very slowly and clearly, so I understand what he means.
    Grif: Me too.
  • In gen:LOCK, Iida speaks Japanese while everyone else speaks English. Unlike with Lopez though, everyone can still understand him thanks to their Augmented Reality implants providing subtitles.
  • The Frollo Show have many characters from different sources who speak many different language including english, japanese, spanish, russian and arabian, but everyone still understands each other.

  • A interesting take on this is given in Experimental Comic Kotone, with the Japanese traditional girl Haruna and Onii-chan. In a point of the story, each began to understand what the other is saying, despite not having a grasp of the other one's language, and both talking in their respective mother language. But when they had a serious misunderstanding for the very first time, their understanding suddenly and dramatically stopped. The issue was solved later, but since then Haruna has began to learn English.
  • In Starslip Crisis, the good gentlemonoliths of the Council respond to all conversation in telepathy that the reader is not privy to, making for some good Newhart-style one-sided conversations.
  • Bob and George's Future Alternate Bass has this with an Expy of R2-D2, Mettool D2. Bob has it too
  • In Tales Of Gnosis College the Sultan of Pazar speaks in English to a Russian girl who replies in her native language.
  • A page in chapter 3 of Paranatural had an interesting conversation between Doorman and someone who isn't quite Max. Doorman's language initially seems to be gibberish, but was translated by the fans.
  • In "The Island and the Idol" arc of The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, when it turns finally turns out that Gosh can directly communicate with Coney, the former speaks perfectly intelligibly, while Coney responds with voice bubbles full of weird abstract patterns, which Gosh understands and interprets for everyone else.
    • Lari is a Japanese speaker learning English, and Molly is fluent in Japanese, so the two of them tend to flip between English and Japanese frequently.
  • In Rascals, attempted on this page between Issy and her adopted dad, the exchange between the two is converted to English for the fans.
  • Kukuburi is full of exclusive speakers of languages that are not English: Meeps speak Pokémon Speak, Zomgz's Speech Bubbles are filled with electronic symbols and Dado only speaks Spanish. None of them has any trouble communicating within La Brigade, although Nadia's stumped trying to understand Zomgz.
  • Maxwell and Friends: Maple Syrup sometimes inserts German words into her sentences (and can speak entire German sentences), yet Maxwell and Snowball can understand her like she's speaking English. A very odd example as Maple can speak and understand complete English sentences.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in Cracked, which calls the use of passive/receptive bilingualism The 5th Stupidest Way Movies Deal with Foreign Languages.
  • As a general rule of thumb, considering how many foreign cousins Frollo and the rest of the main cast have and the regular appearance of Panty and Stocking, The Frollo Show has as many languages in its dialogue at one time as it pleases.
  • This is the entire premise of the web series Afternoon no Hiru Sagari. Youtubers Ciaela and Micchy meet each other in the local park during lunch time. Ciaela speaks only English and Micchy speaks only Japanese. They understand each other perfectly.
  • In Monster Island Buddies, Hedorah speaks in flatulent noises which are subtitled, but other characters can understand what she says and she also understands them as well. Likewise, Pigmon, introduced in the ongoing Ultraman arc, speaks only mumbling gibberish but he understands English alright and even makes a few jokes at Ultraman's expense. Ultraman doesn't seem to understand him, however.

    Western Animation 
  • In the obscure French cartoon Fly Tales, all the characters speak gibberish, which sometimes can sound very close to French.
  • While Más y Menos from Teen Titans speak only Spanish, only about half the cast can understand them. Control Freak even got so frustrated he changed their language to English using his remote!
  • Done in The Angry Beavers by masked wrestler El Grapadura. (El Grapadura can be loosely translated to mean 'Stapler'.) In addition, Grapadura stars in the episode 'Norberto Y Dagetto en El Grapadura y el Castor Malo', which is entirely in Spanish and based off of El Rey detective movies. Grapadura is again seen in the episode "Pass it On", where he speaks Spanish to Dag. His subtitles are in Korean, and Dag calls him Swedish. He also throws out a bit of Gratuitous English. ('Ey, baby!')
  • Adventure Time:
    • Lady Rainicorn speaks Korean. She is never translated on the show, and most of the time, characters will give a good idea of what she is saying. Jake appears to understand her perfectly well and even speaks Korean back to her. There is also a case of Bilingual Bonus, as Finn asks her to tell a joke, and she complies with a rather embarrassing anecdote that Jake says "does not translate well".
      Lady Rainicorn: Remember when we ran naked through that field? That farmer was so offended!
    • This is subverted in "The Pit", when Finn calls Lady on the phone. At first it seems Finn understands what she's saying, then he admits he still doesn't understand much Korean and is actually just guessing.
  • Played with in Phineas and Ferb. Carl hires a bunch of French maids to clean the OWCA. Carl can apparently speak and understand French, but Monogram does not, so when questioning Carl on the cost for the maids he misunderstands him... but is satisfied nonetheless.
    Monogram: How much is this costing us, Carl?
    Carl: Une petite fortune.
    Major Monogram: "Petite." That means small, right? Well done, Carl.
  • In Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, all of the other rangers seem to be able to understand Zipper the Fly's incomprehensible chatter, as he understands their English.
  • Subverted in American Dad! with the Japanese-American character Toshi. At first it seems like this is going on, as he understands English perfectly and responds in subtitled Japanese, but it soon becomes apparent that his friends aren't actually listening to him. Toshi himself refuses to speak any English out of sheer nationalistic pride.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "It Ain't Easy Being Breezies", the Breezies speak vaguely Swedish/Norwegian-esque gibberish that only Fluttershy can understand, but they appear to understand English/Equestrian, although only Seabreeze actually speaks it.

    Real Life 
  • Common for speakers of dead languages with Latin as one notable example - one can be quite competent in translating from Latin, but actually generating original Latin can be quite difficult, since students are rarely drilled in English-to-Latin translations and there is virtually no demand for such skill in real life. Often in Latin class the teacher/textbook will ask questions in Latin and the students will speak/write their responses in English.
  • In Real Life, when two people speak one another's language incompletely, each speaking in one language is actually a fairly efficient mode of communication. Each can either speak in their own language, relying on the other to understand correctly, or try to speak the other's language, knowing they will be understood correctly.
    • This is a common phenomenon all over South Asia, especially in India and Pakistan, where there are literally hundreds of languages. A good percentage of the population tends to be receptively multilingual, meaning they can understand other languages (having had enough exposure to them via Pop-Cultural Osmosis) but may not be able to actively speak in them. So for example if persons A and B meet, and person A can receptively understand person B's language but not actually speak it, and vice versa, they might both proceed to speak in their own languages and comfortably understand each other. As English is the official language of both countries while Urdu in Pakistan and Hindi in India is the "National" language, you have a situation where a person is actually "tri-lingual", they know English, Urdu/Hindi and their regional language and finally they also may speak or have an understanding of many other regional languages.
    • When Sasha Cohen's (not to be confused with Sacha Baron Cohen) coach was Tatiana Tarasova, Tatiana spoke Russian to her, and Sasha, who understood Russian due to her mother being from Ukraine, responded in English.
    • This was standard procedure for the Apollo-Soyuz missions: the American astronauts spoke Russian and the Russian ones spoke English.
    • Laura Ingalls (creator of Little House on the Prairie, which was Based on a True Story) knew a woman who spoke only Swedish. This woman spoke Swedish to Laura, Laura spoke English to her, and each understood what the other was saying.
    • This is standard practice in classical orchestras: because very often the players are from different countries, communication tends to be a problem. So classical musicians in an orchestra will generally be very multilingual, and, as a courtesy, speak in the language of the person they're talking to. Hence a French violinist talking with the German flautist next to him will speak in German, and the flautist will speak in French.
  • Conversations in which English-speakers speak English and French-speakers speak French are relatively common in Quebec. Actually, even more common are conversations in which English-speakers speak French and French-speakers speak English.
    • Neil Young said in a 2000 interview that inadvertent language slipping is common all over Canada. You think you're still speaking English, but you're actually speaking French, or vice versa. He's done it himself.
    • On an official level, this is standard procedure in the Federal Parliament: francophone MPs speak French, anglophones answer in English, and vice-versa. Translation earpieces are provided, but often simply dispensed with by the many MPs who are bilingual.
  • When the Hotline is being used, the Russians write in Russian and the Americans in English, with the other side translating.
  • On the Apollo-Soyuz space mission, during the docking maneuver, the Americans spoke Russian and the Russians spoke English, on the theory that it would be easier for a listener to understand mission-critical communications delivered in his first language.
  • Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian are close enough that speakers of one of these languages can understand a great deal of what is said in the other two-although Portuguese is generally more challenging to understand due to its shifted phonology. Speakers of Portuguese and Italian are also generally able to understand Spanish better than Spanish speakers understand Portuguese or Italian.
    • Portuguese (the European one specially, but also common with the Brazilian one) is, however, the easiest to "mutate" into the others. When spoken with the right accent and basic knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, Portuguese speakers can bake a Portu-Spanish ("Portunhol") or Portalian which can go through whole conversations.
  • This was common in the former Czechoslovakia, where the Czechs would speak Czech and the Slovaks would speak Slovak, and each would understand the other. This happens less today, after the country's split, but the two are still very similar, and share a close resemblance to other members of the West Slavic group of languages. (Polish, Czech Slovak. etc)
  • Happens a lot between Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, since those three languages are so similar.
    • Same goes for Russian, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian. However, speaking in a sort of pidgin, be it Russian-Ukrainian (called surzhik, which means "flour made of two different types of grain") or Russian-Byelorussian (called trasyanka, with exactly the same meaning) is even more widespread.
    • There is, of course, one aspect of this trope that is downplayed by the above mentioned examples: since the entire reason why it is such a common occurrence is that the languages in question are quite similar, you don't have two people listening to each other in completely different languages (indeed, depending on the dialects of the speakers in question it can take a while for an observer to realize that this trope is in effect).
  • Most Irish speakers are bilingual, however some are more comfortable speaking Irish rather than English, and though the majority of Irish people understand Irish, not everyone can speak it well, so this tends to happen occasionally.
    • Also found in Northern Wales and in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, where significant Welsh and Scottish Gaelic-speaking populations, respectively, are found.
    • Also found in the Scottish Lowlands, although how frequently depends on where the line is drawn between the Scots language proper and Scottish English, given that most colloquial dialects are a hybrid of the two, and the strength of the Scots portion varies from speaker to speaker. Scots (sometimes called "Lowland Scots" to distinguish it from the unrelated Scottish Gaelic) is closely related to modern English (both are derived from Middle English), which as always makes this trope easier.
  • In schools with a language option, conversations can occasionally be heard between, for example, French and German students in their chosen languages. There's no guarantee that each participant understands what the other is saying though...
    • This is even done when the languages are more different, such as Japanese and English, and sometimes, even three or more total languages. Even native speakers will switch languages to either invite someone into the conversation or block someone out, or sometimes just because a certain statement is easier in a different language. However this does tend to lead to a bit of pidgin language.
  • Happens often in multi-lingual countries. Especially Singapore with its home brew Singlish and Hong Kong, where it's not unusual to hear the occasional English word mixed in with Cantonese.
  • It's common for the children of immigrants in any country to understand but not speak their parents' language and vice versa, especially for Filipino-American families.
    • In Israel, this feature is most evident in Arabs and Russian immigrants. First- and second-generation immigrants might use their native language/language they heard at home somewhat like this, or just peppering their speech with some Arabic, Ladino, or Yiddish expressions, depending on where they’re from. High-mid and higher class people (as well as anglophone immigrants, natch) often do this with English, due to its prestige. Asfour shows this excellently.
    • This can get even odder when the second generation learns the ancestral tongue at a later age— either to connect with their roots or to develop a marketable skillnote —while the older generation has gotten accustomed to speaking the new-country language: the younger try talking in their parents' native language, and get replies in their own. This can be frustrating.
    • This is an experience common to native English speakers who are genuinely trying to acheive fluency in a language which while not insignificant, is confined to a restricted geographical area - where most native speakers either already speak English or are keen to improve their command of a world language, and would prefer to use English in conversation to a native speaker. A Dutch or Danish native, for instance, might be genuinely flattered that a Brit is genuinely trying to speak their language but might be inclined to say - why bother? No need, as we both speak English! "Frustrating" sums up the experience.
  • Anyone who's been to or lives in the American Southwest is all too aware of this, what with being right next to the Mexican border. It's not at all uncommon to hear or have entire conversations with English and Spanish being switched at a moment's notice, and without skipping a beat.
    • It's also very common in the more bilingual areas of Canada to hear people switching between French and English mid-conversation, sometimes mid-sentence.
    • Missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints always attempt to learn the language of the country they serve in, and they work and live in pairs while doing so. Sometimes it's an American and a native speaker (who will often take the opportunity to improve his or her English as well), but often it's two Americans trying to learn the local language together. In either case speech between them often becomes an unpredictable mish-mash of English and the local language, using whatever words seem "easiest" to use at the moment regardless of which language a particular word belongs to.
    • Linguists call this "code switching," and it can occur even in mid-sentence.
  • This is incredibly common in the Canadian Armed Forces due to their military's bilingual nature and soldiers coming from all over Canada, such as where two soldiers speaking English will flip over to French when a French-speaker joins in purely out of courtesy, and without even missing a beat. It's also common to call some drill commands in English and others in French during the same paradenote .
  • Using a command prompt frequently falls into this. The human says things that look like someone spilled soda on the keyboard, and the computer responds in English. Granted, that doesn't mean you'll understand the output, but "dir \ /p" and "Volume in drive U is AFS" are definitely not the same language. Programming is often even more like this.
  • The French region of Alsace has gone back and forth between France and Germany several times, due to the many wars between the two countries. As a result, most people in the western half speak French and understand German, while people in the eastern half speak German and understand French. Thus creating this trope when talking to each other.
  • If you are bilingual, and if the one you are talking to is bilingual too, you may use the two languages at the same time, choosing the word that fits best, using the grammar of both languages, or literally translating sayings. If someone else who knows only one of those languages listens to you two talking, they might find it VERY awkward.
    • This is the main mode of communication on the ISS, since all the Russian cosmonauts learn English during pre-flight training and all non-Russian astronauts learn Russian (and, obviously, English too if they didn't know it already). Thus, everyone on the station is bilingual, and Russian and English words are used in equal measure in conversations.
  • This happens in Korean television programs a lot, where a Korean interviewer will ask a foreign guest a question in Korean, and the guest will respond in his native language with subtitles, giving the impression that each understands the other's language, when all they did was edit out the translations. As time goes on, though, this is becoming less common as Korean interviewers use more English when interviewing guests who do not speak Korean.
  • People who travel abroad with the intention of Second Language Immersion have found that the inverse can happen as well. Let's say, for example, an English-speaker goes to Paris to brush up on his French. The English-speaker will try to speak in French, and the French-speaker, either to be polite or because they want to brush up on their English as well, will continue to speak in English. This can lead to an interesting game of chicken where both people are speaking in their second language to see who cracks first.
  • This happens quite often when school subjects are taught in a different language than most students and teachers use outside of the school. Students switch to their local dialect or first language during a lesson, because certain ideas are easier to explain that way or they don’t know a word, and the teachers keep asking question in the school's chosen language.
  • If you're a non Arabic-speaking Muslim, chances are you know some Arabic. You might even mix it with your native language. For example, if you're an English-speaking Muslim, and you're telling another Muslim that you're fasting, you'll likely say "I'm sooming". "Soom" (صوم) is Arabic for "fasting".
  • 19th century diplomacy often took this form. The rise of nationalism meant that diplomats usually felt obliged to speak their own language (unlike their 18th century counterparts who usually spoke in French, regardless of their nationality.), but since most diplomats were multilingual, their interlocutors could reply in their own language without waiting for translation, especially in case of more commonly spoken languages like English, German, and French.
    • This still occurs, as speaking your own language, especially if that language is not English, is a way of asserting independence, initially dealing with British diplomats and politicians and later American ones.
  • In South Africa it's very common to hear a conversation with a bunch of people go like this. Mostly because the common languages (Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Sepedi for example) have multiple very similar words. Even English speakers tend to add broken words from other languages in their speech. It gets to a point where the average citizen knows at least 3 languages. In a country with 11.
  • Because the current lingua franca of science is English, a vast quantity of scientific terminology only exists in English. So no matter what language a scientist is actually speaking when talking shop, pretty much every third noun and every fourth verb would be in English. Generally, the more cutting edge the research, the more English will creep in.
    • Applies just as much to computers and programming jargon, if only because most commands or markup languages use English words.
    • And then there's the matter of false friends. The programming term "library" (basically, a set of pre-made components which you can use in your programs to avoid reinventing the wheel) is typically called in Spanish librería "bookshop" rather than biblioteca.
    • The geosciences are one group of studies well known for doing the reverse: geologists and geographers will use words from other languages as the official term for one specific type of landform or process if English doesn't have a word for it, which often then gets adopted into other languages once it starts being used in scientific papers. A geologist might be talking about a klippe (German) located near a butte (French) and mesa (Spanish) that has ancient tsunami (Japanese) deposits. Someone working in regions with snow and ice can be using terms like pingo (Invuialuktun), polyna (Russian), jökulhlaup (Icelandic), and nunatak (Inuktitut) to describe the various features.
    • When this is done often enough, usually when an effective translation isn't available, words from one language will be adopted into the other on a more permanent basis. These are called loanwords, but can be so common that native speakers won't realize the words they are using are technically another language. Like patio and plaza, both originally Spanish.
  • Small particularly multilingual European countries like Luxembourg (Luxembourgish, German, French) Finland (Finnish and Swedish - the other language is the mandatory first foreign language in school, even though most Finnish speaking Finns prefer learning other foreign languages over the limited-use Swedish), Switzerland (German [standard and Swiss being very different from one another] Italian, French and Rumansh) will often have this occur, especially among well educated urban youth. Luxembourgian media for example sometimes do "street polls" where they show the questions with subtitles (which can be toggled to preferred language) and responses will come in all national languages - or a mix of them - plus English.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Bilingual Conversation


Kiryu and the CIA Agent

In one cutscene in the late game, the Japanese Kiryu has a conversation with a mysterious American CIA Agent. Both are able to converse in their native tongues without breaking a sweat.

How well does it match the trope?

4.71 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / BilingualDialogue

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