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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).

The trope may also be Justified in a Science Fiction setting by the idea that different species lack the vocal apparatus to speak each others’ languages (but evidently speak in frequency ranges that are mutually audible), or by some kind of limited Universal Translator technology. Still, carried to excess (and without the universal translators), it can lead to the impression that everyone understands (but doesn’t speak) every known language, which is a bit implausible, especially in, say, a galactic civilization. A multilingual culture will often develop a Common Tongue for a reason.

See also Bilingual Bonus, Eloquent in My Native Tongue, Inexplicable Language Fluency and Multiple Languages, Same Voice Actor. Compare Intelligible Unintelligible. A common theme with Translator Buddy characters.

Contrast with Language Barrier.


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  • 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.
  • 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.

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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'.
  • 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.
  • 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 Pokémon: The Series, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).

    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 
  • In Kill la Kill AU's Aikurou Babysits, we have this sort of argumentative exchange occur with Satsuki and Nui.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 the Punch-Out!! fanfic Ma Fille, each boxer can understand each other without needing translations (which are provided to the audience).
  • No stars in sight: Granny Skuldu speaks to her partner Agnisia in English while Agnisia mostly speaks in the Hive language. Both are able to converse with each other and understand what the other is saying without any problems.
  • 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 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...]
  • 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).

    Film — Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: The Movie: In the factory chase scene, Ying and Fang share a brief exchange in Chinese, while the main language of the film is Malay.
    Ying: 喂 Fang, 为什么你不要 "Helang Bayang"? Translation 
    Fang: 我紧张吗! Translation 
  • 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.
  • 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 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)

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 1941 (1979), 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Breaking and Entering (2006): When Amira and Miro argue, Amira switches back and forth between Bosnian and English, while Miro sticks to English.
  • 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.
  • Much of the dialogue in Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus is in a mixture of English and Spanish.
  • Demolition Man: At the San Angeles sewers, John asks for a burger to a Latino woman. They clearly understand each other despite speaking different languages. This is downplayed as at one point John asks "What's in this meat?" in Spanish.
  • 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.
  • Ernest Goes to Camp: Ernest and Chief St. Cloud speak this way, along with sign language.
  • 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 slightly broken 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.
  • Get Ready to Be Boyzvoiced: There are a few scenes featuring dialogue in both English and Norwegian, most notably those involving American record company CEO Brian Kauffman and the commercial that the band members shoot for Frionor Seafoods.
  • 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 (2017), 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.
  • 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
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): 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.
  • 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.
  • Johnny Mnemonic: A conversation between Takahashi and Shinji early in the film begins with them both speaking Japanese, switches to this trope, and ends with them both speaking English.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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."
  • It's pretty common in the movie Machete, but specifically for Those Two Guys who work as dishwashers. One of the guys understands what his friend says in Spanish but will only answer 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.
  • 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. In the sequels everybody seems to understand Yen just fine, making this something of a Running Gag.
  • 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.
    Shao: [In Mandarin] Speak English. Your Mandarin makes you sound like an idiot.
    Newt: I know, I'm terrible.
  • 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.
  • Pilgrimage: Characters in medieval Ireland speak in English, Gaelic and French, often in the same conversation.
  • Rafiki: Characters in the film often use English and Swahili alternately when speaking.
  • In Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010), Isabella of Angoulême speaks mostly in French, and everyone else responds mostly in English. This is mostly Hollywood History - minor gentry like Robin, Marion et al would likely have been bilingual in Middle English and Norman French, but the Norman aristocracy who Isabella is speaking to would have spoken Norman French (pretty close to Isabelle's French) as their first language. Famously King Richard could barely speak any English at all. English didn't become the language of court until the reign of Henry IV.
  • Saving Face: Around 40% of the film is in Mandarin. Often Wil speaks to her mom in English, who answers her with Mandarin.
  • 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.
  • 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 Michael Moore's Sicko, Moore does this with the French, who can understand his English.
  • Signature Move:
    • Parveen talks to her daughter Zaynab in Urdu. Zaynab mostly talks back in English, though she speaks Urdu fluently as well. Parveen speaks English as well, but not as often.
    • Rosa, Alma's mother, also speaks with her in Spanish as Alma answers using English generally.
  • Most characters in Space Sweepers have earpieces that translate other languages, depicted as people speaking their native languages with subtitles for the viewer.
  • In Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Ricky and Carla speak English at home, while their parents speak Spanish.
  • 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 his longtime companion Chewbacca all play this way. The prequel film Solo shows that young Han understood the Wookiee language,note  even before he met Chewie. He has trouble speaking it, though (Han's Wookiee lines are subtitled with fractured English). He also communicates with a repair droid on Hoth, Jabba the Hutt, and Greedo, though Greedo's speech is subtitled.
    • 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. A pilot wants more than the gist of what the mechanic is telling them, after all. In addition, one of R2's lines while in a swamp is easily recognizable in English.
      Luke: R2. (points toward the shore) That way.
      R2: (in Binary) Oh. Thank you.
    • 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.note  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 nor Basic, but understands the latter. In this case, it is a trilingual conversation, since both Jabba and the alien Boussh can understand Basic, 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 speaks Basic perfectly, but that's not the point. Most Hutts can and do speak Basic, but they usually perceive it as a language inferior to their own, and would rather rely on translators rather than demean themselves by speaking an inferior language. The 1997 Special Edition adds subtitles for Boussh's and some of Jabba's lines, though these were taken back out in the 2004 DVD release and later versions.
    • 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 the Bantu language Haya. (His voice was performed by a Kenyan intern.) It gives the conversation a Bilingual Bonus, since it's 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...
    • 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.
  • 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!"

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Blubber: Jill's live-in governess, Mrs. Sandmeier, is Swiss and trilingual, speaking English and French (it's not mentioned what the third language is, but one could assume it's German). Part of her job is to teach Jill and her brother French. Jill can understand what Mrs. Sandmeier is saying when she speaks to them in French, but usually answers in English because she's too busy to think of the right French words. However, when Mrs. Sandmeier goes on vacation late in the story, Jill writes her a letter and closes it in French.
  • In Eye of a Fly, Ernest overhears a couple loudly arguing in Spanish and shouting death threats in English.
  • Hayven Celestia: The krakun insist their Slave Races learn Krakunese but forbid them from speaking it, while krakun easily learn new languages but don't deign to speak in such inferior tongues, thus conversations between krakun and their slaves usually consist of the krakun shouting orders in Krakunese while the slaves make apologies in their native language. This also means that Krakunese acts as a de facto Common Tongue in black market deals.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The L Word: Bette and Jodi, who's deaf, often speak in a mix of ASL with English during their relationship.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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, and which is represented by their accent. So the French Michelle (of ze Resistance!) speaks English by affecting a "Pip-pip old chap" accent. The exception is 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. (And for practical purposes, since they interact so much it would have meant either the French characters affecting a German accent every other line or vice versa, which is just awkward.)
  • Angie Tribeca has Lt. Hoffman — a dog — who speaks in un-subtitled barks and growls. Everyone else understands him without problem.
  • 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.
  • The Book of Boba Fett. The use of this trope in Star Wars is parodied in the first episode when Boba and Fennec are shown nodding seriously while an Aqualish delegate gives a long speech in his own language. After he's left...
    Boba: Did you catch any of that?
    Fennec: Something about...friendship?
    Boba: We really need a protocol droid.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Chez Hélène (Helen's House), a long-running (1959-1973) children's program on CBC, which was meant to help Anglophone children develop French-language skills. Québec singer/actress Hélène Baillargeon played herself, speaking primarily French; a mouse puppet named Suzie (voiced by Corrine Orr) spoke primarily English; and a second human cast member, Louise (Madeline Kronby), spoke both languages. Despite high ratings, the series was phased out to make room for more French instructional content on the CBC's version of Sesame Street.
  • 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.
    • At the beginning of "The Passion of Saint Tibulus", the Craggy Island parochial house is hosting a Cuban priest, Father Hernandez, as a guest. Both Ted and Hernandez are able to hold conversation with one another despite them speaking English and (voiceovered) Spanish respectively, yet they are able to understand each other 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.
  • Ginny and Georgia: Ellen, Marcus and Max Baker speak in English while using ASL to sign at the same time, since Clint is deaf.
  • 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 (an immigrant from Venezuela) speaks Spanish to her American-born daughter Xiomara and granddaughter Jane. They respond in English, and only speak Spanish in one scene for Hiding Behind the Language Barrier.
  • 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.
  • The docuseries Menudo: Forever Young featured Talking Heads interviews with former Menudo members, associates and experts. They either speak in English or subtitled Spanish. One of the former members switches back and forth within the same interview.
  • 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.
  • ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? featured three generations of a Cuban-American family. The grandparents spoke Spanish almost exclusively. The parents and their children spoke both English and Spanish, with plenty of moments of In My Language, That Sounds Like.... The scripts were split almost 50/50 between Spanish and English, so that no matter which was your primary tongue, you would still get at least half of the jokes.
  • 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.
  • Trigonometry: Ray speaks to her mom in a mix of French and English.

  • Gloria Estefan released "Spanglish" versions of several of her hit songs (including "Anything for You"), alternating verses and choruses in English and Spanish.
  • 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.
  • Twin Tribes: Some of their songs mix Spanish lyrics in their mostly English songs. Since they live in a border town where speaking in two languages is common, they find that adding this aspect to their lyrics makes it easier to connect with their music.
    • The chorus of "Fantasmas" has the repeated phrase "Solo miro fantasmas, Están dentro de ti," which means "I only see ghosts, they're inside of you".
    • "Monolith" has this Spanish chorus, "Me envenena, Te envenena," which means "It poisons me, it poisons you."

    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.
  • WWF Commisioner William Regal and his assistant Tajiri started with a contentious relationship, not helped by Regal's inability to comprehend Japanese. After Regal turned face by defending Tajiri, this problem disappeared as the two would be shown chatting regularly in their respective languages.

    Video Games 
  • In the Bayonetta series, the angels and demons 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.
  • 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 speech there's no need for him to use any other language.
    • Other residents of Night City can manage this as well. Hwangbo, V's client during the gig "Flight Of The Cheetah", talks in Korean the entire time, with V responding in English, and random NPCs can occasionally be heard holding bilingual conversations of their own.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.'
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Plus, all ancient Hylian is translated.
  • 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 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 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. That said, everyone in Tekken seems to be an Omniglot, so maybe he can understand animals just fine.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Exaggerated in the Tekken franchise: The multinational characters in the 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). None of these characters seem to even make an attempt to speak any language but their native ones, and nobody ever comments on it, makes it seem as though every person in that universe is an Omniglot. Even novelty characters who communicate with clicks or animal noises manage to get their point across just fine.
  • 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.
  • Virtua Fighter has done pretty much the same in the later installments.
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus: Adolf Hitler during his unique appearance, speaks solely in German even though he seems to understand English as evidenced by how he takes offense at Ronald Reagan calling him "Mr. Hitler" instead of "Mein Führer". Likewise, Reagan has no problem understanding him.
  • 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).
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • This is the premise of Crown Delights Deli. You work in a bodega in Brooklyn and chat with customers in standard English, African American Vernacular English, and Spanish, and the way you switch between languages influences your patrons and impacts your store's reputation.
  • 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 
  • Dark Secrets of Garry's Mod: Most characters speak Hungarian but they are able to keep a conversation with other characters who speak English, mostly with the Team Fortress 2 classes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In hololive - Holo no Graffiti, the cast is primarily Japanese and speak only in Japanese. Since 2022, they've started adding in Hololive English G1 to the shorts with Gawr Gura and Nino'mae Ina'nis, who speak in English. 2023 sees the addition of Hololive Indonesia G1, with each member speaking Indonesian.
  • 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.
  • Murder Drones: Doll speaks Russian for whatever reason, but all the other characters understand what she says as if they had the same subtitles viewers have (being Cute Machines, they probably do).
  • 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.

  • Bob and George's Future Alternate Bass has this with an Expy of R2-D2, Mettool D2. Bob has it too.
  • 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.
  • Grrl Power has an example of a trilingual conversation here (involving one African and two extraterrestrial languages). Apparently, this alliance has involved a lot of efficient linguistic exchange in its short existence.
  • Housepets!: The camel Sofia speaks entirely in untranslated Arabic, characters included. Thomas, her companion who only speaks English, seems to understand her well enough. This is averted when she shows up again a year later, having spent time in a zoo and now possessing basic English skills. By her final appearance, six years after her first, she's nearly entirely fluent.
    2019 Sofia: Domas, I am stand right over here, and we not have coffee, we are camel.
    2023 Sofia: Thomas darling, come back to pile of straw...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Rascals, attempted on this page between Issy and her adopted dad, the exchange between the two is converted to English for the fans.
  • Serix: Kitt is only shown speaking Korean for some unexplained reason, but her co-workers seem able to communicate with her just fine.
  • 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.
  • In Tales Of Gnosis College the Sultan of Pazar speaks in English to a Russian girl who replies in her native language.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • RetroShock: Keny and Isaac speak in Hungarian but they are perfectly able to communicate with AYA who only speaks in English.
  • Although most of the skits in Weird school rules in Hong Kong are performed in Cantonese, several English words are used as a result of "code-switching". More specifically, one of Episode 4's skits is a bilingual conversation between an everyman male student (who is speaking Cantonese) and a female student who goes to a school where students had to use English while wearing their uniform (who is speaking English in accordance to the rule).

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Subverted in American Dad! with the Japanese-American character Toshi. 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 and sometimes makes very rude statements that suggest he's Hiding Behind the Language Barrier.
  • 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!')
  • 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.
  • In the obscure French cartoon Fly Tales, all the characters speak gibberish, which sometimes can sound very close to French.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!

    Real Life 
  • This is how Disneyland Paris handles its live shows and ride pre-shows; half the characters will speak either French or English, and repetative dialogue is used so that the audience only needs to understand one of the two languages.
  • The town of Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, Canada, is widely regarded as that nation's most bilingual city, where most residents are fluent in both of Canada's official languages. CBC did a news report on the town in 1967, showing how harmoniously citizens switched between English and French in everyday conversation.
  • American radio and television stations in heavily Hispanic areas often feature personalities speaking both English and Spanish and switching from one to the other seamlessly. Similar linguistic mixing (between English and French) is common on broadcasting stations in Québec and other predominantly Francophone parts of Canada, although the CRTC limits how much French Anglophone broadcasters in markets like Montréal can use in order to protect French-Canadian culture.
  • Enforced on the International Space Station, where the two official languages are English and Russian.note  In a conversation between two astronauts with different mother tongues, each astronaut is supposed to speak in the language they have less fluency in, since they'll slow down enough that the other will be more likely to understand them than if they both spoke their native languages. This also helps both practice the other language.
  • This sometimes happens in households when a married couple has different native languages. In fact, it’s considered a valid strategy for raising bilingual children. Each parent communicates in their native language only, thus the children end up speaking both languages fluently. This tends to be pronounced in countries with two or more national languages; for example, the Philippines and Singapore are fellow Southeast Asian nations that have English as one of their primary languages in addition to regional ones like Tagalog (Or other dialects in this case) and Mandarin.
  • This is common when people from different Scandinavian countries talk to each other. The three Scandinavian languages are very similar and are mutually intelligible to an extent, so a Dane, a Swede, and a Norwegian can each be speaking their own language and still be able to hold a conversation.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Bilingual Conversation


Gorro mugs a Sith Lord

Early in Shadow of Revan, Darth Imperius arrives on Rishi to discover that everyone on the planet seems to think she's the leader of the Howling Tempest Gang of space pirates. Thinking she's easy pickings, Gorro of the Nova Blades accepted a bounty placed on her by someone who claims to owe her money. It ends very badly for him, after which Imperius reveals her real identity.

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Main / MuggingTheMonster

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