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Completely Unnecessary Translator

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"Wait a second — you're not translating anything I say to him — which means you totally understand me, dude!"
Hurley, Lost

The heroes are talking to someone, like a Ruthless Foreign Gangster or the head of a foreign MegaCorp, and they have to go through a translator to do so. After a few back and forths, the foreigner will answer the heroes directly in the language of the work fluently, meaning they like to keep around a Completely Unnecessary Translator. Story-wise, this is good to show that they are obviously foreign, what with the Russian/Chinese they were using, and that they are intelligent (dumb characters never pull this off beyond one or two lines in English). Behind the scenes, it's expensive and takes up too much screen time and effort to be plausible for very long.

Common with characters who Majored in Western Hypocrisy. Subverts Tactful Translation, as it turns out at least one person in the conversation knew exactly what the other really said the entire time. See also Elective Unintelligible. If the translator is in on it too or wants to have some fun of their own, they may become a Trolling Translator. See also Language Fluency Denial.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Case Files of Jeweler Richard's Richard Ranasinghe de Vulpian speaks at least seventeen languages and has never needed a translator in his life. Nonetheless, Seigi sometimes acts as one when blond, blue-eyed Englishman Richard doesn't feel like talking to someone in Japan.
  • Pokémon: The Series: Meowth becomes this whenever he is alone with only Pokémon, with him repeating the lines of what the Pokémon said, even when every Pokémon in the room already understands what they're saying. The reason is because otherwise the audience wouldn't know, since the anime almost never uses subtitles for Pokémon Speak.

    Comic Books 
  • Towards the end of Asterix and the Goths, Getafix, who has been kidnapped by the Goths so they can learn the secret of the magic potion. Getafix has no intention of helping them but the translator lies and says he will because he's been told that if Getafix says no, they will both be executed. However, Getafix can actually speak Gothic fluently and knows what the translator is doing. Once Asterix and Obelix are thrown in jail with Getafix, he drops the ruse as part of their escape plan.
  • New Superman #9 opens with Lex Luthor visiting the Ministry of Self-Reliance and speaking a few sentences of broken Mandarin. For most of the story I-Ching provides Tactful Translation between Luthor and Kenan. Near the end, it turns out that Lex speaks Mandarin fluently but likes people to underestimate him.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Bananas, the dictator of San Marcos had a (heavily accented) translator when he met with the President of the U. S. — even though the dictator was American Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen).
  • In Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Harold's parents speak perfect English, but the "translator" (whose spoken Korean is atrocious) assumes everything they say in English is some unknown Korean dialect.
  • In The Sum of All Fears, Jack Ryan is brought to Russia and asked to work as a translator. President Nemerov asks Ryan if he's read his dossier. Ryan says he has, and starts listing biographical information about the man. Including the fact that in college, he got his highest grades in English. Nemerov drops the act immediately, and is impressed by Jack calling him on it.
  • In Batman Begins, Ducard translates for Ra's al Ghul, who later speaks to Bruce in about five words of perfect, if clipped, English. May serve as foreshadowing that Ducard IS Ra's al Ghul, and that was a decoy. Using this trope allows him to literally speak for Ra's, while not revealing his identity.
  • The Mongolian Connection: Serik uses Khulan to translate English to Mongolian when Wade Dalton—an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer—comes to his office with an offer. He's later revealed to speak perfect English, which irritates Wade.
  • A justified (from the "foreigner's" perspective) example, from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, where the pirate boss has a huge, imposing deep voice 'translator' to speak for him. When the translator says the wrong thing at the wrong time and gets shot for his trouble, the pirate leader eventually speaks up... in a hilariously soft and squeaky voice.
  • In Mr. Baseball, Tom Selleck plays an American baseball player who signs up with a Japanese team. He has a completely necessary translator to help him get around, who must often perform Tactful Translation to keep Selleck's brash character from offending everyone immensely - but eventually it turns out that his manager was feigning a lack of English knowledge the whole time.
  • Dream Wife: Clem is negotiating an oil deal with the Khan of "Bukistan", with a courtier acting as translator. At one point Clem says he can't stick around Bukistan because he's going home to get married, which the Khan replies to by saying "But of course you cannot stay" in fluent English. After this power move, the Khan continues to let his courtier translate.
  • In Gambit, a Japanese businessman seems to be employing a very incompetent translator, but it's quickly revealed that he doesn't need the translator, but finds it keeps his opponents off-guard.
  • In The Hunt for Red October, when Mancuso, Jonesy, and Ryan have finally managed to get on the titular submarine, the Americans and the Soviets just look at each other. Ramius notices Mancuso's prominently displayed sidearm and mentions it to his Number Two in Russian (fearing Mancuso is the "Buckaroo" type he'd been worried about), causing Ryan to chuckle, as he knew Russian. Ramius questions him for a bit in Russian, then switches to fluent English. At least one other Soviet officer speaks English.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country has a Klingon courtroom scene based on the real-life Adlai Stevenson incident at the UN (see Real Life folder below). Kirk and Spock are being interrogated in Klingon via translators, until General Chang shouts at Kirk "don't wait for the translation! Answer me now!" Kirk speaks Klingon and Chang knows it.
  • In The Mummy (1999), Beni puts on a suave act as Imhotep's interpreter, translating his nefarious plans from Ancient Egyptian into English to the heroes. Evy, who is fluent in the language, corrects his translation. Given that Imhotep's nefarious plans are about kidnapping her, it's definitely a badass bookworm moment.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home: Ned's lola (grandmother) goes on several long rants about his guests in Tagalog, forcing him to translate. Once they've finished cleaning up after themselves, she says flatly in perfect English "I'm going to bed."
  • A literal variation appears in The Compleat Al. When Al appears in Japan as a guest on a radio show, the hostess asks him a question in Japanese. Al's translator repeats the question to him in Japanese, prompting Al to confess "I can't understand a word you're saying."
  • Tetris (2023): At their first encounter Belikov completely ignores Rogers until Henk brings in his translator. Later, Belikov is accompanied to the meetings by a translator of his own. It's not until he slips and answers Henk directly that his ability to speak English is revealed. Justified example, as the translator was probably required both by Soviet protocols and by KGB to keep a constant eye on him.

  • One scene in A Song of Ice and Fire has Daenerys speaking with a slaver via a little girl slave named Missandei, who provides a Tactful Translation of the slaver's comments. Dany, who speaks the language being translated, alternates between amusement at the slave and disgust at the slaver, and ultimately saves the girl by recruiting her and sets her master on fire.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Bulgarian Minister of Magic does this to Fudge at the Quidditch World Cup, with the added benefit of not actually having a translator.
    "Vell, ve fought bravely," said a gloomy voice behind Harry. He looked around; it was the Bulgarian Minister for Magic.
    "You can speak English!" said Fudge, sounding outraged. "And you’ve been letting me mime everything all day!"
    "Vell, it vos very funny," said the Bulgarian Minister, shrugging.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In the book Changes, The Red King, through his translator, arranges a duel with Dresden. Once Dresden wins, the Red King goes back on his agreement, stating, IN PERFECT ENGLISH, "We never even spoke to each other."
    • Harry should have seen it coming (though of course it wouldn't have helped him even if he had). Earlier in the series, Queen Mab speaks through one of her servants, and Harry wonders to himself if she's doing this so she can pull a "I never said that," trick on him later on. She's not, she's just so utterly furious about her daughter Maeve being infected by Nemesis that her voice actually hurts Harry when she does speak.
  • In The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, this is done by Corlath, the Damarian king, to the Homelanders, as a way to buy a bit more time for thought during negotiations.
  • This is a major plot point of Eloise McGraw's Mara, Daughter of the Nile. Mara is a double agent posing as the princess's interpreter — to a king who speaks her language. She initially convinces him that her role is to preserve his rank, but when he catches her changing his words, she is forced to reveal the truth (or part of it, anyways).
  • Played for Laughs in The Marvelous Land of Oz, when Jack Pumpkinhead and the Scarecrow decide since they are from different countries in Oz, they must require a translator, who proceeds to wreak havoc on the conversation until they realize that they are speaking the same language. Even when discussing the need for a translator, the Scarecrow and Jack are talking with each other and responding to what each other says:
    "Won't you take a chair while we are waiting?"
    "Your Majesty forgets that I cannot understand you," replied the Pumpkinhead. "If you wish me to sit down you must make a sign for me to do so." The Scarecrow came down from his throne and rolled an armchair to a position behind the Pumpkinhead. Then he gave Jack a sudden push that sent him sprawling upon the cushions in so awkward a fashion that he doubled up like a jackknife, and had hard work to untangle himself.
    "Did you understand that sign?" asked His Majesty, politely.
  • Used in The Tamuli by at least two rulers who speak multiple languages but appreciate having extra time to consider their responses while their translators are talking. Queen Ehlana jokes that she ought to feign temporary deafness and bring in a sign-language translator so she can get in on the ruse.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: A variation occurs when The Professor Aronnax, Battle Butler Conseil, and Idiot Hero Ned Land cannot understand the language used by their captors, every one of them try to talk to them in their respective native languages (French, German, and English, respectively). When their captors didn't react, Aronnax spoke Latin without success. In a second interview, the man that will present himself later as Captain Nemo tells them:
    ...After some moments of silence, which not one of us dreamed of breaking, "Gentlemen," said he, in a calm and penetrating voice, "I speak French, English, German, and Latin equally well. I could, therefore, have answered you at our first interview, but I wished to know you first, then to reflect..."
  • In Discworld:
    • In Snuff, Billy Slick the goblin acts as a translator between Granny Slick and Captain Carrot. After the interview, Carrot asks Billy to congratulate his grandmother for having such an excellent grasp of Morporkian, and there's a burst of laughter from the cottage...
    • In Pyramids, the Evil Chancellor Dios claims this position as High Priest to the God-Kings of Djelibeybi. Whatever orders those kings give, he "interprets" their words to match the traditions that he's been enforcing for over seven thousand years.
    • In The Fifth Elephant, Vimes notices that Captain Tantony of the Bonk Guard is reacting just before Skinner translates what Vimes is saying into Uberwaldean. So he says "And tell him he has a fly on his nose," and has the pleasure of watching the man try to prevent himself glancing down.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Seanchan high nobility address people of much lower rank through a Voice, a slave who communicates with the noble in sign language and relays the message. Social class is very serious business in the Empire, so trying to bypass the Voice is a potentially deadly breach of etiquette.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: In the book series, Jabba the Hutt is revealed to not need an interpreter. He just likes to keep one around as a status symbol, and because he won't condescend to speaking any language but Huttese, though he is able to. He never makes any pretense of needing a translator to understand Basic, though his translator does actually translate more exotic languages like Ubese for him. The only exception in the novels is when Prince Xizor, head of a criminal empire that could wipe out Jabba's enterprises in a fit of boredom, demands he speak Basic. Unsurprisingly, the Hutt complies.
  • In The Priory of the Orange Tree, the pirate overlord known as the Golden Empress is multilingual, but she keeps a translator so that prisoners she wants information from will underestimate her. She starts speaking a common language with Niclays Roos once she determines that he only cares about creating an elixir of life and not any personal gain or escape.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andor: It becomes clear that the Aldhani elder is at least competent at Basic, given his reaction to Lieutenant Gorn's Tactful Translation of his disdainful words. He understandably refuses to make things any easier for the Imperials who are currently colonizing his world and carrying out cultural genocide on his people though.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Acts of Sacrifice", the Lumati representative, Correlimurzon, requires his underling Taq to speak for him to Commander Ivanova on the conceit that talking directly with a "lesser species" like humans constitutes a loss of face in his culture. He only speaks directly to Ivanova once he has deemed humans as "worthy", in particular when he saw humans have traits of The Social Darwinist as much as the Lumati are (albeit unintentionally...which is debatable given human history of social stratification...).
  • In Barry, the protagonist is brought on to train a group of Chechens, with a translator standing by. After two of them ask questions in English Barry asks them how many of them can speak English. They all raise their hands at which point Hank tells the translator to leave.
  • In the Breaking Bad episode "Salud", Gus Fring is acting as translator between the English-speaking Jesse and the Spanish-speaking cartel men. That is, until Jesse calls the cartel's chief chemist an asshole. This prompts the chemist to reveal that he can speak English. Jesse is unfazed and still intimidates the men into complying with his method of cooking Walt's meth.
  • The Chaser's War On Everything has a sketch where a man asked people for directions in English with an American accent and claimed not to understand their Australian accents and assumed they couldn't understand him either. Another guy then came over who would "translate" between the two people.
  • In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a murder of a deaf person leads the team to question the headmaster of a school for the deaf. They bring along an ASL interpreter only for the headmaster (who really doesn't like being condescended to) to get angry and claim she can lip read and speak English just fine.
  • In The Daily Show, when Jason Jones went to Iran, he hired a translator to take to journalist Maziar Bahari, who already spoke English fluently. However, whenever Bahari spoke English, Jason would pretend not to understand him and would ask the translator what he said, even though the translator actually spoke even worse English.
  • Daredevil: James Wesley acts as a translator between the leaders of the gangs that work with Wilson Fisk. It turns out Madame Gao can speak English (she claims that she can speak all languages), but pretends not to as part of her Obfuscating Stupidity. Nobu, meanwhile, can speak English fluently, but not perfectly, making Wesley's translation non-vital, but not entirely redundant — mostly Nobu just takes issue with Wesley watering down his words. And Fisk can speak Mandarin and Japanese, and has Wesley translate for him so that his associates underestimate him. Wesley acts annoyed when Madame Gao calls him and Fisk out on their ruse.
  • An episode of Doctors featured an Asian bus driver who saved a boy's life with his Worthless Foreign Medical Licence, and then claimed not to speak English to avoid dealing with the fallout. Unfortunately, the translator they called in knew for a fact he did speak English.
    Translator: He's my husband. And an idiot.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Christmas Invasion", this is a plot point: when the main characters suddenly start understanding the aliens without their translator, they realise that means that the Doctor has recovered from his regeneration and is about to show up to save the day.
    • "Extremis": When the Doctor meets the Pope, a cardinal translates the Pope's Italian into English. Of course, the Doctor speaks all languages, but he doesn't mention it in order to be polite. You can see him trying not to look annoyed.
  • On For All Mankind during the early phases of the Alternate History version of Apollo-Soyuz the Soviet delegation brings translators and the negotiations are full of Insistent Terminology and overly formal. When Margo Madison (for the Americans) and Segei Nikulov (for the Soviets) meet in private, they soon adopt First-Name Basis, hold the conversation in English (which Sergei is perfectly capable of speaking) and solve many a problem by Taking a Third Option
  • A variant in Frasier when Roz enlists Frasier to translate for her when she wants to break up with her French boyfriend Jean-Pierre. Technically Frasier is necessary as a translator, but Jean-Pierre figures out what she's trying to say long before she's spoken her piece, so he and Frasier spend the rest of the conversation playing along and really talking in French about restaurants.
  • In Game of Thrones, a translator is used to translate Kraznys' Valyrian to the Westeros Common Tongue for Daenerys while they are negotiating a trade. The whole time, Kraznys is particularly vile and calls her a whore, among other unsavory things, behind a Tactful Translation from Missandei. Shortly thereafter, Daenerys reveals she is more than fluent in Valyrian - it's her first language. He ends up paying for his rudeness. The Tactful Translation does however likely save Missandei's life since it shows Daenerys that the girl has brains and cunning.
  • In Garth Marenghis Darkplace, as a joke on Garth being comically prejudiced against Scotland the dialogue of the ghosts is subtitled, even though they're speaking completely comprehensible English with a Scottish accent. The subtitles also explain that highlander means "Scotch Person".
  • An episode of The Good Wife has Diane click on a strange email link, resulting in the firm's computers being hacked, and the client files being held for ransom. When simply paying the ransom fails, Kalinda tracks down the blackmailers to a man in Russia. She connects to his computer and has one of the lawyers translate for her (his parents forced him to learn Russian). Eventually, when Kalinda gets him angry enough, he reveals that he understands English just fine, so the lawyers stops translating. Not unreasonable, as many Russian schools teach at least some English.
  • Lost: Dogen, the leader of the people at the temple, knows English, but doesn't like speaking it, necessitating a translator. He eventually drops the act.
    Hurley: Wait a second — you're not translating anything I say to him — which means you totally understand me, dude!
  • Zig-Zagged in a first-season episode of Madam Secretary when the Iraqi prime minister pays a state visit. He uses a translator initially but then finds out that Secretary McCord speaks Arabic. She claims that his English is better than her Arabic, though later she seems to be able to understand him and one of his ministers perfectly when they start ranting at each other over a sectarian/political squabble.
  • When The Mandalorian goes to hire some Anzellan droidsmiths, they speak in heavily accented Basic that he stuggles a bit with. Greef Karga "translates" for them, even when Mando can understand them just fine.
  • In Stargate SG-1, when the Russian general is first introduced, he comes with a Tactful Translator. When Daniel Jackson reveals he understands everything the general is saying, the General then reveals he is fluent in English anyway. Trying to bluff your way past a linguist fluent in 29 languages (and that's not counting his knowledge of Goa'uld and, later, Ancient) is not a good idea.
  • On Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip the investor from Macau pretended not to speak English, having his daughter or wife translate. He just likes messing with people.
    Jack Rudolph: ...You speak English?
    Chinese Businessman: A few words.
    Jack Rudolph: How many?
    Chinese Businessman: All of them.
  • In Veep season 5, we are introduced to Chinese President Lu, who relies on this for subterfuge (and to stonewall Selina). He retains a translator for diplomatic purposes and to keep up appearances, but sends her away when the situation calls for blunt political maneuvering. On a later appearance, Selina snidely acknowledges the translator independently during a casual greeting, probably in solidarity with the woman's decorative position.
  • The West Wing:
    • Toby and Josh wish to speak to Bambang, an official from Indonesia, and set Donna to find a translator for the conversation. The translator she finds speaks Javanese (which is used in Indonesia) but not Batak which is what Bambang speaks. He does however speak Portuguese and there's a man on the kitchen staff who speaks Batak and Portuguese but not English. After several rounds of back and forth translation Bambang asks in perfect English if they should just speak to each other. Donna stammers that she was misinformed before hurriedly taking the translators away.
    • Also occurs in a US-China summit. The Chinese Premier speaks perfect English, but all official meetings are conducted with a translator as per usual diplomatic protocol. Switching language for anything more than pleasantries could be interpreted an act of subservience, and would lead to a loss of diplomatic face. The real negotiations are all done in the backroom and in English.note 
  • Subverted in an episode of Yes, Minister. Bernard is organizing a funeral where the Prime Minister will have to speak to the leaders of foreign nations. He has to quickly clarify that translators won't be needed when the Prime Minister meets the leaders of certain nations - the English speaking ones. He then has to clarify again that this does include America, "with a certain generosity of spirit."

    Myths & Religion 
  • Joseph in the Book of Genesis: While there were probably many people for whom the translator proved indispensable, one case where he wasn't needed at all was when Joseph's own brothers showed up. He used the service anyway, as a means of hiding his identity.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • It's very common in wrestling for a foreign heel to have a manager as a translator when they can speak English, in order to make the gimmick feel more authentic. Common with Japanese wrestlers in WCW who were often managed by Sonny Onoo, but another notable example being Kamala (intended to be Ugandan, and managed by a 'safari' character Kimchee) who was actually American. The WWE also satirised this with their 'American' dubbing of Kaientai faction of Taka Michinoku and Funaki - whose English was fluent - in order to evoke bad kung fu dubs.

    Puppet Shows 

    Video Games 
  • Taken to ridiculous extremes in Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Abe Lincoln Must Die! The buffoonish president at the beginning of the game confuses Sam and Max for translators, and needs them for some diplomacy. The diplomat in question is Whizzer, who can't speak any language except English! But the president insists that he can't understand a word Whizzer says, forcing Sam to help (or, as it's Sam and Max we're talking about here, deliberately mistranslate entirely to achieve his own goals.)
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People includes a bizarre version of this. Strong Bad speaks English. Strong Mad, though hardly articulate, speaks English. Yet Strong Bad insists on using The Cheat, who doesn't speak English at all, to translate between them in Strong Badia the Free.
    • Worse yet, Strong Bad and Strong Mad are brothers. So, this is likely a case of Bad being a condescending prick towards his brother.
  • Planescape: Torment allows you to possibly use this yourself. Dabus, the servants of The Lady of Pain, only communicate via Rebus, a symbolic "language" that consists of a series of pictures that appear above their heads. If the main character has high enough intelligence and wisdom scores, he can understand them. However, he can still ask Annah, Grace, or Dak'kon to translate for him. At one point, this can be used to reveal plot information: talking to Fell, the Dabus tattoo artist and having Dak'kon translate for you (provided you can understand Rebus already) will allow you to catch Dak'kon lying to you. Calling him on it reveals information about how he's connected to your past.
  • Saints Row has Mr. Wong, who sits there speaking Chinese until his translator makes a mistake, after which he switches to speaking fluent English.

    Visual Novels 
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney:
    • Lamiroir pretends to need an interpreter even though she speaks English, as part of her "exotic singer" stage persona. She really does need his help for other languages, however.
    • Later, Machi Tobaye plays with the trope. He does know English, much to the surprise of several characters (including Lamiroir), but not all that well.
  • In The Great Ace Attorney, British Foreign Exchange Student Jezaille Brett first appears in a Japanese court speaking English. Once the player presses her, it turns out she can actually speak Japanese fluently. She was only using a translator because she's so racist that she doesn't want to "sully her tongue" with the language.
  • Early in Shizune's route of Katawa Shoujo, Hisao learns sign language, but is hesitant to tell Shizune or use it to talk to her until he is able to use it well. He has Misha translate, despite her being fully aware that he is learning sign language. Unbeknownst to him, Misha has already told Shizune that Hisao is learning sign language.

  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, the narrator performs this service for the readers, translating Spanish words that don't need translation (e.g., "señor") or in one panel translating "policía" as police... and providing a separate footnote for each of the four times the word is spoken on that page.
  • In Kevin & Kell, after Herd Thinners reopens its insectivore division with a mostly bat workforce, Angelique poaches Desdemona, Kell's vampire bat assistant, to be her VP of Operations. It turns out that Angelique mainly wants her to translate her orders into sonar. Desdemona's first "translation" is "She thinks you don't understand normal speech", and the bats decide that, with a Bad Boss like Angelique, this is probably an advantage.

    Web Original 
  • Not Always Right sees this genius, who insists on translating between a German cashier and an English-speaking customer. However, not only does the cashier speak English, said cashier is even replying in English. Nevertheless, the "helper" decides to "translate" everything the cashier says "back" into English.

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible: The Japanese toy designer Nakasumi always communicates with Kim and Ron via his assistant, Miss Kyoko. It is eventually revealed that he speaks perfect English but just likes whispering into a pretty woman's ear.
  • In Frisky Dingo, ancient Chinese sweatshop worker Old Spice is eventually revealed to speak English after entire episodes of only communicating in Chinese and having Xander Crews (who knew he spoke English) translate for him. This only came to light after Killface insulted Old Spice's "car" (Crews misheard Old Spice, who was actually talking about his wife) and Crews berated him. "What does it matter what I say about his bloody car?" "Well, he speaks English!" "...You speak English?" "Yes!"
  • In The Wild Thornberrys, Nigel hires a helicopter pilot to help him film from the volcanoes in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. Assuming the pilot only speaks Russian, he attempts to communicate with him in the same language, but it goes dangerously wrong. When Nigel forgets the language all of a sudden in the end, he thanks him in English, only to reveal that he spoke it all along. The pilot, on the other hand, thought he was Swedish going by his accent.
  • American Dad!:
    • Most of the humor with Toshi comes from what everyone thinks he's saying in Japanese, which is at odds at the various disparaging remarks and death threats he's actually throwing at people. It's later revealed he actually understands English perfectly fine, but refuses to speak anything other than Japanese out of nationalistic pride, forcing his sister to step in and translate for him on occasion.
    • Another episode parodied this when Toshi's mother says "Why do you only speak Japanese? I don't even speak Japanese!" And when she meets Francine, the latter doesn't understand her perfect and accent-free English, calling out to the room "Does anybody speak sushi hostess?". Though it was meant as an insult at the time.
  • Happens in an episode of South Park were the school principal asked Kyle if he could translate some Hebrew visitors... Who happened to speak in perfect English, parodied further since the Principal Victoria and Mr. Mackey still didn't understand what they were saying and needed Kyle's translation anyway, which simply consisted on repeating whatever they said.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Marinette has to play host to her Great Uncle Wang Cheng, but doesn't speak his native Mandarin Chinese. She attempts to use a translation app, but it goes wrong, so Ayla enlists Adrien as an interpreter. After a while (long enough to leave Marinette's apartment), Cheng reveals that he speaks English. He doesn't speak it well, and does require Adrien's help translating for the cooking show he's participating in, but he's more than conversational enough to communicate with Marinette (begging the question of why he didn't so much as say "hello" to her when he arrived, since it wasn't any secret).

    Real Life 
  • Fidel Castro was fully conversant in English but always had a translator present in his interviews.
  • The inversion is fairly common in actual diplomacy. Not speaking a foreigner's language, even if you know it, is often a point of pride for state leaders, and as a result end up using translators even though they're not actually required. For instance, Angela Merkel certainly speaks English (albeit not quite completely fluently) but when she held press conferences with Barack Obama or David Cameron, you can be damn sure that she will have a translator and speak in German. As mentioned in The West Wing example above, this is also done for the benefit of political sovereignty; while the representatives of two nations with different official languages might speak each other's language perfectly well, it may be interpreted an act of subservience for one party to use the other party's native tongue, so sticking to their respective official languages keeps things neutral. In private, this trope is played straight.
    • Once invoked by then-French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at one meeting of The European Union Council of Ministers sometime in late 2008: after calling the meeting to ordernote , he basically said, "OK, everybody here speaks English. Take off those silly headphones and let's get to business."
    • This can also be for reasons of accuracy and media. For instance, German TV will likely show parts of their head of state's visit to the US, and they don't want to have to translate back for the German public. Also, translators, being well-trained, may be able to translate faster and more accurately than a politician who speaks a second language.
    • Also, statements at a press conference are official statements where every nuance can turn out to be important and the subject of thorough interpretation in the media and elsewhere, so unless politicians are very competent and confident expressing themselves in a second language, it is simply common sense to use a translator. A welcome side-effect is that having the question translated first gives a person more time to consider the answer. It also avoids becoming a laughing stock by accidentally declaring yourself a jelly doughnut, or the press falsely declaring you had done so as happened in that case.
    • Spain has three languages spoken in some regions (as well as Spanish in the whole country, of course). Figureheads and important people of those regions will use their regional languages as much as possible, even though they know Spanish. However, this extends to things such as restaurants having nearly a dozen dialects in their menus, because Spanish isn't agreed upon by everyone, and some would say was forced on themnote . Notably, some Catalans want to secede due to legitimate cultural differences, showing that this goes beyond trivial or unnecessary.
    • Shown in The Special Relationship biopic, Michael Sheen's Tony Blair has just been elected Prime Minister. His advisor tells him that the French President Jacques Chirac is on the line to congratulate him. Even though Chirac knows English, the advisor tells Blair that he'll probably speak French as a political statement. In response, Blair, who knows French, replies in English.
    • Especially for diplomatic and political situations, even if someone is otherwise fluent in a language, it is easy to fall behind in the second language, and misunderstand a metaphor or expression. At this level, such a misunderstanding can have serious political or diplomatic consequences. High-level translators are less likely to make these mistakes, and also function as a "buffer" — if a misunderstanding does occur, it is their fault, not the diplomat's, so they are protected from direct embarrassment.
    • Mexican politicians avert this trope: by custom in Mexican diplomacy, Mexican politicians are expected to speak English and use it when they travel to the U.S. or Canada for diplomatic reasons. While they could use translators, they normally use them when they need to correct their English or when that politician doesn't really speak English. Taken into account the historical grudges Mexico has against the U.S., this is mainly used as a way to show they're able to speak as equals with Americans and Canadians. This trope is still played straight when Mexican politicians has to speak with their British, Irish and Scottish peers, and just because by those countries' protocols they are ordered to do so, especially when speaking with the English royalty.
  • Like the diplomatic examples, translators are often used by people appearing in judicial courts or other official settings. They may be fluent enough to get by day-to-day usage in their non-native language, but worry that it's not enough for legal or other specialised usage.
  • Medical translators too are often required for people who are nominally fluent in a foreign language. You could be quite fine throughout normal life and not know the terms for the different types of cancers, conditions, or other specific medical terminology.
  • This trope hit Sergio Aragonés at least once. Aragonés had been booked for a convention in Texas, but the con staff took the running gags of Aragonés' inability to speak English from his comics (especially Groo the Wanderer) as the truth. They hired an interpreter to translate for Aragonés without realizing that he spoke very good English. However, Aragonés felt bad about the interpreter going home unpaid, and so he played along, letting the translator field questions, interpreting them into Spanish for Aragonés, who would reply in Spanish for the translator to relay to the congoers.
  • Subverted in the Chinese-US negotiations after the Hainan aircraft collision in 2001. The negotiations and all diplomatic drafts were done in English rather than Chinese. One reason for this was that the solution to this crisis was the "Letter of the Two Sorries". Using English allows the US say it was "very sorry" but to claim that this was not an apology and to allow the Chinese to claim that it was. Chinese is much more precise and would not allow for this sort of ambiguity.
  • Supposedly happened in the Scottish town of Stornoway. A member of the town's Pakistani community was a witness in a court case, and he insisted he only spoke Punjabi. A translator was found from the community, but he said he only spoke Punjabi and Scots Gaelic. So another translator had to be found who could translate from Gaelic to English. The story goes that it later transpired that all three men spoke all three languages, but objected to the case and wanted to wind the court up.
  • Invoked during the Cuban Missile Crisis by Ambassador Adlai Stevenson at the UN Security Council: "Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no — don't wait for the translation — yes or no?" Stevenson knew very well that Zorin could understand English, and just stalling by waiting for the Russian translation to play in his earpiece.
  • Princess Ruth Keelikolani of Hawai'i, who studied English in her youth, but as a protest to US hegemony over the islands refused to either speak or listen to English, communicating only in Hawai'ian for the rest of her life.
  • Happens in Canadian jurisdictions, frequently by Quebec politicians (usually separatists) who insist on talking only in French even if fluent in English, and by various First Nations people and Inuit who make a point of speaking only in their native language and demanding translation at public meetings. In the latter case, in meetings amongst themselves or in closed door meetings with others, almost universally the language spoken is English (except possibly for elders).
  • Apparently taken to extremes in the former Yugoslavia at least once: Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian are highly mutually intelligible, falling under what used to be called Serbo-Croatian with different dialects. In Bosnia, it is reported that one court trial ended up requiring an interpreter for "Bosnian to Croatian" for a trial held in a Croat-majority district. This is like requesting an interpreter for "English to Australian".
  • On a related note, even fluently bilingual people are often advised by their lawyers to request a translator for court appearances, on the grounds that one's ability to speak a second language can deteriorate under stress.
  • German band Rammstein did an interview for an American radio show once through a translator. When asked about the meaning behind one of their songs, they gave a long reply in German, which the translator struggled to find an appropriate English equivalent for. One of the band members gave a much shorter answer in English himself. The next time one of the band members was interviewed on that show, it was in English without a translator.
  • A lot of senior Polish military officers during World War II previously served in German or Austrian armed forces during World War I and spoke German fluently. However, in German captivity, many insisted on having translators. One example of this is Admiral Jozef Unrug, who was a high-ranking German navy officer during World War I and actually spoke Polish poorly when he was called upon to head the navy of reborn Poland. He never spoke a word of German in captivity, even when the Germans brought his old friends and colleagues from his days in German navy in attempt to gain his cooperation.
  • Averted in the 18th and 19th century Europe, when French was not only the language of international diplomacy, but the prestige language of all of Europe, with aristocrats of other nationalities communicating in French to each other even in private, it being an indicator of noble status and refined education. All of France's enemies during the Napoleonic Wars communicated and coordinated amongst themselves in French, the language of their enemy, as it was the one language they all understood.
  • In late 19th and early 20th centuries, many military officers were multilingual and could carry on Bilingual Dialogue. In some cases, however, this was abused as a point of insult. For example, in 1940, the British and French high commands were not especially cordial with each other, despite being allies. French general Maurice Gamelin, the supreme commander of the allied ground forces in France, had habit of holding joint meetings speaking only in French that was spoken so rapidly and peremptorily that even the bilingual British generals had trouble understanding.
  • In the United States, defendants generally have the right to a bilingual trial. Translators are expensive, and the few that work at the local government level are extremely busy. Defendants whose first language is not English can often get minor charges (parking tickets, disorderly conduct, etc.) dropped by demanding a translator, even if their English is perfectly fine.
  • Likewise in Ireland, under the Constitution everyone is entitled to conduct their business with the State in the first official language, which is Irish. However, the language is only spoken fluently by a small percentage of the population, and as a first language by a small minority, all of whom are bilingual in English. This trope came into play in 2008 in the Ó Maicín case, when a first-language Irish speaker insisted on his right to be tried without a translator or any use of the English language at all, and therefore to have his jury selected only from fluent Irish speakers (even though realistically everyone involved would also understand English). The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately decided his right to trial in his own language was less than the necessity of a truly random and representative (and therefore potentially monolingual English-speaking) jury. The case also raised the spectre of the Double Standard that the State did not officially treat competence in English as a requirement to be a juror, but was arguing Irish-speaking juries would require competence testing.
    • Similarly, one is entitled to deal with the police in Irish. Since all Gardaí are theoretically bilingual but in practice rarely so, only using Irish to a Garda has often been held up as a way to make them let you off for smaller infractions, rather than deal with the extra hassle of arresting or questioning you in Irish or finding another Garda who can. This can be somewhat of a high-stakes tactic though - on the one hand, you might get an officer who really does still have a good command of the language, and on the other, it's been known for officers to treat people who insist on Irish as troublemakers who are hiding something.
  • In Association Football, certain competitions such as the UEFA Champions League provide translators to press conferences regardless of whether the players or managers actually speak the languages that are going to be translated. This has caused some issues, such as when José Mourinho (a manager that began his career as a translator) openly criticized a translator during a press conference because his translation of Mourinho's words made no sense.
  • Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito, who had been born a citizen of Austria-Hungary spoke perfect German and the story goes that during a visit of East German leader Walter Ulbricht, Tito would frequently slip up with the Insistent Terminology the GDR regime was then using, namely to call the country "GDR" and not "East Germany" and after one such slip-up, Tito would interrupt his translator in German saying "Ich meinte natürlich die DDR" note 
  • Angela Merkel was a straight A student in the GDR and as such learned Russian in school (and got good grades in Russian, too) whereas Vladimir Putin was posted to Dresden as a KGB agent (he was an official of the agency in the open, not a clandestine operative.) in the 1980s and speaks enough German that he once gave a speech in German to the German parliament. Still, when the two meet in official capacities they'll have a translator and besides a few pleasantries will always speak their native language.
  • The 19th-century magician Chung Ling Soo was a darling of the British stage, but never spoke while performing, and had his translator introduce anything that needed to be said aloud. He also had the translator help when he was interviewed by the press. Why is that this trope? Because his real name was William Robertson, and he didn't even know any Chinese...
  • France, Germany, and Italy at the time of EU's founding (or, more accurately, European Coal and Steel Community that eventually morphed into EU) were all led by "Germans" who spoke the language more or less natively (their native German dialects would have been quite different, but all also received higher education where the language would have been standard German): Konrad Adenauer, the German leader, obviously, was a German. Robert Schuman, the French leader, was a Lorrainer (his father was from the part of Lorraine that became part of Germany after Franco-Prussian War, although Schuman himself was born in Luxembourg—but the part of Lorraine his father was from was just across the border from Luxembourg.) who was mostly educated in Germany and was starting a law practice in German-ruled Alsace when World War I broke out (and became French only when France retook Alsace after World War I—supposedly, he never lost his German accent even as a long-time French politician.); Alcide de Gasperi, the Italian leader, was a Tyroler who was educated mostly in Vienna and practiced law (and served as an MP) in Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I started (and became an Italian only after the war, like Schuman). Supposedly, this fact, and the fact that these men often discussed matters among themselves in German over beer, made others suspicious that ECSC was really a conspiracy of Catholic Germans (all three were also devout Catholics and were de facto founders of Christian Democratic movements in their respective countries) to recreate the Holy Roman Empire. Of course they spoke German, French, and Italian at the official meetings with the appropriate translators in attendance, but that was not where the important things got discussed by the leaders of the three big countries.
  • During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, French president Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to each other over the phone in English.