Follow TV Tropes


Faux Fluency

Go To

Sometimes, when a role in a film or TV show requires a character to speak in a certain language, and there are no suitable actors available that are fluent in it, one takes the actors available and have them learn their lines by rote, just sounding the words out phonetically. This creates an unusual situation where the actors who do this do not truly understand what their own characters are saying.

It can sound very grating to viewers who are fluent in the language the actor is attempting to speak, as they are extremely likely to mispronounce and have problems with intonation. As well, if the actor doesn't understand the language they're speaking, it's hard for them to sync up their body language and expressions, so their delivery and timing may seem stiff and awkward.

As well, sometimes vocalists sing a song in a language they don't speak. Some singers may have a few songs in a language they don't speak for artistic reasons, such as singing a Bossa Nova song in Portuguese. Some singers re-record a single that's originally in their native tongue in multiple languages to boost sales in other markets, or because another language market loves that singer. As well, some film producers with a film that will be marketed internationally in many different languages (with dubbed dialogue) have the soundtrack singer do the international tracks phonetically.

It's either this or As Long as It Sounds Foreign. Contrast Surprisingly Good Foreign Language.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Lagoon:
  • Jennifer in [C] – Control speaks English in several scenes when dealing with her superiors in another country. It's generally grammatically correct, but her pronunciation is very off. Made even worse when contrasted with her boss, who is voiced by someone fluent in English and pronounces everything properly.
  • Simon from Durarara!! has a conversation with a pair of Russian tourists in Russian and later one with Izaya. It is painfully obvious that none of their voice actors have any familiarity with Russian. Simon's speech is at least somewhat understandable, but Izaya's doesn't even register as Russian.
  • Free! has several scenes set in Sydney in which Rin speaks English with citizens (who are voiced by actual English speakers). Mamoru Miyano is very much this, although the English-speaking fanbase found it rather endearing.
  • Ohno's conversations with her American friends in the anime version of Genshiken.
  • Gunslinger Girl has the first ending and a number of scenes with Italian dialogue. Every time it's grammatically correct but with the pronunciation so off that actual Italians can mistake it for Japanese.
  • Inverted in Haikyuu!!. Protagonist Hinata is noted to be Book Dumb, particularly in English. His voice actor was actually born in California and is fluent. When Hinata (poorly) reads out a sentence in English in the Season 3 OVA, Murase had to put on a heavy accent.
  • Similarly to the Durarara!! example, Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing feature a lot of Russian-speaking characters. They do a fair job, but their accents are still very grating. Except Viola, whose voice actore is a native Russian.
  • When Yuko Miyamura was hired to voice the German-Japanese Asuka Langley Soryu in Neon Genesis Evangelion, she taught herself a little German. Unfortunately, she didn't know that Asuka wasn't going to speak more than a scene's worth of German in the anime. This is not the case with the English dub, where Tiffany Grant for Asuka already spoke German (and even improved the fluency of the character's dialogue).
  • Night Raid 1931 has many foreign languages being spoken in it, being a 1930s spy thriller set mainly in Shanghai. But whenever the main characters try to speak a foreign language, it is so obvious their voice actors are speaking phonetically. Aoi's Mandarin in the first episode is quite grating, and Kazura's German in a later episode is just as bad. However, background & one-shot foreign characters are played by native speakers. For example, the Chinese soldiers in the Nationalist camp in the first episode are definitely fluent speakers, and the Russian violinist in the second episode is acted by a native Russian (he even gets the upper-class drawl of the violinist correct). In episode 6, Big Bad Takachiho Isao holds a conference between representatives from nearly half a dozen Asian nations and everyone speaks heavily-accented English. Isao himself speaks some English when he kidnaps British diplomat Bulwer-Lytton, just with a thick accent.
  • The DVD Commentary for the English dub of Princess Tutu says that Chris Patton had to memorize Fakir's German spell in Akt 8 off of a recording one of the staff (that luckily knew German) prepared for him. Takahiro Sakurai likely had to do something similar.
  • In the second Rebuild of Evangelion, Kaji and Mari speak English. Mari does OK, but Kaji's accent is practically unintelligible without subtitles. Judging from some of the expressions on the faces of the people he's talking to, it's possible that the character's English is as bad as his actor's.
  • The English dub of Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- required Fai to speak French for a scene. Vic Mignogna could not master the French language, leaving the ADR Team to string together several phrases.

  • When Billy Crystal toured his standup routine in Russia, he began with a live 5-minute segment in Russian, in which he is otherwise ignorant.

  • Done in-universe in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Other Side of the Horizon. Applejack mistakes another zebra for Zecora and tries to talk to him, only for the zebra to respond with "I don't speak Equestrian". In Equestrian. His voice is described as stilted in a way that meant he'd probably learned the line phonetically.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Russian film And Quiet Flows the Don features as a minor character Mr. Campbell, a Briton with the Whites in the civil war, apparently as a liason. Mr. Campbell says the Bolsheviks will win. He says it in English with a thick Russian accent.
  • The climax of Arrival revolves around Amy Adams’s character Louise having to say a phrase in Mandarin. She doesn’t speak Mandarin and had to learn the phrase phonetically. She tried for two weeks to memorize it (Mandarin is notoriously hard for native English speakers) but inevitably taped index cards with the pronunciations on the wall of the room. At best her pronunciation is What the Hell Is That Accent?, at worst it’s unintelligible gibberish.
  • 1959 German film The Bridge has seven teenaged boys defending a bridge against attacking American soldiers. The American soldiers who call out to the boys speak with very odd accents, as they are German actors trying unsuccessfully to sound American.
  • In Charlie's Angels (2000), the angels speak in a "secret language" that is actually badly mangled Finnish. They had to subtitle the dialogue even in the Finnish edit of the film.
  • The 2002 motion picture Chicago featured a Hungarian inmate unable to speak anything but Hungarian. The role however was played by a Russian actress, Ekaterina Chtchelkanova, who most likely learned the lines phonetically. To a fluent Hungarian speaker the speech is muddled to the point of gibberish.
  • The City of Lost Children: Ron Perlman does not speak French and had to memorize all of his lines phonetically. That's a big issue considering he's a main character and speaks throughout the film. To deal with this, the director made his character mentally impaired and rewrote his lines in Hulk Speak. Suddenly, his broken French made perfect sense in context.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was in Mandarin, but many of its leads were Cantonese speakers. This is one of the reasons that it was received much more favorably internationally, by audiences who were oblivious to accent problems and had to read the subtitles.
  • Mark Wahlberg's few words of mangled Hebrew in Date Night make it clear that there's no way he could have actually understood his character's Israeli girlfriend played by pre-Wonder Woman Gal Gadot.
  • In the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), Keanu Reeves' Klaatu speaks to an elderly man (who is really an alien disguised in human form) in Mandarin Chinese. It's a valiant effort, but still pretty bad.
  • Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. He spent some time studying German to prepare for the role, but realized that he would never have time to master the language before filming started, so he decided to focus on getting the accent and speaking patterns right and not worrying about pronunciation. While his accent is reasonably convincing, in the few scenes where Hans Gruber speaks German to his henchmen, Rickman's pronunciations are virtually incomprehensible.
  • When he appeared as the title character in Dracula (1931), Bela Lugosi couldn't speak English very well yet and had to learn his lines phonetically. This makes his performance as Count Dracula quite a contrast with many of his later roles, where he spoke far more natural (though still heavily accented) English. Unusually, this is a case of it working in his performance's favor, as his stilted delivery and idiosyncratic speech patterns only make his character seem all the more inhuman.
  • On being handed the script for El Mariachi, Peter Marquardt who plays the Big Bad freaked out as he couldn't speak a word of Spanish. Since his character is an American drug boss who moved South of the Border and learnt bad Spanish, it didn't make much difference when Robert Rodriguez taught him to speak the lines phonetically.
  • For Golden Balls, Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros was not fluent in Spanish back then and had to do crash courses in the language, and learned some of her lines phonetically.
  • In an example combined with Same Language Dub, Gert Frobe played Goldfinger while speaking phonetically, as he was a German who didn't know English (though he spoke too slowly, and the footage had to be sped up for the dubbing).
  • Highlander: Although lead actor Christopher Lambert was born in New York and had already appeared in an English-language film (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes), he is a Frenchman and barely spoke any English. He had to learn the language quickly and learned his lines virtually phonetically. Luckily, he's supposed to have a muddled accent through most of the film.
  • Jan Vlasák's character (the Dutch businessman) in Hostel speaks English almost exclusively throughout the film, yet he had to memorise his lines phonetically since he doesn't speak a word of English. The German businessman who tortures Jay Hernandez is played by a Czech actor, while Hernandez (who is Mexican-American) pleads for his life in fluent German. Vlasák is Czech as well, making his English lines even more impressive as he speaks them in a perfect Dutch accent.
  • Most or all of the actors in Incubus, a horror movie in Esperanto starring William Shatner.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the man playing the Indian village shaman didn't speak a word of English. He delivered his lines by mimicking Steven Spielberg, who was prompting him off-camera. Spielberg also did hand actions while speaking the lines, which is why the shaman moves his hands across his forehead and such. Kate Capshaw also had to learn the entire song at the beginning in Mandarin.
  • Inglourious Basterds was a difficult movie to cast because Quentin Tarantino insisted on the multi-lingual dialogue being as close to perfect as possible, as a significant part of the film and underlying tension is based around language barriers. And long conversations discussing peculiarities of each others' accents. While Christoph Waltz really does speak the German, French, and English required of him, for the scene in which his character speaks Italian, he learned his lines phonetically. Luckily, the character's grasp of Italian is supposed to be much more limited.
  • The Interpreter avoided this by making up a language (Ku) and a country (Matobo).
  • The Korean drama Joint Security Area suffers from this; the UN investigator unraveling the mystery at the DMZ is a Korean actress playing a Swiss army officer who obviously learned her English lines phonetically.
  • Kill Bill: O-Ren Ishii is played by Lucy Liu, who doesn't speak Japanese, so her Japanese lines sound very off to a native speaker (though hers is still passable compared to the Bride's atrocious take of the language). O-Ren's English, on the other hand, is flawless, betraying Liu's American origin.
  • In the movie of The Kite Runner, some of the adult actors had to learn their lines in Farsi (also known as Dari). It's not painfully obvious because child actors who played young Amir and Hassan were native speakers, and they are the only characters really in the first half of the movie.
  • In Limitless, Bradley Cooper's character becomes an Omniglot after taking special pills. While Cooper speaks fluent French in real life, his Mandarin Chinese, during a scene where he speaks to a waiter at a Chinese restaurant is deliberately a complete gibberish.
  • The Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life has Angelina Jolie speak horribly-mangled Mandarin to a family living on a boathouse in Hong Kong. To make it even worse, Cantonese is the language of the region.
  • The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit:
    • All of the various actors who speak one of the conlangs from the original source material are faking fluency. They were coached by people who'd actually made themselves fluent in the fictional languages.
    • Phonetic pronunciations for the lyrics of the choral chanting given to a London-based choir, seemingly without any further indication. The transcription by necessity couldn't keep all the original phonemes distinct, and sometimes had blatant mistakes. Plus, the choir (and particularly the boy sopranos) had a non-rhotic English accent, and so tended to drop the R's after vowels (which are especially important in Quenya as plural markers).
  • For The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, the French character of Tzippé "Mamé" Schmoll was played by the American actress Janet Brandt. She didn't speak French, so she had to learn the role phonetically, hence she sounds off compared to everyone else.
  • Happened in The Mambo Kings as well. The trivia section at IMDB claims that "Antonio Banderas couldn't speak English when this movie was filmed, and thus performed all his lines phonetically (he became fluent around the time of Philadelphia). Armand Assante couldn't speak Spanish, and thus performed all his lines phonetically."
  • Peter Lorre reportedly had to learn his English lines phonetically during The Man Who Knew Too Much and some of his other, early English language roles; there's a famous anecdote that he landed his role in that movie by laughing at Alfred Hitchcock's jokes even though he didn't understand him.note  By the time he moved to Hollywood in the '40s, Lorre was more or less a fluent English speaker and even played a few roles without his signature Austro-Hungarian accent.
  • Gong Li (Chinese) learned her lines phonetically for Memoirs of a Geisha, where she plays a Japanese woman.
  • Russell Wong had to learn his lines in Mandarin for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor phonetically, because even though he is ethnic Chinese, he was born and raised in the States.
  • In OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, Jean Dujardin, who doesn't speak Arabic, sings Bambino in Arabic. Of course in this case the character doesn't speak Arabic either, as part and parcel of his Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist schtick.
  • Doug Jones (who played the part of the faun in Pan's Labyrinth) was the only American on the set and the only one who didn't speak Spanish. He had to memorize his own lines in Spanish and also Ivana Baquero's (Ofelia's) lines so he knew when to speak his next line. Unfortunately, the servos in the Pan suit that made the facial expressions and ears move were so loud, he couldn't hear her speak, and his accent wasn't good enough anyway; they later had a native speaker re-dub his lines.
  • The Pink Panther (1963) featured the Italian-language song "Meglio Stasera". It was performed by American singer-actress Fran Jeffries, who learned the lyrics phonetically.
  • Michael Caine had to speak a few lines of French in The Quiet American where he played a journalist that had been living in French Indochina (Vietnam) for years when the movie begins. His French is horrible - his first line "Pyle est mort" (Pyle is dead) is near unintelligible. How much of this is intended to be in-character is debatable, as his character in the novel is fluent in French, but this particular adaptation makes few changes to the novel's plot and character motivations.
  • Legendary Danish monster movie Reptilicus was originally done entirely with Danish actors speaking English phonetically. The producer didn't believe they were incomprehensible until he played it for some Americans. He then had it redubbed with native English speakers.
  • The Rose Tattoo was the first English-language film (not counting a few bits of Gratuitous Italian) for Anna Magnani. Tennessee Williams wrote the part of Serafina in the original play with her in mind, but she wasn't fluent enough for the American stage. Edith Head, the film's costume designer, found it easiest to talk with her in French.
  • James Hong struggles through most of his Mandarin lines as a Triad mob boss in Safe (2012), maybe because he was born in America, moved to Hong Kong for his early education, and moved back when he was ten.
  • The Shape of Water cast British actress Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, who is mute and uses American Sign Language to communicate. While non-signers likely couldn't distinguish a difference, it was obvious to those native or fluent in ASL that her signing is actually quite terrible.
  • In Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, only John Barrowman and a tiny handful of his costars spoke English. All the other actors are from Bulgaria (where the movie was filmed) and had to memorize their lines.
  • Shin Godzilla: Actress Satomi Ishihara was cast as American government liaison Kayoko Ann Patterson, but didn't speak English and had to learn her lines phonetically, resulting her speaking English with a thick Japanese accent that many Western viewers complained about.
  • Sarah Fukumachi in Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue is supposed to be an American CIA agent, but she was played by Kiyomi Tsukada, a Japanese actress. Whenever Sarah tries to speak English, it becomes extremely obvious that Tsukada is not actually from America.
  • Takashi Miike's spaghetti-western tribute Sukiyaki Western Django is cast entirely with Japanese actors speaking English lines, many of whom appear to be speaking phonetically. It's made worse by the fact that some are even trying to affect cowboy drawls. Subtitles are fairly necessary.
  • Several actors in Syriana had to do this: George Clooney does not speak either Farsi or Arabic, but had to converse in both, and Alexander Siddig, whose character Prince Nasir speaks Arabic almost exclusively for the first half of the film, speaks no Arabic whatsoever- he is of Sudanese extraction but grew up in London.
  • Although Jackie Chan does have a very strong grasp of conversational English, he's not completely fluent, and most of the (English speaking) films he makes feature his characters speaking much more naturally and easily than he himself can due to Chan speaking his lines phonetically often without understanding what they even mean (particularly in his earlier films). One outtake for one of the Rush Hour films features him making fun of Chris Tucker for being unable to pronounce his three words of Cantonese after having made fun of Chan's English.
  • Viggo Mortensen has, by rote, spoken Russian, Japanese, the Sioux dialect Lakota, and Sindarin, although nobody is quite certain of the accent of the last one as it's one of the languages created by J. R. R. Tolkien. He also did few roles in French (most notably Far From Men) and Spanish, but is fluent in both - and Far From Men even provided an in-universe example why his French is slightly off, as his character is a descendant of the Spanish settlers, while his Arabic in that movie is also in-character bad, as the character has a rather poor grasp of it, applying What the Hell Is That Accent? in-unverse.
  • Happened in the French movie Wasabi: the female lead is Japanese, and didn't speak a word of French, so she had to memorise all her lines. This does, however, fit her character, as she's a Japanese teen with some grasp of French.
  • When violent protests forced Indian director Deepa Meptha to shoot her film Water in Sri Lanka, the main character, who was only eight years old, ended up being played by a local girl who had to learn all her lines phonetically. Stunningly well.
  • X2: X-Men United had Alan Cumming portrait the German mutant Nightcrawler. While his German accent is spot-on, the lines he had in actual German sound rather strange to a native speaker.
  • Some of the early Hal Roach talkies starring Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, etc. were filmed in multiple foreign language versions for the European market. Often, the secondary characters would be replaced with native speakers, but the stars would learn their parts phonetically. Improvement of dubbing and subtitling techniques eventually made this cumbersome process obsolete.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Awaken: Lee Chung-ah (South Korean) plays Jamie Leighton (born in South Korea, raised in America). The result is Jamie's English is much more stilted than you'd expect from someone who grew up in America.
  • When filming Blackadder Back and Forth, Stephen Fry wasn't able to learn his Roman centurion's Latin lines by rote and had to read them off an "idiot board". That's right, Stephen Fry is not fluent in Latin - sorry to ruin your expectations.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the writers translated an entire scene in one episode to (mostly) correct Swedish. They planned on dubbing over the scene with native speakers, but Abraham Benrubi and Emma Caulfield learned their lines and read them without any coaching. Whedon decided to leave their performance intact, though Swedish speakers would find it hard to pick up more than a few words here and there.
  • Grissom on CSI is observed several times speaking sign language, as his character has a deaf mother, and it's a plot point in the early seasons that he's going deaf himself. Will Peterson, the actor playing him, had to learn the signs by rote, as he didn't know the language. Reportedly he did such a good job doing it that fans have gone up to him and attempted to sign to him, only to be confused when he confessed to not understanding it. Interestingly, one episode with a deaf schoolteacher tells Grissom his sign language is a little rusty, possibly as an In-Universe justification for any flubs the actor makes.
  • On one episode of Dollhouse, Echo was briefly given an imprint of a Russian girl. Eliza Dushku's attempt at Russian was better than expected, but she fumbled with pronunciation and inflection.
  • Firefly:
    • The American/Canadian cast had to do this to learn how to say their Mandarin profanities. (In the commentary, Nathan Fillion recounts the problem that the language tapes were a calm dictation, while they were trying to apply while acting with emotion, and something would get lost in the process.)
    • The announcers for the Fruity Oaty Bars commercial from Serenity painstakingly practiced the pronunciation of the product's English name, but it's as mangled as the Mandarin.
  • Heroes: James Kyson Lee is Korean-American and does not actually speak Japanese. He did extensive work with dialect coaches to get a convincing accent on both the Japanese and English dialogue. One of the episode commentaries includes him observing that now he sounds fluent, but the only Japanese phrases he knows are ones that will never come up in conversation.
  • Chinese sitcom I Love My Family cast Swedish foreign exchange student Simone Goetz (later of "Shitty Robot" fame) as the new American girlfriend of a character. She barely spoke Mandarin and had to learn her lines virtually phonetically, which caused filming to become a huge fiasco. Even when the show mercifully allows her to just speak English, her Swedish accent is obvious. Interestingly, in the video she recorded about the experience many years later, her Swedish accent has virtually vanished.
  • Fictional example: The Kids in the Hall features a sketch in which a shopkeeper (Dave Foley) does not understand English, but can flawlessly recite several English statements explaining his lack of understanding. This, of course, befuddles a man trying to speak to him. "I'm sorry, I'd love to be of assistance, but I'm afraid I speak no English."
  • Killing Eve: Jodie Comer's French is... passable but her pronunciation and intonation are way off. There is not a chance that she would pass for someone that actually lives in Paris and is understood right away by French people.
  • Lost:
    • Daniel Dae Kim was raised in America and had not spoken Korean with any regularity in many years, but the role required him to speak it almost exclusively as a native speaker. Ironically, his character's wife, who is fluent in English, is played by the Korean actress Yunjin Kim, who speaks English as a second language with a real Korean accent. She helped Daniel Dae Kim relearn Korean for the role, while her character helps his character learn English in the show.
    • Naveen Andrews does not actually speak Arabic, but Sayid does in flashbacks.
    • Mark Pellegrino, as Jacob, does a quite average job at speaking Korean to Jin and Sun in the Season 5 finale. Despite this, Jin and Sun reflect that his Korean is 'excellent.'
  • The Man in the High Castle:
    • Most of the Japanese characters are played by Japanese-Americans who speak Japanese fluently. However, Joel de la Fuente, playing Chief Inspector Kudo, has no Japanese ancestry and does not speak the language, so he must learn his Japanese lines phonetically. This is lampshaded in one episode where he laments that he's spent so long in America that his Japanese has developed an American accent.
    • Some of the German characters speak German as native speakers, but most either have accents or clearly just speak the lines phonetically. This is dodged with the main Nazi character, John Smith, being an American-born turncoat to the Nazi regime who admits that his German isn't very good.
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: It is pretty obvious in the season 2 Paris segment, that Marin Hinkle does not speak French as well as one can expect from a francophile woman that spent part of her youth in Paris.
  • Japanese director Takashi Miike's Masters of Horror contribution, "Imprint", was filmed in English for American television, yet he only cast one American. The rest of the Japanese cast learned their lines phonetically, with the exception of the female lead, who was already fluent.
  • In Moon Knight (2022), Arthur Harrow claims that everyone in his enclave is fluent in at least three languages and speaks a bit of Mandarin to demonstrate. Ethan Hawke's attempt at speaking the language was criticized over how he mangled the pronunciation and didn't even attempt to use proper tones.
  • The entire reason why Jeff Altman was forced to cohost Pink Lady and Jeff was because the titular band could not speak a word of English; the members (Mie and Kei) learned their lines and songs phonetically... and it showed strongly. There are instances where their dialogue is unintelligible, and the guest stars that they greet look on awkwardly before delivering their rehearsed lines. The show lasted just six episodes, of which only five made it prior to cancellation.
  • One episode of Scrubs had a patient say, "I lived in Kyoto for about five years" in Japanese. She clearly didn't spend those five years learning the language.
  • Yoko Shimada knew very little English when cast as Mariko in the 1980s miniseries Shogun and relied heavily on acting coaches to learn her lines. Filming took so long that by the end of filming she was much more fluent and able to do her lines with little trouble. Ironic since she was playing a translator.
  • Daniel Jackson from Stargate SG-1 is said to be fluent in 23 languages and is shown speaking English, Ancient Egyptian, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin Chinese and German (not to mention the made-up languages) in the show. He also appeared to have knowledge of Welsh. Presumably, Michael Shanks is not fluent in all of these languages. Additionally, any of the actors playing Goa'uld who speak Ancient Egyptian or other older languages feature this trope as well.
  • Young Sheldon: In "A Clogged Pore, a Little Spanish and the Future", when Georgie wants to go with Wade to Mexico to buy cigarettes, Connie tests Wade by asking him "Where can I find some cigarettes?" in Spanish. All Wade can say is "Sí."
  • The X-Files:
    • "Hell Money", set in San Francisco's Chinatown, has a number of Asian performers playing Cantonese-speaking Chinese immigrants with varying degrees of credibility. Lucy Liu has said that although she speaks Mandarin, she was thrown for a loop when she saw her role called for Cantonese and was forced to perform lines phonetically. Michael Yama, who played her father, was Japanese-American and similarly struggled to nail the dialect; he ultimately decided to re-record his dialogue in post-production to avoid errors on set. James Hong and B.D. Wong fare better, since they had some Real Life experience with Cantonese.
    • "Triangle" features a World War II flashback with several of the characters (Cigarette-Smoking Man, Skinner and Jeffrey Spender) as Nazis speaking German. William B. Davis and Chris Owens did not speak a word of German and had to learn their lines from a language tape. On the other hand, Mitch Pileggi has a good command of German from his time living in Munich as a teenager and his dialogue is reasonably well-done, though he's obviously not a native speaker.

  • There's nobody alive who would believe you if you said Koda Kumi wasn't taught the English translation of her song "Real Emotion" (from the Final Fantasy X-2 soundtrack) by being locked in a room with a dictionary and a tutor. English-fluent Jade from Sweetbox was eventually given the song.
  • The French-Canadian singer Céline Dion learned to sing her first batch of English-language songs this way.
  • Ritchie Valens' La Bamba. He was a Mexican-American who grew up speaking English.
  • Same for Selena, except she was from South Texas instead of the San Fernando Valley.
  • Many opera singers learn their music phonetically, as most opera is in French, German, or Italian; even if they speak one of the languages, knowing all three is rare. As well, some operas are in English or Russian, adding extra challenges if singers don't speak those languages. For this reason, opera singers are very often conversant with the International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • Choral singers often sing in languages they don't know, especially in Latin. Because most of the texts are liturgical, however, there is enough repetition that they eventually know what they're singing.
  • Stephen Colbert did this in his song "He's Singing In Korean."
  • The Beatles did this when they were required to do German versions of two of their songs (the producer not realising that they did not speak German).
  • Agnetha and Anni-Frid spoke no English when they began singing with ABBA, and had to learn the lyrics this way.
  • Supposedly, the Dutch band Shocking Blue learned the English lyrics of "Venus" that way.
  • Megadeth's Dave Mustaine did this in "A Tout Le Monde", but was smart enough to consult an actual French person to make sure he got the lyrics right. He also did it in the Spanish versions of "Trust" and "Promises".
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a Japanese version of his song "Jurassic Park" without learning the language.
  • David Byrne learned the French lines in "Psycho Killer" phonetically. He'd translated them into that language with the help of his bandmate Tina Weymouth, who does speak it.

  • Kaho Shimada, who played Eponine in the Tokyo production of Les Misérables, didn't speak any English when she was asked to sing for the Complete Symphonic Recording (which is, of course, in English). She learned all of her songs phonetically, and overall sounded great, even managing a bit of a lower-class English accent in the process.
  • Over the last few years, there have been several actors from non-German-language productions of Tanz Der Vampire recreating their roles in Germany; most, if not all of them, have had to learn their roles phonetically.

    Video Games 
  • For Assassin's Creed II, the non-Italian voice actors were coached by native Italians. They do, however, have every Italian in the game use the same dialect, which was not the case during that time period. We can chalk this up to the Animus 2.0, though.
  • The Announcer Chatter for Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium, as performed by radio DJ Hiroaki Asai. If you listen closely, it's clear from his random pausing and inflections that he's not a native speaker of English, but his annunciation is quite good overall and his being a Large-Ham Announcer makes up for everything as a whole.
  • In all versions of Deep Fear for the Sega Saturn, the characters speak entirely in English. This includes the Japanese company representative Ken Fujiyama, voiced by Japanese actor Shingo Hiromori, whose extremely thick accent and strange line readings indicate that he learned all of his dialog phonetically.
  • Fallout 3:
    • In general, the Chinese characters in pronounce and inflect their lines too badly to be intelligible to the typical Chinese-speaking player.
    • Then there's the 18th-century samurai in the "Mothership Zeta" DLC. You can't understand him at all, even if you happen to know the language. Unfortunately, the subtitles are transliterations of his words, which means you can't even put them through a Japanese-English translator. Then again, a modern Japanese person would have a hard time understanding someone from 18th-century speaking their period language.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, there are a few scenes where Niko speak his native Serbian, which is grammatically correct but obviously pronounced phonetically.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, Indy's attempt at speaking Chinese is pretty miserable and, quite glaringly, some of the characters who are meant to be ethnic Chinese in the game get quite a lot of the pinyin tones wrong. Both are regarded as native-level fluent in-universe, and Indy even pulls off a Bilingual Backfire that, in real life, sounds rote-learned at BEST and incomprehensible gibberish at worst.
  • Nearly happened in Metal Gear Solid 3 — Akio Ohtsuka was more than willing to do all the Russian dialogue in rote-learned Russian, but the supporting cast revolted.
  • The Playstation 3 reboot of Siren at least seems that the token Japanese Herovillain's English is simply being read off a script, and the speaker doesn't understand a word of it. Or if he does, he must have one hell of a speech impediment.
  • An awful, awful attempt at speaking Russian was made by Boris in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines.
  • World of Warcraft has had varying results when it comes to portraying the indigenous languages. The worst case is arguably the blood elves, whose voice actors pronounce every word of their language with a very clear American accent.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: The Red Team's robot, Lopez, can only speak Spanish. None of Rooster Teeth's staff can speak Spanish, though, so his dialogue is written in English, run through online translators, and then read out by the voice actor. The overall accuracy of the Spanish is about what you'd expect. Of course, as the character is a robot, the absence of an accent and the flat delivery make some in-universe sense.

    Western Animation 
  • Clarence Nash, original voice actor for Donald Duck used phonetic scripts in order to dub the character in any language needed so that the character's Speech Impediment would be internationally known.
  • Family Guy featured an episode with ten or so Thai women escaping from various places in Quagmire's garage while Quagmire shouts at them in Thai; Seth MacFarlane (Quagmire's voice actor) was taught phrases in Thai by one of the writers (Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, who speaks it fluently and provided the voices for every one of the girls). This is pointed out in the commentary, which goes on to say that it's almost certainly self-deprecating humor.
  • Asami "Sam" Koizumi from Young Justice (2010) is a young girl from Japan, but her Japanese sounds very broken. Her voice actress, Janice Kawaye is fluent in Japanese, so it's possible that the writers made some errors.

    Real Life 
  • Tara Strong, who as a youth, performed in Yiddish theatre without any fluency in the language, by learning her lines phonetically. This caused some confusion when the old ladies there tried to tell her (in Yiddish!) how much they loved her.
  • Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's marshals, became king of Sweden (and later Norway) but never learned Swedish except for a few random words. His speeches were always written phonetically, but apparently no one understood them anyway.
  • Pope Benedict XVI was known in Poland for occasionally blessing the pilgrims in Polish. The texts of blessings were written for him phonetically in German. Still, it's nice of him, even if he did that only due to the previous pope being Polish.
  • Lots of Jewish kids go to Hebrew school in preparation for their Torah reading at their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but never even approach conversational levels before dropping out afterwards.
  • Muslims often do this, as obligatory prayers must be done entirely in Classical Arabic. This results in non-Arabs doing rote memorization. Also, there are stories about lost pilgrims in Mecca trying to get some help by reciting few phrases they remember from the Qur'an. Their pronunciations are passable, but their vocabulary... Hilarity Ensues.
  • Apparently Barack Obama made an ad in Spanish even though he doesn't speak that language, just with a good ear and a little help from his assistants.
  • It's normal for infomercials to be aired in a different language to the one it was filmed in; typically they use a dub in the new language over the original video using a native speaker. Vince Offer (who is Israeli) was presumably so confident (or arrogant) about his ability as the next Billy Mays that he attempted to sell ShamWow cloths in a language he can't even speak.
  • John F. Kennedy did practice his famous line, "Ich bin ein Berliner!" with the help of a note where this sentence was written down phonetically.
  • Contrary to a common misconception, Pakistan's National Anthem is in Urdu, an official language of the country alongside English. However, the lyrics are in classical Urdu rather than the form of the language spoken by modern Pakistanis. While the lyricist carefully selected the words to ensure that they were valid in Urdu, the vast majority are similar to Farsi words, and many of those are identical in the two languages; only one word in the entire anthem is exclusive to Urdu. At the time of adoption, most educated Pakistanis were fluent in Farsi (somewhat like how many educated Westerners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries could speak French). Today... not so much. So most Pakistanis learn it phonetically.
  • Singapore's national anthem is in Malay. While its Malay minority speaks it natively, most Singaporeans are ethnic Chinese, and English is the main language of instruction and government, so most in the present day aren't fluent in Malay like their former countrymen across the causeway. That's why it was written to be so simple that, in the words of a former Deputy PM, "anyone over the age of five, unless mentally retarded, had no difficulty singing the anthem".
    • Also, you kinda have to sing it in Malay if you don't want a $1000 fine.
  • The Irish national anthem is almost always sung in Irish. However despite years of (terrible) schooling most Irish people do not speak anything close to fluent Irish. As a result it is often sung in a very muddled though usually comprehensible dialect. As Irish is an official language it is often used in some government speeches with mixed results. Most do not need a phonetic guide however as Irish people can usually read and understand Irish orthography even if they don't speak the language.
  • Idahosa Ness raps in 4 languages he doesn't actually speak. He did this through careful phonetic memorization.