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Reality Has No Subtitles

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"For those of you who don't speak French, he just said (Beat) something in French."
Horrible Histories' take on William I's coronation speech

Something should be subtitled for the audience to be reasonably expected to understand it, but it isn't.

This may be used to make a point of the Language Barrier — our viewpoint character can't understand what's being said, so neither can we, forcing us to empathise with their confusion or isolation. If this is the case, a bit of Translation Convention may come into play, with languages the character does understand being subtitled.

Compare Fun with Subtitles. This is related to Bilingual Bonus and Viewers Are Geniuses. Compare and contrast Even the Subtitler Is Stumped, when subtitles are attempted but impossible due to comic unintelligibility.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet:
    • The series invokes this for the audience in early episodes. When the current point-of-view character cannot understand what the other side is saying, the speaker's voice actor speaks unintelligible pseudo-gibberish instead of Japanese/English, switching back to the latter only when the POV shifts back to them.
    • Ledo and the people of Gargantia don't understand each other at first, until Chamber learns enough of the native language to act as interpreter. This manifests as "Reality Has Subtitles", by virtue of Chamber displaying his translations on a hologram in front of Ledo's face.
    • The Commie fansub group also invoked this trope in their subtitles: dialogue from unintelligible characters is subtitled with either Wingdings characters (for Gargantia's crew) or bar code (for Ledo) instead of readable English.
  • Tokyo Godfathers: The Hispanic characters speak in very real Spanish, but since Miyuki can't understand what they say, there are no subtitles.

    Comic Books 
  • Alan Moore used this in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, featuring untranslated Chinese, Arabic, French and Martian. The "Martian" is actually just heavily stylized English letters readable in a mirror. Many of his other works also feature this to a lesser extent.
  • In a How To Get Fired comic strip about Doctors, the man who always gets fired is the only one with a speech bubble in actual words, saying "improve our handwriting?", as all the other Doctors' speech bubbles are illegible scribbles.
  • After Hawkeye loses his hearing, there are often multiple, consecutive panels with clear action occurring, but no dialogue bubbles to emphasize that Clint can not hear the world around him. There are also sequences of un-subtitled panels with Clint and his brother, Barney, signing. It is not until Barney relays the message to the other characters that the audience is informed what the signs meant.
    • In one particular scene, Clint is engaged in battle and he and the villain are bantering back and forth. Clint is struck in the head and his hearing aid is damaged beyond use. Subsequent panels show continued action, but no further dialogue is included until Clint is able to get a back up hearing aid.
    • A Halloween-themed comic features Clint interacting with tricker treaters. Because of his costume, Clint is not wearing his hearing aid. The reader is shown panels where children are clearly talking to Clint, but no dialogue bubbles are included. Finally, Clint tells one tricker treater that he is not wearing his hearing aid and he can't read lips because of the halloween masks people are wearing.
    • Deadpool pulls up the portion of his mask that usually covers his mouth when talking to Clint so Clint can read his lips. He also signs which appear to be a series of lewd gestures, but it's unsure as the signs are not subtitled.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 
  • Márgu and her family from Klaus (2019) are Sámi and speak entirely in their native language, which remains untranslated even if you turn the subtitles on. In one interview, the director mentions that the actress they got for Márgu didn't speak English, so they had to do the whole recording session through translators.
  • In Sing, we have the J-Pop-singing female red panda group who want to be contestants; they only speak Japanese which isn’t subtitled. Later Buster attempts to communicate with them with an English-to-Japanese dictionary. He ends up accidentally offending them and they leave, leaving most audience members, except those who are fluent in Japanese, clueless as to what they are saying.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:
    • Miles is an Afro-Latino teenager and the film shows both English and Spanish being spoken in his household. However, the Spanish-language conversations between Miles and his mother Rio aren't accompanied by subtitles. This was an intentional choice by producer and co-writer Phil Lord, who wanted to accurately represent the fabric of Miles' community and family life to the audience. The DVD/Bluray release honors the creator's intention so that when the movie is watched with subtitles on, the Spanish dialogue is displayed in Spanish.
    • The closest thing to subtitles that's used is the introduction of Scorpion, who speaks Spanish translated by an onscreen speech bubble, complete with brackets and a footnote explaining the translation. This alludes to the same practice in comics.
  • In Turning Red, Abby's angry rambles in Korean are not subtitled. Neither is the Cantonese chanting performed by Mei's family members during the sealing rituals.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph Q*bert's speech is that of the videogames, even when Felix is using it. The rest of the Nicelanders are clueless behind.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Saving Private Ryan:
    • None of the German army's dialogue gets subtitled, making everything a Bilingual Bonus instead. It turns fairly harsh during one particular scene where two Czech soldiers are surrendering to American soldiers, shouting that they didn't kill anyone. But since the Americans can't understand what they're saying, they shoot the Czech soldiers point-blank and kill them, then mock the Czech soldiers as Nazis.
    • An American squad runs into a French family later on, and the French dialogue also goes untranslated. It takes the help of a Translator Buddy who knows French to make sense of what the family wants.
  • In Mr. Bean's Holiday, that Russian kid and the man's short film. Anything that Mr. Bean can't understand is untranslated, but thankfully rather irrelevant to the story.
  • Half of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, i.e. whenever Cristina and/or Vicky are around the Spanish who don't speak English.
  • The Guns of Navarone has many scenes where characters speak in non-English languages with no translation.
    • Captain Mallory talks on the phone in German with the Nazi guard commander while pretending to be a Nazi sentry.
    • When the Nazi E-boat stops the fishing boat the protagonists are on, Captain Mallory pretends to be the skipper and speaks in Greek to both the E-boat captain and his own crew.
    • The wedding scene.
      • The waiter speaks in Greek to one of the German soldiers.
      • A German soldier speaks in German to his comrades.
      • Spyros Pappadimos sings a Greek wedding song in Greek.
    • When the party arrives at the monastery, Maria speaks to the priest in Greek.
    • When the group pretends that their vehicle is broken down so they can steal another one, Captain Mallory talks to the soldiers in German.
    • In the scene where the Germans are interrogating Major Franklin, the Commandant and Sessler speak to each other in German. Later on, the surgeon who will operate on Franklin speaks in German to the Commandant.
    • When Captain Mallory kills the two sentries, the sentries talk to each other in German several times.
    • When the Commandant receives the message that the Guns have been captured by the saboteurs, he and his officers speak to each other in German.
  • Force 10 from Navarone:
    • Yugoslav characters speaking to each other in Serbo-Croatian without translation.
      • When Captain Lescovar (AKA Nicolai) argues with one of his subordinates about whether to kill Mallory and Barnsby.
      • When a young Chetnik boy tells Captain Drazak about the fake Chetniks with bandages covering their faces.
      • The Partisan named Marco, while talking on the phone with Partisan headquarters.
    • German soldiers talking to each other in German without any translation for the audience.
      • When the German soldiers are starting their search for the Force Ten soldiers who parachuted from the bomber.
      • When the German soldiers are marching the Force Ten soldiers to their Firing Squad execution.
      • In the German supply depot, a German sergeant gives orders to other German soldiers.
      • At the bridge, German soldiers talk to each other before and during the attack at the climax of the film.
    • The German guards and workers on the dam talk to each other in untranslated German in several scenes.
    • During the airdrop, The Mole Nicolai talks to the approaching Nazi bomber pilot in untranslated German.
    • While Miller and Mallory are at the supply depot.
      • Both Lescovar and a German soldier speak to them in German which is not translated.
      • A German guard speaks to Colonel Barnsby and other German soldiers in German without translation.
  • The Matrix Reloaded:
    • While the Merovingian is giving his speech about how French is his favorite language, he speaks a long phrase in French (which is actually a string of curse words) with no translation.
    • After Persephone helps Neo, Morpheus and Trinity rescue the Keymaker, the Merovingian shows up and curses her in French for betraying him.
  • The Shaw Brothers kung fu film Duel of Fists and it's sequel, The Angry Guest, is set respectively in Thailand and Japan. None of the dialogue in either film is subtitled, especially in the latter when the Yakuza and their underlings have lengthy conversations in untranslated Japanese, which doesn't matter since it's not relevant to the plot anyway.
  • Lost in Translation is heavy handed in this, but it works for the movie's story. When two Americans are stuck in Japan for different reasons, and can't speak the native language, they start to feel very isolated, especially in a culture so foreign for them. Having characters speak in Japanese without offering any subtitles emphasizes the isolation both of them feel, and how alien it could be in that world without anyone around to communicate with.
  • As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me, a German film about a runaway POW going through Soviet Union on foot, does it to present the level of isolation the main character is feeling. As Clemens understanding of Russian is very limited, only the bits that get through are presented as German dialogues to the audience. Everything else is left untranslated and covers a hefty amount of various languages. This means almost two hours of incomprehensible dialogues. Unfortunately, most of translations and subtitles to other languages cover all of dialogues, ruining the effect.
  • The Snow Walker starring Barry Pepper has Charlie, his character, speaking only English and Kanaalaq, the Inuit woman he's stranded with, speaking only Inuit. Not a single word is covered in subtitles early on and they spend most of the running time learning each other's language. The resulting pidgin is still left with no subtitles.
  • It is famously used in The Third Man to emphasize how totally out of his area the American main character is when he visits Vienna.
  • Bon Cop, Bad Cop could walk this line, depending on the version you're watching. (The film is 'bilingual', dealing with a Quebec cop and an Ontario cop.) For the English version, though, the scene with the French coroner is untranslated and passes by quickly. The French cop later admits he didn't understand what was said, either.
  • Star Wars:
    • Throughout the franchise, Chewbacca and R2-D2 are comprehensible mainly to only their counterparts, Han Solo and C-3PO. Their speech is never directly translated for the audience, though other characters' responses can provide clues.
    • In A New Hope, the Sandpeople talk to each other in their own language with no transation for the audience.
  • Return of the Jedi:
    • When C-3PO talks with Bib Fortuna, Jabba the Hutt's Twi'lek majordomo, C-3PO makes an introduction in an untranslated language. After this, everything he says is in English and Bib Fortuna's responses are in the same language, also untranslated.
    • When Luke Skywalker arrives at Jabba's palace, he talks with Bib Fortuna in English, and Fortuna responds in an untranslated language to him. On the other hand, subtitles aren't needed when Luke puts a Jedi Mind Trick on Fortuna.
    Luke: (waves a hand) You will take me to Jabba now.
    Fortuna: (in Huttese) I will take you to Jabba now.
    • The Ewoks are incomprehensible to all but some of the characters who share the screen with them. (Their language is actually the Jawa language reused for the film.)
    • Nien Nunb, Lando's co-pilot on the Millenium Falcon, speaks in an alien language with no translation for the audience. (Kipsang Rotich, the Kenyan voice actor, spoke his lines in Kalenjin and Kikuyu. This made Nien Nunb very popular with African audiences, for whom this was a Bilingual Bonus.)
  • Done to quite an irritating extent in The Star Wars Holiday Special, where the first chunk of the special is a family of Wookies speaking to each other without subtitles nor with an outside English-speaking character to react to them.
  • In Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Ghost Dog's best friend is a French-speaking ice cream seller who isn't subbed because Ghost Dog doesn't understand the language.
  • For The Passion of the Christ, the original plan was to have no subtitles during the whole film. Remember, the entire film is in Aramaic and Latin. This idea was scrapped.
  • In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar signs that Will should ask Caroline out to dinner. This is left untranslated as Caroline can't understand the signs used.
  • In the 1982 film The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, Edward James Olmos plays the title character and speaks in untranslated Spanish throughout the film. This was done at Olmos's suggestion to emphasize the isolation Cortez felt as a Mexican outlaw in south Texas during the early 20th century.
  • In The Hobbit, Elvish speech is subtitled in all instances but one: when the dwarves arrive in Rivendell, Elrond (after speaking with Gandalf) looks at them and says something in Elvish. The dwarves (who don't speak Elvish, as Elves vs. Dwarves is in full effect) bristle and ask if he offers them insults, but Gandalf quickly intervenes and says he's offering them supper. Of course, Elrond speaks the Common Speech just fine, so he's probably just messing with them.
  • The Peacemaker has long segments of untranslated Russian dialog, which subtitles helpfully refer to as "[Men speaking in Russian]".
  • Hudson Hawk:
    • While Hudson is making a phone call in Italy, the operator speaks to him in Italian several times before turning him over to the AT&T overseas operator. None of her statements are translated.
    • While Hudson is ordering food at a restaurant, he speaks in Italian. At the end of the order, he asks for some ketchup and the waiter walks away complaining about the uncultured American. None of their Italian dialogue is subtitled.
  • The independent Russian film The Cuckoo is entirely about this: A Finnish man and a Russian man are stranded together in the wilderness with a local woman. All three can only speak and understand their native language, guessing what the others are saying through body language and emotions. The DVD release gave the option to watch with or without subtitles, though it's understandable without them—even if what they're saying is not entirely clear that way.
  • Red Tails has some fun with this. Since there's a Language Barrier between Lightning and his girlfriend Sofia, her Italian is un-subtitled. At the same time, when the German ace "Pretty Boy" talks to his compatriots his German is subtitled.
  • In Superman II, when the astronaut Boris first meets General Zod on the Moon, he says several words of untranslated Russian to him (presumably it was the equivalent of "Who are you and what are you doing here?").
  • Big Trouble in Little China: Several times in the movie, characters speak in Chinese without any translation for the audience.
    • While Lo Pan is interrogating Wang Chi and Jack, he speaks in Chinese to Wang Chi. Whatever he said, it sounded threatening.
    • When Wang Chi is pretending to hold Eddie Lee hostage, he speaks to the female jailers in Chinese.
    • While the rescue party is in Egg Shen's warehouse, he speaks to the Chang Sings in Chinese.
    • After Lo Pan's "wedding" with Gracie Law and Miao Yin, Egg Shen makes several comments in Chinese.
  • In Pitch Black, Abu al-Walid, Ali, Hassan and Suleiman on their way to New Mecca aren't subtitled when they speak or pray in Arabic, and they speak English when they talk with the other people.
  • You Only Live Twice:
    • Tiger Tanaka speaks untranslated Japanese to his underlings several times.
    • The Soviet ground controllers and cosmonauts speak untranslated Russian during the launch and flight.
    • James Bond is about to have his chest hair dyed black as part of his Japanese disguise. He says "Why don't you just dye the parts that show?" His first Bond Girl Aki repeats this in Japanese to the female Japanese attendants (who apparently don't speak English) and they all laugh.
    • When Bond and his second Bond Girl Kissy Suzuki arrive at the Ama village, she talks to several of the villagers in Japanese.
  • Whenever someone is speaking Norse at the start of The 13th Warrior, someone else is usually nearby to translate it into Arabic (ie, English) for the benefit of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. When he leaves with Bulliwye's group, their conversations around the evening campfire are untranslated and don't have subtitles. Over the montage of their journey, English words and phrases are gradually slipped into the conversations, making up more of what is said, to indicate ibn Fadlan's learning of the language.
  • Blade Runner:
    • When Roy Batty and Leon intrude into Chew's laboratory, Chew yells at them in Chinese several times, and speaks a phrase of Chinese to them later. None of this is translated.
    • While Deckard is sitting in his car, a group of street thieves speak in untranslated German as they approach and steal equipment from the car.
  • Indiana Jones films:
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark:
      • Belloq speaks to the Hovitos in their native language, presumably telling them how great he is to have retrieved their holy object.
      • While Indy and Salah are infiltrating the Nazi archeological dig, German soldiers repeatedly speak in German to them.
      • While Indy, Salah and the Egyptian workers are digging up and opening the Well of Souls, the workers sing a work song and make comments in Arabic and Salah repeatedly speaks to the workers in Arabic to supplement Indy's instructions, all with no translation.
      • While Indy is trying to capture the Nazi flying wing, the huge guard calls out to the pilot in German.
      • While Indy is trying to steal the truck carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the German soldiers guarding it speak repeatedly to each other in German.
      • During the U-boat's journey to the island, the Nazi sailors aboard talk to each other in German.
      • Once the U-boat arrives at the island, the soldiers in the port and a PA system speak in German.
      • After Indy sneaks into the secret Nazi island base, he performs a Mugged for Disguise on a Nazi soldier for the purpose of Dressing as the Enemy. Before he's completely dressed a Nazi officer discovers him and starts criticizing him (in untranslated German) because he's out of uniform.
      • During the ceremony where the Ark is opened, Belloq speaks ceremonial words in Hebrew.
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Plenty of Gratuitous German, none of it ever subtitled. SS Colonel Vogel has plenty of untranslated German dialog, though context (and Michael Byrne’s beautifully hammy performance) allows anglophone viewers to get a reasonable idea of what he’s saying.
  • Blazing Saddles:
    • When the Indian chief meets the Sheriff Bart's parents in a Flash Back, he speaks several phrases of untranslated Yiddish.
    • While Sheriff Bart and Lili von Shtupp are together, they speak words and phrases of German to each other.
  • Constantine (2005):
    • During the scene at the beginning of the movie, a Mexican man speaks to another man in Spanish with no translation for the viewers.
    • While the little girl is possessed she screams "Papatayin natin silang lahat!" ("Let's kill them all!' in Tagalog). The audience is not told what this means.
  • The Philadelphia Experiment II: After William Mailer travels back in time to Nazi Germany, he has a conversation with his father Friedrich Mahler in German trying to tell him that he's Mahler's son. Mahler tells him that he doesn't have a son, and he doesn't...yet. Mahler hadn't been born yet.
  • 1941 (1979): During the scene while Hollis P. Wood is interrogated by the Japanese submarine crew with the German liaison officer present, several of the characters speak untranslated Japanese and German to each other.
  • In The Fifth Element, the language that Leeloo speaks when she is first brought back is sub-titled "Unknown Language." When she speaks it to Father Cornelius, he can understand it, but not speak it directly. When Corbin Dallas asks him what language it is, he replies a divine one. Thereafter, Leeloo's speech is subtitled "Divine Language." Thanks, that helps alot!!
  • Pandorum: Manh communicates exclusively in untranslated Vietnamese (none of the other characters can understand him), supplemented with patient pantomiming. Nadia also occasionally slips into German.
  • In Operation Daybreak, every scene featuring Reinhard Heydrich plays in unsubtitled German. Not brief scenes, either, but involved sequences like the wedding of his aide-de-camp. Only one or two scenes have one of his aides translating consequential remarks into English.
  • The film adaptation of Lone Survivor. With one exception, all Pashto dialogue is untranslated because the viewpoint characters (a team of Navy SEALs) don't understand it at all. (The exception is one scene, early in the film, of some Pashtun speaking amongst themselves. No Americans are present, so the scene is just there to show the audience that the villain is a bad dude.)
  • The film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings usually sub all the foreign languages used, but in the extended editions of the films there are instances of Khuzdul, Sindarin, Old English, and Black Speech spoken by characters and left untranslated. It creates a sense of depth, especially in instances where the character the narrative focuses on does not speak the language.
  • Our Man Flint:
    • Our Man Flint:
      • When Flint goes to Marseilles to find out which restaurant in the city serves bouillabaisse with a specific recipe, at one point he gives his order to a waiter in French.
      • While talking with the Italian cab driver in Rome, some of the comments by Flint and the driver aren't translated.
    • In Like Flint:
      • When Flint is on a Russian plane to Cuba, he speaks Spanish to the stewardess and both Spanish and Russian to the pilots, all without translation.
      • At the end of the movie Flint is on a space platform in orbit with two female cosmonauts. He speaks to them in Russian.
  • Rush Hour: Though most plot-essential dialogue is translated for the audience via subtitles, there's still a significant amount of untranslated Cantonese and French in the series, particularly concerning Zhang Ziyi's character in the second film.
  • Sneakers, while Martin and Gregor are inside the Russian embassy's limousine. When the police car pulls up behind the limousine, Gregor tells his driver in Russian to pull over.
  • The Thing (1982): When the Norwegian gets out of the helicopter he speaks in Norwegian without any translation. Of course, if you do speak Norwegian, then you'll know he's both warning them and what he's warning them of, and will thus have some of the film spoiled.
  • None of the sign language in The Tribe is subtitled, a deliberate choice by the director, who wanted the viewer to feel like an outsider.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: When John, Sarah and the T-800 visit Enrique, Sarah and Enrique speak to each other in Spanish, and John and Enrique's lady friend do as well. There is no translation for the audience.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, after the title duo go to Bolivia multiple characters speak Spanish with no translation for the audience.
    • After Butch and Sundance rob a bank, the bank guard tells the local police commander about the robbery and describes the robbers, all in Spanish.
    • Some of the natives speak Spanish to the title characters without any subtitles or translation for the audience.
      • When Butch and Sundance enter a bank, the guard speaks to them in Spanish. Frustrated because they can't understand him, they leave in confusion.
      • After becoming the "Banditos Yanquis", they stop in a small town for lunch. They ask a random guy for some food and he responds with a long dialogue in Spanish.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: The conversation between the princess and the Swedish Prime Minister during the dinner at Valentine's is not translated.
  • Spies Like Us:
    • While Milbarge and Fitz-Hume are in Pakistan, several times people speak to the native Pakistanis (and vice versa) in a foreign language (probably Pashto, as Fitz-Hume uses a "Pashtu" to English dictionary) with no translation.
    • When Milbarge quotes a Russian proverb to the KGB agents, there is no translation of what it means for the audience.
    • The Tadzhik Highway Patrol troops talk to each other and to Fitz-Hume in an unknown language. The audience has no way of knowing what they're talking about.
    • When the Soviet missile troops are talking among themselves in Russian, the audience is given no idea what they're saying.
  • United 93: The terrorists' dialogue is subtitled early in the film, but later on the subtitles are gone.
  • The Constant Gardener zig-zags this, having a scene where German is spoken and translated accordingly, yet any dialogue in Kenya that isn't English is translated as either "Foreign Language" or "Local Language" without specific transcription.
  • In The Draughtsman's Contract, Mr. van Hoyten speaking Dutch is left completely untranslated.
  • Patton: When General Patton makes a comment in French to his new aide, the aide responds in French and they have a brief conversation, none of which is translated for the audience.
  • The Enemy Below: Most of the time the crew of the German U-Boat speak in English to each other for the audience's benefit, but a few times they speak in untranslated German. In the Burial at Sea scene at the end, the sub's captain speaks entirely in German.
  • Men in Black: Near the beginning of the movie, a group of Border Patrol agents stop a van carrying illegal Mexican immigrants. The driver of the van, a Border Patrol agent and Agent K all speak to the illegal Mexican immigrants in Spanish without any translation of their words.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me:
    • When James Bond travels through Egypt, he speaks in Arabic to several characters (including a camel rider, Bond's contact and a boat owner) without any translation.
    • After Jaws' car smashes into an old man's hut in Sardinia, the man starts speaking aloud in Italian ("Mamma mia! Che successo? Oddio, tutto distrutto!").
  • Maverick: When Chief Joseph first talks to the Russian duke, he speaks in Gratuitous French that isn't translated for the audience.
  • Run Silent, Run Deep: In the scenes that occur on the Japanese destroyer Akikaze or the unnamed Japanese submarine, none of the comments the Japanese naval officers make to each other are translated for the audience.
  • The Windmill Massacre: All of Takashi's dialogue is in untranslated Japanese, indicating that he doesn't speak English or Dutch; the common languages of the other characters. When Ruby is present, she is able to translate (although her Japanese is implied to be rusty, and she frequently has to ask him to slow down). When Ruby is not present, Jennifer is reduced to mime and guesswork to work out what he is saying, which is not easy when he needs to convey information on complex topics like guilt and repentance.
  • Die Hard: The German "terrorists" speak to each other in German on multiple occasions without any translation for the audience.
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: On three different occasions, Willy Wonka speaks multiple untranslated sentences in a non-English language.
    • He speaks in French while inviting his guests aboard his boat the Wonkatania.
    • He speaks in German while introducing the guests to the Inventing Room.
    • He speaks in German again while riding the Wonkamobile.
  • Played with in Schindler's List. While the German isn't subtitled, the closed captioning on some releases transcribes the German verbatim.
  • The Incredible Mr. Limpet: When German sailors are talking to each other aboard U-boats and in a conference room, they speak untranslated German. When the German scientists and naval officers are talking to each other while researching "Das Limpet", they start out speaking untranslated German. Later on they start mixing German and English together in a somewhat understandable manner.
  • In Siren (2010), an Almost Dead Guy clambers aboard the yacht and babbles something to Ken, Rachel and Marco before keeling over dead. The trio have no idea what it was he was trying to tell them, as they do not speak his language. Neither does the viewer, as his words were untranslated.
  • Shanghai Express features a lot of Cantonese and French dialogue but no subtitles.
  • Predator: After Dillon captures the female Central American guerilla Anna, she and other members of Dutch's rescue team repeatedly speak to each other in Spanish without any translation for the audience.
  • Bedknobs and Broomsticks: The members of the German Army commando group speak German to each other during the raid. Sometimes their speech is subtitled in English, and sometimes it isn't.
  • In The Great Escape, the German and French dialogue is left unsubtitled even though the main characters speak both languages themselves.
  • Bagdad Cafe: Jasmin and her husband's quarreling in German have no subtitles.
  • French Kiss: The film had English subtitles for the French dialogue til the DVD release, which removed them. Since then, there's been no subtitles.
  • Serenity: Several times, the crew of the Serenity speak Chinese to each other without any subtitles for the audience.
  • The Finnish comedy Kielipuoli Potilas follows the protagonist's misadventures in a country where no one speaks his language. All of the dialogue is in a made-up language without subtitles, leaving the audience in the same situation as the protagonist - having to guess the meaning of everything from context and a few familiar-sounding words. The writer Neil Hardwick is a British ex-patriate, who likely drew from his own experiences with having to get along in Finnish for the story.
  • Year of the Gun, a drama in Italy about the Red Brigades centering on an American doing a book about them and getting into great danger as a result, had subtitles for all the Italian dialogue originally. Once it was released for DVD, these disappeared though, so good luck following much of the film if you don't speak the language.
  • Sleeping Dogs: The discussion between the two Māori men Smith rents the island from is untranslated.
  • In Mohawk, Oak and Joshua encounter a French-Canadian Hunter Trapper, whose Québecois French is far beyond Joshua's rudimentary French. He delivers an impassioned plea that remains untranslated for both the characters and the audience.
  • The 1995 film Amerikanski Blues (released in the USA as American Cop) has the main character, a Los Angeles cop, vacationing in Russia and then getting into trouble with the local Russian Mafia after a kid finds his badge in his travelling bag and assumes him to be a US federal agent. The scene where the kid "outs" the cop to the gangsters, and most other scenes thereafter where Russian characters speak in Russian, all go without any subtitles for what they are saying, which helps to make the audience as confused as the cop is over what exactly is being said, at least if the viewer doesn't understand Russian (one has to look at the context of every such scene to even begin to grasp what's going on).
  • ˇThree Amigos!:
    • The German's two henchmen only speak in German, and none of their dialogue is translated for the audience.
    • The Mexican characters (such as El Guapo) sometimes speak in Spanish with the words not being translated, such as "adios" (goodbye) and "caballos" (horses).
  • Stargate doesn't use subtitles for the Transplanted Humans' language until Daniel Jackson learns how to speak it. This is a notable case of Early-Installment Weirdness for the franchise, as the TV shows almost always had Aliens Speaking English.
  • Prey (2022): The French trappers' dialogue isn't subtitled, leaving most of what they say a mystery to those who don't understand French. Some unsubtitled Comanche is also spoken.
  • Duck Butter: Sergio and her mother Susana speak in Catalan for a while without subtitles.
  • There are numerous examples of unsubtitled German in Death Ship, most notably in the voices Capt. Ashland hears in his head.
  • English-language film Triangle of Sadness doesn't subtitle its Swedish, French, and Tagalog dialogue.
  • Battle of the Bulge. Throughout almost the entire movie, German characters speak in English. However, they sometimes speak in untranslated German.
    • When Colonel Hessler meets his panzer commanders, the commanders sing the Panzerlied song in German.
    • When the fake American (actually German) soldiers parachute into American territory, one of them briefly speaks in German before his commanding officer orders that they speak in English.

  • The children's book Du Iz Tak? is written entirely in "bug language". At no point in the book is there ever a translation; readers are supposed to figure out what is being said by looking at context.
  • Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating: Many untranslated Bengali terms are scattered throughout the book, including some brief longer dialogue in the language.
  • In The Hour of the Donkey by Anthony Price, the protagonist is an English soldier trapped in German-occupied France during World War II. Bastable doesn't speak either French or German, so whenever he hears someone speaking in one of those languages, it's presented without translation. Thus, a reader who does know one or both of those languages will frequently have more idea what's going on than the protagonist does.
  • In The Power of Six, there are two narrators: one Spanish, one American. Everything the Spanish say/do is written in English when the Spanish girl is narrating. When the American is narrating, though, her speech is written in Spanish because he doesn't know it.
  • In Murder at Colefax Manor, none of the Cornish door signs in the caverns are translated.
  • The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali: There are many untranslated Bengali words in the text, although a lot of them can be understood through context even without looking up their meanings for non-speakers.
  • Zara Hossain Is Here: Many phrases or single words of Urdu are used in the book and untranslated.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Stargate Atlantis, Radek would occasionally rant in Czech about something with no subtitles provided. This is good because the rants range from snarky comments to (mild) swearing. According to his actor, he didn't have these rants scripted besides 'says something in Czech'. The DVD subtitles simply mark these moments as "Speaking Foreign Language".
  • There are episodes in Season 1 of popular drama Revenge where Emily speaks languages including French and Spanish without translation (though these aren't relevant besides telling us she's multilingual) and in one episode, where she repeatedly converses with another character in fluent Japanese, she then lies about what was said, and there is no captioning.
  • In the miniseries version of Shogun, when Blackthorne (the English protagonist) is around and the Japanese characters are speaking in Japanese, there's no subtitles.
  • Played with in Lost: whenever Korean couple Sun and Jin would speak among themselves or (in flashbacks) to other Koreans, the show would provide English subtitles. But when they spoke in front of others who did not understand Korean, no subtitles appeared.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • In the "The Funniest Joke in the World" sketch, the British Army creates a German version of the Joke so they can use it against Nazi troops. There's no translation (mainly because the German version is made up of nonsense words). Good thing, too — understanding it would kill the audience!
    • In the Llama sketch, John Cleese introduces the sketch speaking Spanish without any translation for the audience. Once the Pythons start singing, subtitles for the song appear on the screen.
  • In an episode of Absolutely Fabulous, Patsy and Edina go to France on vacation. Three times an old man comes to the door and speaks in French; they're frightened of him, and keep just closing the door and ignoring him. Edina's daughter, who speaks French, shows up at the end, and it turns out they've been staying in a run-down cottage instead of the fancy château they had booked, and the old man was trying to tell them that.
  • Many characters on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show fall foul of this, speaking no language at all and, being puppets, they don't have captions - or didn't originally.
  • In the TV movie Canada Russia 72 about the famous hockey tournament, Canadian player Bobby Clarke says "Eat shit, you little cocksuckers" to Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov as he skates by. Kharlamov responds with something in Russian and Clarke sneers "What does that mean?"
  • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Marshall becomes so drunk to the point that he needs subtitles... which are provided for barely some of the speech.
  • Breaking Bad does this with most, if not all, of its Spanish dialogue.
  • Firefly:
    • Used when various Chinese curses are spoken, and you can tell that they're curses from the context.
    • Inverted in Trash: When Mal says "Yosaffbridge", the subtitler got confused and wrote "(speaks Chinese)" instead.
  • In Casualty 1906, a disagreeable Eastern European woman was being treated by the Edwardian doctors while behaving violently and probably being drunk. A Polish speaker would know what nationality she was supposed to be and could understand what she was saying however, on the DVD, the subtitles gave the untranslated text in Russian - people who don't know the difference would be none the wiser from the English dialogue on-screen.
  • Stargate SG-1 didn't ever use subtitles, which was probably a good thing considering most of the Russian spoken on the show would've punched huge holes in the fourth wall.
  • Played With in the Coupling episode, "The Woman with Two Breasts". The Israeli woman that Jeff is talking to speaks no English, and no subtitles are provided because he, like we, has no real idea what she's saying. Then, in the second half, when the whole sequence is run again with her speaking English and Jeff speaking nonsense, we again get no subtitles, and have to rely on our memories of what his side of the conversation was. Plus, we get to find out that some of his assumptions about what she was saying were...less than accurate.
  • Barney Miller:
    • In one episode they bring in a woman who everyone thinks is crazy (she escaped from a mental asylum where she's been held ever since she first arrived in the country 20ish years previously) and speaking her own made-up language. It turns out she is perfectly sane; she's just speaking a rare Macedonian dialect. The squad happens to find someone who speaks Macedonian to commuicate with her. None of the Macedonian is subtitled.
    • Chano's frequent lapsing into Spanish when annoyed or upset isn't subtitled.
    • Polish, German, and sign language ended up being spoken in the squadroom over the course of the series, much to Barney's chagrin as it made communication impossible until Wojo, Dietrich, and Levitt (respectively) arrived to demonstrate their bilingual skills.
  • Several one-shot and minor foreign characters in Seinfeld spoke fluent, uninterrupted languages of their respective nationalities, occasionally without the aid of subtitles, such as The Soup Nazi, and Kramer's Hispanic friend that showed up for one episode and was never spoken of again, relying on the Rule of Funny and Rule of Drama, as they can fluently speak English if need be.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The War Games", we see a German officer talking with his superior in German. The superior hypnotizes him to forget that he's been shown that he's not really in World War I. We can understand the whole conversation, without knowing German, because we've seen the same thing happen before, between two British officers.
  • On Law & Order: SVU, Barba and Amaro (whose actors are both bilingual) will occasionally converse in Spanish, often when they're arguing with each other. Their exchanges are rarely if ever subtitled, including an entire extended scene in "October Surprise" where they really have it out.
  • The second season of The Wire focuses largely on the international crime syndicate which not only imports the drugs that the various gangs sell on the street, but also smuggles in women forced into prostitution and stolen goods. The top two men in the organization frequently speak Greek to each other at length, which goes uncaptioned and what they're saying is difficult if not impossible to guess from the situation or tone. The second season also features a short scene where a pair of detectives attempt to interrogate the crew of an international freighter, only for all the crewmen to start claiming that they don't speak English. None of what they say in their various native languages gets translated for us.
  • The Rat Patrol episode "The Holy War Raid". Sgt. Jack Moffitt speaks in German to Hauptmann Dietrich over the radio in an attempt to trick him. Dietrich isn't fooled - he comments that Moffitt's German isn't as good as Dietrich's English.
  • Depending on where one watches Orange Is the New Black, the amount of subtitling is different. This is especially noticeable in season 4, where large parts of entire episodes are in Spanish. Different English-speaking supplied different levels on subtitling, some to the extreme of only translating speech that was completely vital to the development of the plot. This is an odd case, however, because the show is ultimately meant to be from Piper's perspective and, even though white American, she knows Spanish (which she at one point tells the Hispanic characters, reminding them that she knows what they're saying even when it's left unknown to the audience).
  • The Affair: An amusing example in season 3 when Noah (American) visits Paris with his girlfriend Juliette (French). In Juliette's version all the French dialogue is subtitled to indicate that she's a fluent speaker, in Noah's version none of the French is subtitled to indicate that he only knows English.
  • Andor:
    • In the scences on Kenari the locals are speaking a local language with no subtitles. The gist of conversations can be picked up through context and the character's emotions.
    • The Aldhani pilgrims sing, speak, and chant in mostly untranslated Dhani. The only times there are subtitles are when the chief greets Gorn and then when he insults Beehaz and Gorn gives a Tactful Translation.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Squire Of Gothos". In order to show off his knowledge of Earth, Squire Trelane speaks French to DeSalle and German to Mr. Jaeger without any translation for the audience.
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker
    • Episode "The Zombie". While Carl is talking to two Italian mobsters, they speak to each other repeatedly in Italian with no translation.
    • Episode "The Youth Killer". At the beginning of the episode, Helen Surtees prays aloud to the goddess Hecate in Greek. Her prayer is not translated for the audience.
  • Kim's Convenience: With a few exceptions, no subtitles are provided whenever there's spoken Korean. These instances usually aren't important enough to need any translations — whenever they are significant, enough context is usually given to the audience for them to figure things out themselves (for instance when Janet secretly talks to her mother about Raj in Korean, it's obvious that she's trying to confess that she's the reason he broke off his engagement).
  • Let the Right One In: Mark speaks in untranslated Spanish at times.
  • The L Word: In Generation Q Gigi, Dani and some other characters speak in completely untranslated Farsi (though a little can be discerned from context or shared words).
  • Vida: The show's producers purposely left out any English subtitles to translate the Spanish for this reason.
  • The Power (2023): The Cleary-Lopez family members speak in Spanish sometimes that isn't always translated.

  • True for much non-English music, unless the artists choose to sing in understandable English or officially release translations. Averted by Youtube uploaders adding subtitles and lyrics translation pages if a band is popular enough/if someone who is a fan is interested in translating the lyrics. And, of course, this is true for those who don't know English and listen to lyrics sung in English.

  • In Henry V, an entire scene between Catherine and her lady-in-waiting is conducted in French.
  • The Light in the Piazza: All the Italian characters speak and sing in Italian unless they are communicating with an English character. No help is provided to the audience during these scenes (aside from a brief fourth wall breaker) and, for those who don't speak Italian, the meaning of the scene must be guessed at through context, body language and what words can be picked out.
    • One production even applied this to the opening announcement, having it all be in Italian but only saying the words "cellphones", "flash photography", and "emergency exits" into English.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
  • The humans in Asura's Wrath speak a different language from the Demigods with no subtitles. This is used to show how out of touch they have become over the millennia.
  • Nikolai in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 speaks in Russian, as do some of the soldiers, and it is not subtitled like the English is (though the English can be heard perfectly fine anyway).
  • In Crysis, playing in the highest difficulty switches the Enemy Chatter from accented English to their native Korean, making their plans harder to understand.
  • In Deus Ex:
  • In the Mothership Zeta DLC for Fallout 3, the player character is abducted by aliens whose language is never translated. The aliens' motivation and reasons for abducting humans can therefore only be inferred (and it makes them a whole lot creepier). Additionally, another abductee is a 16th century samurai who speaks in unsubtitled (but correct) Japanese.
  • In Final Fantasy X the Al Bhed language is subtitled - only the subtitles are in Al Bhed, not English. As you collect translation books throughout the game, various letters in the subtitles are gradually replaced by their English equivalents to represent Tidus' growing understanding of the language.
  • GreedFall: When speaking with the natives, they will often speak in both their language as well as the common language, however, the subtitles will never translate the native language, because De Sardet does not understand it.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic 2, Darth Nihilus' speech (in the ancient Sith language) is left untranslated in subtitles and the player character doesn't seem to be able to understand him either, despite her ability to understand a wide variety of alien languages.
  • In The Last Express, some languages are subtitled, while others are not, in order to delineate which ones the player character knows. French and Russian are subtitled, while Serbian and Arabic are not.
  • Max Payne 3 plays around with this. Max Payne doesn't speak Portuguese, so for most of the game you have no idea what the people around you are saying (the subtitles are also in Portuguese). Occasionally though, Max will catch a cognate, such as amadores (amateurs), and react to it.
    • Much of the enemies' dialogue is just cussing anyway.
  • In Mercenaries, the player has the choice of picking between three characters who can either speak Russian, Chinese, or Korean as an additional language. The subtitles thus add to the Replay Value, as character choice dictates if faction leaders simply chatter in foreign or have their plan-whispering translated.
  • In the first playthrough of Nier, the Shades come across as monsters due to their appearance, actions and their unintelligble Black Speech. In later playthroughs you are given the subtitles and a look at things from their perspective, and this changes everything.
  • In Red Dead Redemption, while you're in Mexico, the Spanish talk gets subtitled (if you have subtitles on), but not translated. Unless you know Spanish, you'll have to resort to an online translator if you're really curious what's being said.
  • The first two Saints Row games have untranslated Spanish and Japanese respectively. The subtitles simply says "Spanish" or "Speaking Japanese".
  • Sleeping Dogs has a bunch of "peppering Cantonese cuss words into English" and background NPCs who speak basically accurate but unsubtitled Cantonese, though Mrs. Chu is the only plot-relevant character to only speak Cantonese.
  • Spec Ops: The Line uses this in the opening to increase tension. You don't understand any of the Farci being spoken.
  • In Star Fox Adventures, when playing as Fox before the translator device is ready, any Dino Talknote  is rendered "Dino Talk". It's not until after the chase sequence in the summit area of SnowHorn Wastes when the device is ready for use. When playing as Krystal or hearing her later as Fox, the Dino speech in those cutscenes is subtitled.note  The growls are subtitled, as that's a representation of what Slippy does in the cutscene with the Queen: he tells Fox what they're saying.
  • Averted in Star Wars: The Old Republic, meaning for the first time ever, you can actually understand how an Astromech droid talks.
  • Being a fast-paced fighting game, the Super Smash Bros. series has never really had any place for in-game subtitles, resulting in many characters that are not dubbed in different languages speaking exclusive languages (Mario characters saying English phrases, Cloud and Sephiroth speaking exclusively in Japanese, etc). Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, however averts this with the Final Smashes for Fox McCloud, Falco Lombardi, Wolf O'Donnell, Joker, and Kazuya Mishima; the cinematics that play for each of these attacks are accompanied with subtitles for the characters' dialogue. In particular, Kazuya's is the series' only in-game case of using subtitles to translate dialogue from another language. Another reoccuring aversion of this trope is the series' reoccuring stage dialogue easter egg, which involves secret dialogue on certain stages (many Star Fox stages, Shadow Moses Island, and Palutena's Temple) that replicate the text boxe styles of their origin games.
  • Halfway through Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Drake winds up in a small Tibetan village. All "conversations" with the non-English speaking villagers are simply subtitled [Speaking Tibetan], even after Drake has learned to speak it. The effect of this is amplified by the fact that Tenzin, Drake's partner during these chapters, is one of those villagers.
  • The World of Warcraft Draenei starting zone involves the player befriending a tribe of anthropomorphic bears called furbolgs (the Stillpine tribe.) Initially, the player can't speak their language, so the NPC text is untranslatable gibberish.
  • In Megatokyo, most Japanese is shown as English within angle brackets—except when non-Japanese-speaker Largo is the viewpoint character, in which case it is romanized, as he would hear it.
  • In Unsounded some kind of supernatural bird speaks to Sette. The Rant lampshades this: "Don't ask for a translation - Sette doesn't understand it so you shan't either!"
  • Gunnerkrigg Court has two characters who don't speak English. Paz is Spanish and occasionally lapses into her native tongue (which is not always grammatically correct, but she's a "Gallican hick"). Gamma usually communicates telepathically, but on the rare occasion she does speak out loud, it's untranslated Polish.

    Western Animation 
  • Lady Rainicorn in Adventure Time speaks untranslated Korean, which both Jake and Princess Bubblegum understand, though Finn doesn't. Jake does have a bunch of translator devices but since they have the side effect of making the speaker sound like an old man, they don't get used much.
  • Bluey: In "Camping", in order to highlight the Language Barrier between the characters, the French Jean-Luc remains unsubtitled throughout the episode.
  • Played With in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Tri-Stone Area". The characters speak in cave-man jibberish, and no sub-titles are given. Of course, if you know all the Catch Phrases, Running Gags and things that happen Once an Episode, you pretty much know what they're saying, just from the situation and inflections used. The authors break in in stop-motion animation, and talk about this:
    Jeff "Swampy" Marsh: Whoa, whoa, whoa. So—so they're just gonna be talking in "cave-talk"?
  • In Teen Titans, Guatemalan siblings Mas y Menos only speak Spanish and are not given subtitles. While this makes for some hilarious moments when interacting with their Spanish-illiterate team mates, they become comedy gold if you can actually understand them.
  • Used in almost every episode of Archer that takes place in a non-English speaking location.
  • In Mickey Mouse (2013), whenever a short is set in a foreign country, the cast speak in the local language. Enabling subtitles doesn't help; they only tell you what language they are speaking.
  • Molly of Denali: Most of the characters (being Alaskan Natives) use native words or phrases from time to time. Sometimes they'll translate them into English, but sometimes a non-Native viewer will only get the general idea from context.
  • In The Long Long Holiday, whenever the Germans speak German, their dialogue is presented without any subtitles, because the kids don't speak German. Similarly, when the English and the Canadians show up, their dialogue is untranslated, because the kids don't speak English.
  • The Owl House: Played straight, downplayed, and averted over time:
    • Season 1 of the show played this straight, with the Spanish phrases spoken by Luz and Camila going untranslated by subtitles (even closed captioning on Disney+ usually said [speaking in Spanish] or [speaking in foreign language]).
    • Season 2A had certain episodes that downplay this, where the closed captioning for Spanish phrases are written in Spanish as well.
    • Season 2B suddenly averted this starting with "Hollow Mind", where King's Spanish dialogue was translated to English with fade-in subtitles within the episode itself, not unlike the opening credits from the beginning of each episode. The same thing happened in "Labyrinth Runners" with Barcus' barking dialogue.
    • Season 3 continued to use the translation subtitles very frequently whenever anybody started speaking longer sentences in Spanish, most notably during the Duolingo scene in "Thanks to Them". It would occasionally be again played straight, though: this time with shorter phrases like Camila saying "buenas noches" or the siesta pun.
  • Rick and Morty has an episode with a two-minute-plus sequence set on a planet inhabited by snakes. No subtitles are provided during this sequence, but what we do know is that the hissing of the planet's snakes is different from the hissing of an Earth snake.
  • The Simpsons: In "22 Short Films About Springfield", the Bumblebee Man segment is shown in unsubtitled Spanish (though not entirely accurate Spanish).
  • When Turpin is killed by Darkseid on Superman: The Animated Series and it cuts to his funeral, the Kaddish is being sung for him. The closed captions say "Singing in Hebrew".


Video Example(s):


Tokyo Godfathers

Sorry, Miyuki, but the other non-Spanish speakers are just as much in the dark as you are!

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / RealityHasNoSubtitles

Media sources: