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Suddenly Bilingual

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Brad: Wake up, Homer, those Powersauce bars are just junk! They're made of apple cores and Chinese newspapers!
Homer: (squinting at bar) Hey, Deng Xiaoping died.

Occasionally in sitcoms or comedy series, a character will fluently translate or speak a foreign language, briefly and to the slight surprise of others, for comedic effect. Why this character can understand Tibetan or Russian or whatever is never discussed and, often, never questioned. If questioned, expect a You Never Asked in response. Note that this is not referring to a character who had an unknown history of working with language- it simply occurs once and never again. Likely to occur during a Bilingual Backfire when someone speaks another language only to find out to their surprise that someone they assumed couldn't understand them actually does.

May overlap with Inexplicable Language Fluency if there's no indication that the character has ever seen or heard the language before. Compare Suddenly Always Knew That.


Examples Include:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Area 88 manga, Greg cannot understand the documents scattered near General Gold's crash site because they're in Arabic. Near the end of the manga, however, he speaks with a frightened Asranian child, presumably in Arabic. It's never made clear when he learned Arabic in the interim, or if he spoke Arabic passably the whole time but just couldn't read it.
  • During a party for visiting French students in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Fujiwara (who up until that point had been depicted as The Ditz) suddenly reveals that she's an Omniglot due to her mother having been a diplomat. She does so by launching into a monologue about the difficulties in exporting Japanese media to the foreign market.
    Shirogane: Fujiwara... you speak French?
    Fujiwara: Yup! Just a bit though!

    Fan Works 
  • All Mixed Up!: In Chapter 10a, it's revealed that Otto can understand Latin, like Mariana Mag can. It's implied that this is one of the reasons she has an interest in him and didn't want to hurt him up until he interfered with her plan.
  • The Bolt Chronicles: In "The Autobiography," Bolt attempts to talk his life story into a computer file using a speech program. It all comes out as a series of barks and woofs, except for one interpolated "meow." Mittens asks if he has been taking foreign language lessons.
  • In Co-op Mode, James learns how to speak Chinese using a skillbook, though it starts at a kindergartner's level when it first pops.
  • The Haddock Chronicles: Good thing that Hiccup, Astrid and their parents know Elsa's language (here referred to as "Trader's tongue").
  • Ladybug in a Half Shell:
    • Casey Jones is able to speak fluent French because his Great-Grandmother Jones was French. Donatello learned to speak fluent French three days prior, but this is Donatello we are talking about.
    • The Miraculous Ladybug cast are able to speak English due to intensive studying required for their trip to New York. Adrien even admits that he is fluent in French, English, Chinese, Japanese, Swedish and German.
  • Maria Campbell of the Astral Clocktower:
    • Everyone is shocked when infamous airhead Katarina speaks perfect Ashinago, a fiendishly difficult language, and is able to reassure a large group of slaves that they are being rescued, not stolen. The readers know that this is actually because Katarina is a reincarnate from Japan (and Ashina is this world's Fantasy Counterpart Culture), but she forgets that no one else knows this.
      Maria: You... understand her, your ladyship?
      Katarina: Of course. Why wouldn't I?
    • Katarina randomly gains the ability to speak the Undead language (which normally requires being dead) due to what at first seemed like a non-canon omake chapter where she got a zombie personality. The other personalities are very confused that this turned out to be canon, and Katarina's friends just shake their heads and move on.
      Katarina: I had a dream where I was a z-Hollow singer, and remembered all the words.
      Duke Folken: You... dreamed it.
      Katarina: Yup.
      Duke Folken: I... see...
    • When Maria adopts the Ashina slaves and puts them with the rest of her wards, she begins learning Ashinago from Katarina. After months of practice and lessons, she is finally passable in the language and can speak to her new wards, who are struggling with the local language. She is rather embarrassed to discover that all the children are already fluent in both languages, because they've just been playing together and learned naturally.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The A-Team, a mix-up with forged passports results in Murdock needing to pass himself off as an African. His teammates, realizing the mix-up, figure their cover's blown and start scoping out emergency exits—then Murdock starts chatting with the Customs officer in Swahili. Since Bradley Cooper got to show off his French as Face, it seems this sequence was to allow Sharlto Copley (who is South African) to show off as well.
  • In Avengers: Infinity War, Thor reveals that he can understand Groot, much to Rocket's surprise. He claims that learning the Flora colossus language is an elective in Asgardian education, but according to Word of God he was actually just joking.
  • In the Bedazzled remake, Elliot's first wish (that he knows of) is to be rich and married to his Love Interest Allison. The Devil makes him a Colombian drug lord. When Elliot first encounters his butler, the butler talks to him in Spanish. Elliot's first reaction is to tell the butler that he doesn't speak Spanish... in Spanish. After realizing what he's just done, Elliot starts rapidly talking in Spanish, explaining how he never paid attention in the class. A little while later he realizes in the same manner that he knows Russian too.
  • Gong Gong in the main universe of Everything Everywhere All at Once has recently arrived in America from China, and Evelyn often has to act as his interpreter. Midway through the movie, his Alpha Universe counterpart - who is perfectly fluent in English - takes over Gong Gong's body, which shocks several character when they first hear him speak.
  • In Sky High (2005), Anti-Hero Warren Peace can speak Cantonese (it gives the impression that he's fluent but in reality he doesn't speak it very well). This is very convenient, because he works at a Chinese restaurant. Whether he learned it at work or if he already knew it is never explained, and he certainly doesn't need it for anything else over the course of the movie.
  • In the Russian movie Хоттабыч (Hottabych) a genie with the same name, after failing to communicate with the American character Anny in English, grants her the ability to speak fluent Russian.
    Hottabych: Теперь ты знаешь русский.note 
    Anny: Я знаю русский?note 

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 
  • Castle speaks Chinese in one episode. His only explanation is that he learned the language "from this TV show I used to love." It's never mentioned again. This is in reference to the TV show Firefly and accompanying movie Serenity in which Nathan Fillion starred.
  • In the first episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca sings at a tradesperson that she didn't come to West Covina for Josh. He tells her "no hablo Ingles", so naturally she just repeats the line in Spanish.
  • On Dollhouse Actives can speak multiple languages when they're imprinted with new minds. The Distant Finale also features people who have been modified to be able to insert and remove information packets from their heads, which includes Victor/Anthony arriving speaking one language and replacing it with an English version.
  • In the miniseries Fallen, teen jock Aaron discovers he was born half-human, half-angel. One of the clues is he knows (and speaks) all human languages without realizing it.
    Fernanda: (in Portuguese) Oh, you speak Portuguese?
    Aaron: (in Portuguese) No, I don't speak Portuguese.
  • Happens twice on Friends, with Phoebe. One episode had her speaking with Joey's Italian grandmother (Phoebe seems as surprised about this as Joey), and in another she reveals she is fluent in French.
Joey: Wow, Phoebs, you speak Italian?
Phoebe: Apparently.
  • Used in How I Met Your Mother in the story of Ted and Barney's first meeting. Barney convinced Ted to pretend to be his "deaf cousin Eddie" so he can flirt with a woman. When it turns out she actually speaks ASL, we learn that Ted can too, and he tells her the whole scheme and to give Barney a fake phone number. In a nice bit of continuity, Ted knowing ASL actually came up again once or twice.
  • On iCarly, especially in the second and third seasons, Freddy often bursts into Gratuitous Spanish. This implies that he is somewhat bilingual.
  • In iZombie, Liv suddenly speaks fluent Romanian after a Romanian escort tries to get rid of Detective Babinaux by pretending not to know English. Naturally, after spouting a few phrases in the language, Liv realizes what she's doing and comments on that. This is a side effect of eating brains (the brain in question belonging to another Romanian escort).
  • In one episode of Lost, it turns out that Juliet can speak Latin. Apparently, all Others are taught Latin. This is never mentioned again.
  • In one episode of The New Statesman, Alan B'Stard is on trial, and one of his fake witnesses is pretending to be a chief of a native South American tribe. It turns out that the prosecuting lawyer can speak the language of that tribe, having been a fag for the tribe's high chief while they were both at Eton College.
  • Used on The Office (US): when Karen calls a company in Canada looking for her favorite chips, she speaks in perfect French. Never seen before that scene or since.
  • In an episode of Seinfeld, George becomes a genius due to abstaining from sex. How smart did he get, you may ask? Well, after identifying a waitress's accent as Portuguese, he immediately starts speaking fluently in Portuguese to her. When Elaine asks him where the hell he learned Portuguese, he shrugs and says that his cleaning lady is Portuguese, so he must have just picked it up from her. Unfortunately for him, despite his desire to remain celibate and stay a genius forever, the Portuguese ends up being his undoing when it helps him seduce the waitress. After doing some quick calculations and determining that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he has sex with her and immediately reverts back to his normal intelligence, presumably losing his ability to speak Portuguese.
    • George's father is also randomly revealed to speak Korean fluently, apparently due to a period in his life wherein he was selling Christian knickknacks to a South Korean cult.
  • Justfied in Starman when English-only speaker Paul quickly acquires a working knowledge of Spanish during his kidnapping in Mexico, given his talent for picking up human skills and behaviors. It's also shown rapidly but in stages. He still manages to spring it unexpectedly on his captor's daughter, demonstrating a knowledge of the situation he should not have had (from overhearing dialog in Spanish).
  • Kenneth from 30 Rock is revealed to be fluent in Latin for a quick gag. However, a Running Gag is to imply that he is possibly immortal, or at least very very old. He could have easily been a medieval monk or something.
  • In The Vicar of Dibley, Alice and Hugo are suddenly able to speak Hebrew in order to be cast as Mary and Joseph. It is hilarious.
  • In a Whose Line Is It Anyway? episode, Ryan and Drew are playing 90 Second Alphabet. When it comes to the letter Q, Ryan goes "Que?". It's made extra funny since the first line established his character's name as Garcon.
  • In The X-Files episode "Unruhe" the Monster of the Week speaks German. Conveniently enough, Scully is relatively proficient in German thanks to a college course. It's never brought up again.

    Music 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer: After a night of feasting, drinking and boasting, the Norscan warrior Wulfrik discovered that the gods had cursed him with the gift of tongues (and a literal bird's tongue), allowing him to issue a challenge to any enemy, in the form of odious insults in their native language, that they couldn't refuse. It took him a while, but Wulfrik the Wanderer, who now Walks The Earth looking for Worthy Opponents to kill in the name of Chaos, realized he'd in fact been Cursed with Awesome.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy X-2, Paine reveals out of nowhere that she can speak the Al Bhed language, something the Al Bhed she'd been traveling with didn't realize.

    Web Animation 
  • In Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles, Donut reveals that he can speak Spanish in the Season 3 finale. This never came up before even though one of Red Team's problems was their inability to communicate with their robot Lopez who was stuck in Spanish mode. Season 4 justifies and subverts this by revealing that Donut took Spanish classes in high school. This makes Donut too out-of-practice to understand Lopez, but just knowledgeable enough to understand some things. It depends on what's funnier at the moment. This is played straighter in the mini-series Relocated, that takes place between Seasons 6 and 7. Sarge can suddenly understand to understand Lopez perfectly, despite showing in previous seasons and all subsequent seasons to not understand a single thing he says.

    Web Comics 
  • A later-justified example occurred in Gunnerkrigg Court, when Antimony turns out to speak conversational Polish and, later, at least a bit of Spanish. Several storylines later, it's revealed - in an offhand comment - that she basically grew up with a bunch of Psychopomps, who taught her each of their languages (judicious use of time-stopping was apparently used). This presumably means that she also speaks Egyptian, Greek, and Hindi, along with god (of death) knows how many other languages.

    Western Animation 
  • In Danny Phantom Tucker is suddenly revealed to be able to speak some Esperanto when encountering a ghost who only speaks it, though it does come up several times later on. The explanation is that nerds like to speak to each other in made-up languages.
  • Family Guy:
    • Brian is riding in the back of a truck and tries to talk to a Hispanic passenger, and is struggling with his junior-high Spanish:
      Brian: Hola, me llamo es Brian... Nosotros queremos ir con ustedes... uhhhh ...
      Hispanic Guy: Hey, that was pretty good, except when you said "me llamo es Brian," you don't need the "es," just "me llamo Brian."
      Brian: Oh, oh, you speak English!
      Hispanic Guy: No, just that first speech and this one explaining it.
      Brian: You... you're kidding me, right?
      Hispanic Guy: ¿Qué?
    • Hilariously, in the European Spanish dub of this episode, the languages are switched (with Brian trying to talk to the Hispanic guy in English). Anyway, the Hispanic guy's second line is along the lines of "I don't speak it, I'm just dubbed".
    • After growing out a mustache, Peter suddenly is able to speak Italian. Or, at least, he thinks he is. The Italian deli owner doesn't think "Babbidi boopi" is either accurate or funny.
  • In Generator Rex, the main character suffers from amnesia but is obviously non-Caucasian, so his occasional use of Gratuitous Spanish is expected. Then he finds in one episode that he can also speak Chinese. Possibly justified in that he was raised by world-traveling scientists.
  • In the first episode of Justice League, Batman infiltrates someplace in a foreign country and decides to interrogate a Mook. Of course, this is Batman we're talking about.
    Mook (paraphrased): <I won't tell you anything. And besides, you can't understand what I'm saying anyway.>
    Batman: <I can, and you will.>
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 69, a Parody Episode of Dora the Explorer it is revealed that Mr. Cat can speak German.
  • Kim Possible: Mr. Nakasumi, who had one earlier appearance wherein he only spoke Japanese, suddenly speaks English in the movie Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama. He explains that he's just a little whacky and enjoys whispering into his translator's ear rather than speaking directly to people.
  • Bill from King of the Hill was born in Louisiana before moving to Texas. In one episode he goes back to his family's estate with the Hills, Dale, and Boomhauer and they encounter a man speaking Cajun French. Bill immediately starts speaking it back to him with the fluency of someone who had been speaking it exclusively their entire life... which surprises him just as much as everyone else since he didn't know he could do that either.
  • Jenny from My Life as a Teenage Robot has several language discs that enable her to speak in foreign tongues. In one episode she loses her English disc while fighting a jiangshi in Japan and is stuck speaking Japanese for the rest of the episode.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • In the special "Summer Belongs To You!", the Dumb Muscle bully Buford suddenly speaks fluent, and polite, French to a waiter in Paris. Then he orders Baljeet never to tell anyone.
      • It is later explained in "Buford Confidential" that he learned French because he fell in love with a French Fireside Girl named Brigitte. Buford then explains that it has the same roots as Latin, to which Baljeet is surprised that Buford also knows Latin.
    • Happens with Ferb in several episodes. He has been shown to be fluent in French, Japanese, Martian, and even dolphin.
    Candace: Just remember, Gaston said I will always be his coup de crayon.
    Ferb: You do realize that's French for 'pencil neck'?
  • Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls can speak Spanish, though she doesn't have the chance much. Why can she? Because each of the girls has one unique superpower. That's hers. Bubbles' language skills were expanded from this one-episode gag to speaking any language - up to and including squirrel.
  • The Simpsons:
    Brad: Wake up Homer, those Powersauce bars are just junk! They're made of Apple cores and Chinese newspapers!
    Homer: (squinting at bar) Hey, Deng Xiaoping died.
    • Bart Simpson Lampshades this one in an episode, where he goes to France in an exchange program, spends the majority of his time there with zero clue what anyone is saying, then suddenly gains perfect fluency and starts speaking French in the middle of a sentence.
    • In another episode, Bart manages to become perfectly fluent in Spanish within the duration of a single flight to Brazil, just by listening to some language learning cassette tapes. Or so he claims, at least. He never actually gets to speak it since Marge promptly informs him that Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Homer then makes him forget all of the Spanish he learned by bashing himself in the head, deeming it pointless for him to know it if it's not going to be immediately useful.
  • What If?: Kahhori (pronounced "Ka-HOR-tee") is a native Mohawk woman who initially only speaks the Mohawk language. But by the end of her first appearance, she is also somehow able to speak Spanish to speak with Queen Isabella of Spain. In her second appearance, she also somehow learned to speak English. (This is at least somewhat justified as she's spent a fair amount of time -possibly a year or two due to travel times in the 16th century- making life miserable for Conquistador's giving her time to pick up Spanish and then spent quite sometime interacting with Strange Supreme).


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