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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:

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    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 
  • 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?
  • 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.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 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 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • The First Law: Logen's warband is shocked to discover that The Quiet One Grim, of all people, is one of the few Northerners who is fluent in the Union's tongue.

    Live Action TV 
Joey: Wow, Phoebs, you speak Italian?
Phoebe: Apparently.
  • In one episode of Lost, it turns out that Juliet can speak Latin. Apparently, all Others are taught Latin. This is never mentioned again.
  • 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.
  • On iCarly, especially in the second and third seasons, Freddy often bursts into Gratuitous Spanish. This implies that he is somewhat bilingual.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).


    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 Comics 
  • A later-justified example occured 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.
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 69, a Parody Episode of Dora the Explorer it is revealed that Mr. Cat can speak German.
  • 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.
    • 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 and starts suddenly speaking French in the middle of a sentence.
  • 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.>
  • 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 had no idea he could do this before.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Fred Speaking Fluent Mandarin

In the post credit scene of Hop, Fred O' Hare is seen issuing an Easter basket to a Chinese woman, speaking excellent Mandarin as he does so.

How well does it match the trope?

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