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Surprisingly Good Foreign Language

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Truth #1: Foreign languages sound more exotic. Buying some body lotion is not the same as buying La Creme Luxueuse, and driving a car is not the same as driving a Motorwagen.

Truth #2: Unfortunately, not many people are fluent in foreign languages.

Truth #3: But sometimes, they are.

Horrible grammar and pronunciation of any foreign language is the expected norm in most works of fiction. Even if you do manage to get the grammar right (harder than it sounds), unless you either have an actor who is a native speaker or a very good language coach to help them, their accent is going to be blatantly obvious, and oftentimes won't even register to native speakers as the language in question.


But if you can get the grammar and the accent right, viewers will be pleasantly surprised. This allows for a number of other language tropes, such as Bilingual Dialogue and Bilingual Bonus.

Surprisingly Good English is an English-specific subtrope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Accel World dural / Magisa Garden has surprisingly good Russian from Lilya, in part due to its editor being Russian.
  • Takahiro Sakurai as Richard in The Case Files of Jeweler Richard worked incredibly hard to be able to speak not only English for Omniglot Richard, but French, Arabic, and others. His pronunciation has been lauded.
  • Johnny Yong Bosch as Izaya in Durarara!! speaks a couple lines of Russian rather fluently.
  • The "Brothers" song from Fullmetal Alchemist is sung in more or less decent Russian.
    • This is because some Russians are singing the song.
  • The Mandarin Chinese spoken in episodes 3 and 4 of Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid is actually pretty good, though somewhat lacking in the tension expected from the setting.
  • In Giant Killing, the French spoken by Mr. Blanc is grammatically correct, and his voice actor Yukata Nakano does a very good work, even pronouncing the "r" and the "l" right. Aside from a rare Japanese accent slipping here and there, the only thing to betray him is the intonation.
  • Gosick is chock-full of perfectly written French, including accentuated character and adequate idiotisms. The English parts of the ending are also very well pronounced.
  • One of the Glaciesan pilots in Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing, Viola, speaks fluent Russian, courtesy of her native Russian voice actor, Jenya Davidyuk.
  • The quality of various foreign languages in Love Live! are quickly increasing as multilingual characters and voice actresses are introduced:
    • Mia Taylor, who is fluent in English besides Japanese;
    • Keke Tang, Mandarin plus the two above; and
    • Lanzhu Zhong, Cantonese plus the three above. Her first image song flexes all four of her languages.
  • Asuka Langley Soryu from the English dub of Neon Genesis Evangelion peppers her speech with some amazing German, courtesy of Tiffany Grant (contrast with the Gratuitous German in the Japanese version).
  • The Nodame Cantabile second season's ending is sung in perfect, unaccented French. As the singer uses colloquial French with a Paris accent she is definitely native.
  • Sound of the Sky: Minor character Aisha speaks more or less OK Roman (actually German), though with a crazy accent.
  • In Tokyo Godfathers, the Hispanic immigrant mother (and the boy who gets her involved) only speaks Spanish, and it is Surprisingly Good!
  • One of the ending themes in Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase is sung in Surprisingly Good French!
  • In Umi Monogatari, the shrine maiden's song is sung in the Amami language, which is on the verge of becoming an extinct language and is officially considered a Japanese dialect.
  • Wolf's Rain has Surprisingly Good Russian. The announcement on the railway station is spoken in flawless Russian, without any accent.
  • The manga Gantz has minor characters with lines in several foreing languages written in correct grammar, including English, German, Italian and Portuguese.
  • Nonna and Clara in Girls und Panzer der Film tend to speak very fluent Russian when shown together, much to Katyusha's chagrin. Justified on two counts: Nonna's seiyuu, being a massive Russophile, studied Russian previously; while Clara's seiyuu is Russian.
  • The ending theme of Fantastic Children, 'Mizu no Madoromi', has two versions- the normal Japanese version used in the present-day episodes, and an alternate version used in the episodes that flashback to Greecia, sung in Russian. Both versions are sung by the late Ol'ga Vital'evna Jakovleva, better known as Origa. The Russian version is, if anything, even more beautiful than the superlative Japanese version, possibly because it was originally written in Russian before being translated into Japanese (the Russian version's lyrics rhyme noticeably better).
  • Origa's beautiful Russian singing gave her quite a notable career in anime soundtracks, with her most famous performances probably being 'Inner Universe' and 'Rise', the openings of the first and second seasons of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

    Fan Works 
  • Zany To The Max provides multiple languages well spoken by Sikko, most notably Finnish.
  • This happens a lot in the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal where the various Discworld languages tend to be one-for-one representations of their Earth equivalents. The author is assisted by fans who are native-speakers who have occassionally suggested corrections and better idioms. Creating "South African" characters actually incentivised him to really start learning Afrikaans. And by extention, Dutch.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Black Widow's interrogation scene in the beginning of The Avengers has the dialogue in perfect Russian, although the Russian general has a weak but noticeable foreign accent (due to the actor being Polish) and Natasha herself speaks with a very heavy American accent. The text on the billboard briefly seen outside the building appears to be gibberish, though.
  • At the beginning of the 1931 Dracula film, Transylvanian peasants are heard speaking in perfectly authentic Hungarian (even though what they say is not subtitled, so it could've been foreign-sounding nonsense). It probably helped that Bela Lugosi was a native Hungarian.
  • The Good, the Bad, the Weird, a Korean remake of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly IN 1930s MANCHURIA!, features (as one would expect from the setting), a lot of Mandarin and Japanese, as well as Korean (the three central characters are all Korean exiles). The Mandarin and Japanese are surprisingly good.
  • In The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes Madame Petrova speaks perfect Russian. To be expected, because she was played by Tamara Toumanova, an immigrant from Russia. Event her slight accent (she was half-Georgian) was perfectly plausible for that time and her social standing in-character.
  • In The Fighting Seabees one of the construction crew workers sings a verse of "We are" song and later prays in perfect Russian.
  • Entire cast of How I Unleashed World War II consists of Polish actors. Yet there are dialogues in nine foreign languages and they are all perfectly performed. Bonus points for being made in Polish People's Republic, where knowing foreign languages other than Russian was frowned upon. The only exception might be the Austrian farmer, who speaks in fluent German, but doesn't have a highly distinctive Tyrolian accent, but that's just nit-picking.
  • Amrish Puri, who plays Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, is really a Bollywood actor, which leads to some great bilingual bonus lines: "Maaro, maaro, sewer ko! Chamdi nocho, peelo khoon!" ("Beat the pig, rend his flesh, drink his blood!")
  • At the beginning of Les Misérables (2012), Javert hands to Valjean a "badge of shame" that identifies him as a dangerous criminal and that he shall carry with him until he dies. While only shown for a brief moment, the document itself is extremely well written. It is also wrong, as it identifies Valjean as a 1.6 meters tall (Hugh Jackman is 1.9) green-eyed (Jackman's eyes are brown) freed convict.
  • In Mad Max: Fury Road, the Buzzards (the gang in the porcupine-looking spiked cars) communicate among themselves in perfect Russian. The actors who played them are all Russians and even have matching Moscow accents. More than that, apparently they are speaking a form of Russian slang used by criminals for extra authenticity.
  • In Six String Samurai the Russian army speaks with an audible accent, but their phrases are correct.
  • Slap Shot: The two French-Canadian characters are played by French-Canadian actors. So they speak both French and English like French-Canadians would.
  • Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice manages to speak good German with a slight Polish accent, exactly as her character would.
  • In X-Men: First Class, Erik Lehnsherr and the Nazis he encounters (and, a bit later, kills) in the bar speak surprisingly good German. The actor playing Erik (Michael Fassbender) was born in Germany and the actors playing the Nazis are most likely German.
  • The Zohar Secret presents a wide variety of those: good Latin, Hebrew, Turkish, Spanish, French and Russian, all grammatically correct, all sound nice.
  • In Tropic Thunder, the armed, violent bandits in the rain forest (in an unidentified Asian country) speak proper Mandarin Chinese.

  • In Royce Day's The Red Vixen Adventures part of the background of the wazagan race is that their world suffered a Prime Directive failure, so much of their own religion and culture was dumped in favor of a oddball combination of Christian and Muslim. As a result, the wazagans tend to use a lot of Arabic for flavor. Fortunately one of Day's cover artists is a native of Saudi Arabia, ensuring the Arabic translations are authentic.
  • By the end of the sucky road trip in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, the Heffleys' van's heater breaks down and one of the tires goes flat. A van passes by and they stop them for help, who turn out to be Spanish-speaking men who cannot understand English. Manny turns out to have learned perfect Spanish from listening to the CD and he saves the day, as well as convince the men to drive to the petting zoo to retrieve the pet piglet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Alias, the main character once had quite a few lines in Swedish. She couldn't have passed for a native Swedish speaker, but spoke better Swedish than many foreigners who have lived in Sweden for years. Having Swedish Lena Olin in the cast probably helped.
  • There’s almost always someone who speaks another language on the US based version of The Amazing Race during any given season. It’s usually Spanish with the occasional other language like French or Mandarin. The most surprising instance of this was two separate people from season 30 who could speak decent enough Arabic which is notoriously tough for native English speakers. When the teams got to Morocco, Cody shocked his girlfriend (now wife) Jessica by switching right to it when their cab driver told them he wasn’t fluent in English. He picked it up in the military. Evan who’d spent a semester abroad there in high school also spoke it well enough to get them where they needed to go.
  • Brass Eye includes a faked advertisement for a supposed Japanese product called "Canibliss" which allows its user to take drugs via a dog. Astonishingly, this is rendered in perfect Japanese by a native Japanese speaker, despite this being patent nonsense and - importantly - not intended to fool anyone who could be reasonably expected to understand the language, let alone understand the nuances in pronunciation between a native and non-native speaker.
  • On Charmed, Cole speaks very good Italian.
  • Danger 5. Despite being a completely over-the-top parody of Sixties and Eighties TV action dramas the series contains correct English, German, Russian, Italian, French, Japanese, and Cantonese. This is a result of being produced by Australia's premier multilingual channel SBS, which prides itself on its linguistic diversity.
  • In Daredevil (2015), Karen Page speaks Spanish extremely well, far more fluently than her claims to have learned it in high-school would account for.
  • Flight of the Conchords: When Bret performs a Korean Karaoke song, both on the HBO show and on stage, his pronunciation is unexpectedly good.
  • In the tenth series of Friends, it turns out that Phoebe is fluent in French.
  • Good Omens: The dialogue in the scene at the "Firebird" submarine is spoken in perfect Russian with authentic accent, and all the intonation quirks English speakers almost never get quite right.
  • In an episode of Grimm, Sean Renard speaks fluent Russian, although with a noticeable accent. Sasha Roiz's parents immigrated to Israel from the USSR. Some of the other Russian characters in that episode did a better job than others (at least one was Polish, another was born in Ukraine, and a third has Russian parents). In another episode, Juliette speaks fluent Spanish. Indeed, Elizabeth Tulloch has spent some time in Spain, Uruguay, and Argentina (in fact, Spanish was the actress's first language, despite being born in San Diego).
  • On Heroes, both Masi Oka's and James Kyson's (Hiro and Ando) Japanese is surprisingly good (although they still have noticeable accents) considering Masi moved to LA when he as 6 and Kyson is from Korea. Masi even provided the translations himself, after being given lines in English.
  • Whenever a Jeopardy! clue comes up that uses a foreign term, the host will try to read the term in as close to that language as he can muster.
  • In the second episode of Loki, Tom Hiddleston speaks in near-perfect classical Latin (albeit with an English accent) while in Pompeii testing his theory. Perhaps not that surprising considering he graduated from Cambridge with a double first in Classics.
  • Several episodes of MacGyver (1985) set in East Germany feature excellent (and grammatically correct) German.
  • Patrick Jane in The Mentalist speaks excellent Spanish as shown in the episode My Blue Heaven when he is living in an undetermined Spanish-speaking country, even when in-universe dialogue from two local characters could make you think otherwise.
  • On That Mitchell and Webb Look, one of their trademark sketches (the parody Game Show "Numberwang") was done entirely in Gratuitous German. The accent was a little off, but the grammar was actually quite good.
  • Never Have I Ever: Ben learned Mandarin, all in the name of his rivalry with his intellectual equal Devi.
  • In Scrubs, Elliot speaks fluent French and German, just like her actress.
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    • The episode "Duet" features two startlingly flawless lines in German from an extra. (There are no subtitles. The lines translate to "Ew, this is like the birth of my nephew." and "Damn, I knew this was going to happen!" respectively.) This is because the lines were ad-libbed and the actress was born in Germany.
    • Dr. Radek Zelenka. David Nykl, who personally translated some of Dr. Zelenka's lines into Czech, ad-libbed some swearing, and otherwise puts on a fairly good Czech accent for the role. He has Czech parents and spent some years in the country as a baby and as an adult. However, some credit for Zelenka's popularity with Czech viewers also has to go to the writers who managed to give Zelenka a very good Czech name that avoids obvious pitfalls such as the character being named some variation on Jan Novák or being a Famous-Named Foreigner - making him far less of a token Czech and far more of an actually relatable, distinct Czech character.
  • Same with the episode "1969"' on Stargate SG-1. Michael Shanks apparently did work with a Russian language coach, which paid definitely off.
  • The British TV game show Taskmaster often features competitors speaking in different languages.
    • Series 4 had a team task which incorporated a rule that no one was allowed to speak English while completing it. Hugh Dennis and Mel Giedroyc were paired up and both demonstrated a grasp of rudimentary French, so this rule was not a problem for them.
    • In Series 11, Mike Wozniak does a creditable job recording a funny in-flight announcement in passable German, having studied the language in school.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?:
    • The game "Foreign Film Dub" with guest star Sid Caesar is actually a subversion. One of Caesar's gags is his apparent fluency in many languages, but he actually only speaks English and Yiddish.
    • And Stephen Fry in a "Questions Only" game set in ancient Rome using only Latin (until he gets flustered when asked about the Parthenon).
    • Colin, having been raised in Montreal, will occasionally bring in Quebecois French in a game.
    • Jeff Davis in the American version speaks actual Spanish during a round. (Not that Colin Mochrie translates any of it properly.)
      Jeff: Señor, necesito un burro. (Mister, I need a donkey.)
      Colin: ("translating") Hey, nice pants!
  • Artemus Gordon of The Wild Wild West uses a number of different languages over the course of the series, occasionally at some length, and does it very well. Mostly due to the fact that Ross Martin had an ear for such things and spoke something like seven languages fluently. Martin also put his skills to good use while playing a Hispanic in Mr. Lucky.

  • If you didn't know that salsa band Orquesta de la Luz was from Japan, you could never tell by the excellent Spanish they sing. And even if you do know, it's still hard to tell.
  • The Swedish Heavy Mithril band Dragonland did a cover of X Japan's song "Rusty Nail", and the vocalist's Japanese skill has to be heard to be believed.
  • On his album Twang, George Strait did a surprisingly accurate rendition of mariachi singer José Alfredo Jiménez' "El Rey" entirely in Spanish.
  • Deathspell Omega's Latin qualifies, being pretty much free of grammatical errors.
  • Mika and Petula Clark are two British singers who many people are unaware speak fluent French and have released records in that language. (Mika was born in Lebanon and lived in Paris until he was 9.)

    Video Games 
  • American McGee's Grimm: Episode 3 of season 3 covers the story of Mulan, and the voice-acting is done entirely in flawless Mandarin Chinese. Not so surprising, as the studio was based in Shanghai.
  • Franchise/Bemani: Several songs by artist TaQ are noted for being in excellent German, which isn't surprising considering he was raised in Germany.
  • Jagged Alliance: Ivan's Russian is completely fluent, particularly notable considering he's the only character in the games (at least until his nephew joins in) who speaks Russian.
  • Jotun: Despite the game being developed in Canada, all the dialogue is in perfectly fluent Icelandic spoken by native Icelanders (Jotun is rooted in Norse mythology, and Icelandic is the closest living relative to Old Norse).
  • Johnny Yong Bosch, Zero's English voice actor in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 pronounces the Japanese names of his attacks surprisingly well, so much so that Japanese people are surprised that Bosch isn't a native Japanese speaker.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Soviet soldiers fighting in Afghanistan speak in perfect Russian, so players with knowledge of Russian can understand their radio communiques without the need of a translator. This is also true for the African mercenaries on the Angola-Zaire border, who speak nice Kikongo, Afrikaans and other african languages. Slightly averted on some text banners.
  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 takes place on an island off the coast of Russia. Over the course of the game you will encounter posters and audio transmissions, all in good Russian.
  • Saints Row:
    Phillipe Loren: Oh putain de merde... OUVREZ-MOI CETTE PORTE!!! Je veux sa tête !" note 
  • The Wii Punch-Out!! game has the enemy boxers speak their respective native tongue very well. This is even more impressive considering the number of different languages spoken (French, German, Japanese, Hindi, Spanish, Russian and Turkish).
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order: Both German and Polish feature prominently, and are depicted accurately.
  • Solatorobo has soundbites used for various emotions in recognizable French. Swearing is rather tame due to being on the dated side, however.

     Web Original 

  • David Murray, The 8-Bit Guy, surprised viewers by speaking German fluently during a trip to Thoman Synth Reactor 2019. In a follow-up video, David explained that he studied German in high school and even spent an exchange semester in the country.

    Western Animation 
  • The Chinese writing in Avatar: The Last Airbender is flawless and period-appropriate, thanks to Dr. Siu-Leung Lee, a Hongkonger.
  • In Code Lyoko, Odd speaks good Italian (the only school subject that Jérémie seems to have trouble with), likely due to his Italian heritage (his surname is the very Italian "Della Robbia"). Also, Yumi seems to be bi-lingual, with her native tongue being Japanese.
  • How to Train Your Dragon has an ending theme with parts in Surprisingly Good Icelandic, because it was done by an Icelandic singer. Specifically, by Jonsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot has one episode with Surprisingly Good Japanese. After a mission in Tokyo, Jenny loses her English-language disc, and can only speak Japanese for the rest of the episode. Her voice actress, Janice Kawaye, is bilingual and her lines are absolutely flawlessnote .
  • In Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated Professor Pericles speaks surprisingly good German, when he does more than peppering his sentences with German words. It's mostly when he commands the 'bots (invented by another German character). It helps that Pericles is voiced by an actual German actor, Udo Kier.

    Real Life 
  • In the Roman Catholic Church, a candidate for Pope must be at least trilingual. For example, Pope John Paul II was believed to know as many as 12 (other than his native tongue, Polish), and utilized 9 languages as Pope.
  • To become an official translator of any EU institution, you have to know at least three different languages: your mother tongue, then English and then either French or German. If your native language is any of those three, you need to know either all of them, or one of them and then a smaller language. Once you're in, you've got the opportunity to learn new languages and get paid for it, with translators ending up knowing any number of languages from at least half a dozen up to twenty different languages.
  • English rugby icon Jonny Wilkinson took one of his college A-Levels in French, and is fluent enough in French to conduct all of his interviews with French media in that language, with no interpreter. (He played his last five years of club rugby in France from 2009–2014.)
  • British comedian Eddie Izzard took French in school, loved it, and speaks it very well. In "Dress to Kill" he has an entire sketch based around speaking French, starting with the idea that common phrases found in high school French textbooks are very hard to easily slip into a conversation. He then proceeds to do the entire sketch in French showing just how nonsensical those phrases are, ending with recapping the movie Speed. He also does the entire sketch in English at another point. At the beginning of the former, he says that he had taken his last show to France and did it entirely in French, much to the surprise of his audience.
  • Comedian Bill Bailey speaks both French and German well, though admittedly keeps his accent, and frequently incorporates both into his music and routines. By his own admission, however, he's not skilled with Spanish and Mandarin.
  • Israeli news anchor Yonit Levi displays her fluent command of Italian whenever something big and interesting happens in Italy (for instance, when someone tried to attack then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, or the COVID-19 outbreak in Lombardy) when she interviews someone in it. It happens rather rarely, leaving many Israelis very surprised when it does happen.
  • Russian author Vladimir Nabokov grew up in a multilingual sophisticated family but he wrote his first books in Russian. He then transitioned to writing in English. The books he wrote in English, Lolita and Pale Fire, contain prose in perfect English.
  • Jodie Foster is perfectly fluent in French, having attended an exclusive California private secondary school that teaches its classes in French. She can speak the language without a trace of American accent, and frequently dubs her own roles in it.
  • Yukio Mishima taught himself English after World War II using nothing except a tape recorder and a stack of comic books left behind by American servicemen, and spoke it so well he conducted his famous 1969 interview in Time magazine without an interpreter.
  • People are often surprised that Queen Elizabeth II speaks fluent French. On state visits she's addressed the French parliament without an interpreter. Once, she was phoned by a prankster radio host from Quebec, pretending to be Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. When he suggested that they switch into French, he was startled when her instant response was, "Bon, allez."
  • Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, now based in Japan, speaks Japanese well enough to host his own show.
  • Jake Adelstein is an interesting example. Being the first American journalist to work as a Japanese-language reporter for a major Japanese newspaper, Surprisingly Good Japanese was a requirement; he even scored better in proficiency tests than native speakers. The flipside: because he spent so much time speaking it in an all-Japanese environment, when a case required him to interact with English speakers, he found himself stuttering over his words and even veering towards Engrish at times. He recovered pretty quickly.
  • Associated Press Correspondent Philip Crowther gained attention for reporting fluently in six languages: English, Luxembourgish, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German