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Translation Convention

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"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! In the interest of clarity — and sanity — the rest of this movie will not be in Polish!"
Narrator, To Be or Not to Be (1983)

When a group of people whose native language is not English are together, away from any English speakers, the audience may nonetheless hear them speaking perfect English.

This is not a case of Translator Microbes, in which an in-universe device is performing actual translation: We are meant to assume that the characters are really speaking their own native tongue, and it is being translated purely for our benefit (or the benefit of the casting director who is then free to hire English-speaking actors), like the dubbing of English dialogue onto foreign-made films.

It is not strictly necessary for there to be no English speakers about; we can sometimes infer from context that they too are speaking a different language. (As in the MacGyver episode "A Prisoner of Conscience", unless we are to believe that the entire population of a Russian state psychiatric hospital speaks English as their preferred language). In such cases, it can be difficult (or almost impossible) to tell whether it is the Translation Convention or Translator Microbes at work.


This also works for any work that has been dubbed into a different language from the original. French characters in an originally French film are assumed to be speaking French to one another, even if everything has been translated for the convenience of an English-speaking audience. This goes for many anime dubs, too.

In some cases, the actors will begin speaking in the characters' native language, then perform a switch-over to English. This is usually accompanied by some sort of camera-move to cue the audience in to the fact that the characters should still be assumed to be speaking in their native language. This technique was used in The Hunt for Red October (see below for context). Also common is characters speaking their own language when addressing English-speaking members of the cast, but accented English at all other times, giving the curious impression that foreigners only speak their own language when they think an English speaker is listening. Black-and-white war movie Germans are particularly fond of doing this.


If done in poor taste, the characters may retain ridiculous accents, resulting in giving the impression that they have no other language, Just a Stupid Accent.

When the actors speak with English or other British accents for effect, despite the story being set in times past, they are speaking The Queen's Latin. For example, every other adaptation of one of William Shakespeare Italian plays.

Naturally, this also happens when translating works into other languages. However, languages left untranslated in the original may still be left untranslated in the translation. (Of course, in literature, this can cause problems if the language left untranslated in the original is the language being translated into, though translating that into the original language often works. On TV, you can just use gibberish.) Because of this, English-speaking viewers are actually the least likely to be the most shocked by this trope. For example, in the French version of Pearl Harbor, the Americans speak French while the Japanese speak Japanese.

Most works of fantasy operate under the Translation Convention, given that English isn't exactly the Common Tongue. In cases like these, the language being spoken will occasionally be namedropped for the reader's benefit (especially in scenes where more than one language is being spoken).

Sometimes, despite the characters supposedly not speaking English, puns, jokes and wordplay are present that only work in English. Sometimes there's a handwaving explanation that equivalents have been replaced by the translator. This is just plain egregious if the way a character speaks is pointed out, and the remark simply doesn't work in the language they should be speaking.

If the characters start in one language then switch to English for one reason or another, it is Switch to English.

In text based mediums, comics especially, different languages are often set apart by Fonts or symbols, usually by enclosing them in ‹angle quotes›. In books, using italics is more common.

See also Aliens Speaking English. Compare Bilingual Dialogue, Animal Talk, Common Tongue and Think in Text.

When the work itself is supposed to have been translated, see Fictional Document, Direct Line to the Author.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • Angus Og: It is strongly implied in several strips that the cast are mainly speaking Scot's Gaelic amongst themselves and only speaking English whenever it is to outsiders like tourists, or the Laird and his guests.

  • This joke features two Argentines in Brazil. Their dialogue is in Brazilian Portuguese instead of Latin American Spanish and there's a note stating the translation was made for two reasons: to make the joke easier to understand and because whoever wrote the joke didn't know Spanish.

  • Megadeth's Spanish versions of "Trust" and "Promises" feature Spanish choruses but the English verses are left as they are.
    • The same is done in Avril Lavigne's Japanese version of "Girlfriend".
  • The English versions of Rammstein's "Du Hast" and "Engel" start in English, switch to the original German for a part that was previously sung in English, then switch back to English to end the song.
  • KMFDM's "Godlike" has a spoken-word portion of the song that repeats the English lyrics of the first verse in German. "A Hole in the Wall" is a strange case where an entire song consists of an English translation of one of their earlier German songs ("Liebeslied") even though the two songs are unrelated musically.

  • Yoshi from the Cool Kids Table game Here We Gooooo! only speaks Yoshi, but because Dario and Crania have royal educations they understand what he's saying.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The background information for Warhammer 40,000 indicates that humanity has moved on to speak "Gothic", but all records and dialogues are rendered in English. While the alien races also have their own languages, the Translation usually does not kick in and second-hand interpretation needs to come in. In some of the spinoff media though, like the Dawn of War series, the Convention is in full force regardless of what race the player uses (Eldar get Voice of the Legion, Tau get a stilted Japanese accent, and Orks get a heavy cockney brouge). Then there's "High Gothic", which is rendered as Latin with occasional bits of other languages, usually German, thrown in.
    • However, Games Workshop and Black Library hire a lot of writers who "forget" this little fact, and will make wordplay and puns that only work in British English.
    • Warhammer Fantasy's "Reikspiel" is obviously supposed to be German, as everything has a slightly Germanic lit, and the Imperial regime is known as a "Reik" (probably because "Reich" would be insensitive).
      • Although In-Universe, Reik is meant to be from Reikland one of the provinces of the Empire, so more akin to the usage of English and the UK (which may be a deliberate reference).
      • The word Reich by itself isn't offensive (it just translates to "realm" or "kingdom", making its application to an imperial regime very fitting), but rather, the Third Reich, which is synonymous with Nazi Germany. And Reich and Reik are homophones to most peoplenote 
  • Exalted uses this in various instances, particularly when characters have names consisting of nouns and adjectives such as Strength of Many or the Unconquered Sun, even when their actual names are probably in in-character languages such as Old Realm or Firetongue, while also having names that sound reminiscent of real life ones (such as Venus and Mars). It's most apparent with the Alchemical Exalted, who not only have names reminiscent of propaganda and weapon designations such as Excessively Righteous Blossom and Stern Whip of Industry, but the ones who turn into cities are renamed to contractions of their original names (so Luminous Exarch becomes Lux).

    Web Animation 


    Web Animation 
  • Lopez's (horrible) Spanish in Red vs. Blue is never directly translated, only subtitled in a deliberately poor fashion.
  • In gen:LOCK, everyone has an Augmented Reality heads-up display, which among other functions provides both subtitled and auditory translations of anyone speaking a language the user doesn't know. One of the main characters, Kazu, only speaks Japanese, for which the audience receives subtitles rather than an audible translation. Several other characters drop Bilingual Bonuses into their dialogue knowing that they'll be understood by other characters, with only Yasamin's comments in Farsi being subbed for the audience's benefit.

    Web Videos 


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Alternative Title(s): Translating Convention


Ancient Language?

The ancient language they're currently speaking.

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