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Translation Convention / Live-Action TV

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The Translation Convention in live-action TV.

In General:

  • Every documentary where historical accounts are recited (think PBS or The History Channel). The recital will always be in English (or the native language of the documentary's target audience), no matter what language the document was originally penned in. Unfortunately (and especially shocking considering the documentary nature of these, well, documentaries) almost all of these recitals tend to be done in very poor taste, with stupid accents so thick they just serve as a cheesy distraction from the document's actual message and meaning, if not being outright as incomprehensible as the original language.
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  • In a non-language variant, Stephen Hawking's narration of documentaries such as Into the Universe switches back and forth between his own synthesizer-generated voice, and that of voiceover actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who speaks much like Hawking did before his paralysis. These shifts from computer-speech to actor-speech coincide with forays into Hawking's thought-experiments, as they represent how Hawking's mental ponderings sound to him.


By Series:

  • The characters of 24 all seem capable of speaking perfect English, regardless of what country they originally came from... although generally with a thick accent.
  • In the British sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!, this was used to great effect; the French characters spoke English with (bad) French accents, the German characters spoke English with (bad) German accents, all the British characters spoke English with exaggerated British accents and word-choices, etc. One character, a British agent working undercover as a police officer, spoke in a plain English accent but mangled his vowels ("good moaning!"); other characters commented "I don't understand what you're saying, your French is so bad". They were careful to reinforce the idea in the audience's mind when it was going to be a plot point: the "French" characters would complain that they couldn't understand what the "English" speakers were saying to eachother and vice-versa.
    • There was an episode where the two main French characters were in a car with two English soldiers. The English soldiers spoke English to them, and they stared back blankly. One of the soldiers then starts speaking authentic French, and the French characters responded in English.
    • Michelle from the Resistance drops her French accent when talking to Englishmen, and that change in her speech is always sharp and startling. It's not clear if this is supposed to represent simply a switch to English as a mode of communication, or that Michelle actually speaks really, really, really good English.
    • Crabtree's "Good moaning" French is revealed as military language training. He is briefly joined by another undercover agent who comments that the locals seem to talk strangely. His honest explanation is that it's the Frenchmen who have a "country accent", whereas the British agent are "taught to speak posh".
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    • Bizarrely, most of the time no distinction was made between French and German, with French- and German-accented characters conversing together quite happily.
      • And let's not forget the Italians, who always speak with exaggerated Italian accents even if they're clearly meant to be speaking in French or German.
      • In one scene German officers interrogate British pilots through the medium of Bertorelli's translation (partly relying on a hilariously bad dictionary). To the Germans he speaks in his usual exaggeratedly Italian-accented English (representing Italian-accented German); to the Englishmen, he speaks with the same accent, but with a bizarre consistency in pronouncing every individual letter in a non-English way: "people" as "pee-oh-pleh", "you" as "yoh-oo", "know" with a loud "k" etc. Presumably this represents him speaking English exactly that way.
  • Babylon 5 uses it whenever aliens talk to each other with no humans around. There is really only one completely explicit use of it, though: in the TV movie In the Beginning, we always hear the Minbari speaking English, but when one of them has a meeting with other races in English, he speaks it hesitantly and leaves some words out.
  • In Barbarians the members of the various Germanic tribes speak modern German instead of a Proto-Germanic language, or whatever language (English, Italian, Spanish, etc) the viewer chose for audio. On the other hand, all of the Roman characters and their allies speak in the type of classical Latin most likely in use at the time the series took place regardless of the language chosen.
  • An obscure example comes from a 1998 Canadian miniseries, Big Bear, where all the native characters spoke contemporary English while all the white characters spoke gibberish.
  • Parodied in the crossover episode of Boy Meets World. After an ambush in World War II Cory wakes up with no memory of who he is, and "speaking perfect French." Later the girl who found him speaks actual French, leading to the line "Excuse me, I only speak French."
  • English seems to be the official language of all the vampires and demons in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, regardless of where they originally hail from and what ancient language all those crazy books seem to be written in.
    • Unless, of course, it's a plot point that certain characters can't understand them, such as the episode where Giles got turned into a Fyarl demon, and nobody but him and Spike turns out to "speak Fyarl". The trope is still played straight here, though, as in that episode Anthony Head only speaks English when talking to Spike or when we're supposed to be seeing the scene from his perspective instead of the other Scoobies'. When we see it from the perspective of the other Scoobies it switches to growling, grunting gibberish.
  • The 2005 UK miniseries Casanova drew attention to this trope by having Casanova (a native Italian speaker) repeatedly travelling to other countries and being praised on his mastery of the local language at each destination. Of course, all the viewer heard was English.
    • His mastery is excellent in every language, bar English. His accent is supposedly "hilarious".
  • In HBO's Chernobyl all dialogue between characters is in English, with the cast using The Queen's Latin rather than attempt to fake Russian/Ukrainian accents. In-universe broadcasts, such as news reports and safety announcements, and all written text are presented in untranslated Russian/Cyrillic.
    • The phone communications with the fire/emergency services in the first episode are reportedly recordings of the real-life calls.
  • About half of all the conversations in Cloud of Sparrows are in English, and the other half are stated to be in Japanese, though it's all rendered in English. At one point, Genji greets Emily and Stark, and Emily apologises to him for not speaking his language. Genji then turns to Hidwas near the border, right?
  • An episode of Coupling revolved around Jeff attempting to flirt with a woman who speaks only Hebrew. After the conversation plays out once, it is repeated from the woman's point of view, during which the woman's Hebrew is replaced with English and the Brits, including Jeff, speak vaguely Italian-sounding gibberish.
    • Which the actor made up on the spot. His words of various body parts, in particular, are highly amusing.
  • Crossing Lines: Even in private, Europeans speak English to each other when they aren't native English speakers and they share another language. The news in non-Anglophone countries is even in English. Apparently the producers felt subtitles are too difficult for their American audiences.
  • Doctor Who explains how everyone and everything in the known universe appears to speak perfect English by claiming that it's a side-effect of travelling in the TARDIS, which automatically translates everything into the traveller's native language. This doesn't explain why "Bonjour", "Mademoiselle" and so forth are left untranslated, but perhaps the TARDIS simply understands that some phrases are easily understood. Or it might just assume that they're part of its occupants' native language, if they seem to understand such phrases without aid. The line between foreign language and foreign loan-word is hard to pin down sometimes.
    • "Carnival of Monsters": Vorg attempts to speak to the Doctor in Polari. The Doctor is hopelessly confused and doesn't seem to even recognise what the language is. It could be the TARDIS considered it an esoteric version of English slang, or (since Vorg is a Lurman who learned Polari so he could communicate with 1970s English carnies) perhaps Vorg's Polari is really bad?
    • "The Time Warrior": Both scientific technobabble and the Doctor's Quintessential British Gentleman slang are apparently interpreted into Norman French for the Saxon warrior Irongron.
    • Used completely straight with no justification (other than to avoid confusing the audience) in "The Deadly Assassin", in which everyone is speaking in Gallifreyan, but due to the viewpoint character being the Doctor and there being no companion we hear the Time Lords speaking in English, complete with accents for some characters (Spandrell sounds Eastern European to indicate he was born outside the Citadel). This probably also applies to conversations between the Doctor and Romana, such as the following from "The Ribos Operation":
      The Doctor: Keep an eye on the sentry.
      Romana: Why?
      The Doctor: Sleeping on duty is a serious offense. If anyone comes, you can wake him up.
      Romana: You do know that sarcasm's an adjustive stress reaction?
    • In "The Curse of Fenric", there's an example similar to the Eagle Has Landed example under films: A group of Soviet special forces land on the coast of the UK during World War II and are instructed by their officer to speak only English from here on in. Despite wearing Soviet uniforms and everything. And they continue to do so, even while dying or otherwise under great duress.
    • The series is not consistent in having the TARDIS being the translator. "The Christmas Invasion", for example, establishes that the translation doesn't kick in until the Doctor regains consciousness. It's because the TARDIS isn't doing so well without the Doctor since there's a fairly large degree of symbiosis between the two characters.
    • In "The Fires of Pompeii", people trying to speak actual Latin phrases to Pompeiians get translated into "Celtic" — that is, early Welsh — prompting the Pompeiians to say things like "There's lovely" and "Look you" in response. (It's made by BBC Wales; they're allowed to make jokes like that.) This seems to indicate that the TARDIS translates both meaning and context, posh French into posh English, your foreign into their foreign, and possibly even utterly incomprehensible hyper-advanced science for which your language has no words into technobabble. This might even explain how Tegan succeeded.
    • The new series seems to have forgotten that TARDIS travellers aren't supposed to even think about the whole translation thing. In a Fourth Doctor episode, the Doctor realizes that Sarah Jane is under mind control because she wonders why another character isn't speaking Italian. He explains it as a Time Lord gift, not a function of the TARDIS, which makes more sense since there are plenty of times when the TARDIS isn't around to translate.
    • Considering the Doctor's had to cannibalize and jury-rig the TARDIS in the meantime simply to keep it running, it's entirely possible he's modified it to work differently now. Or it could simply be not working at 100% efficiency anymore, much like his long-broken chameleon circuit.
    • Also, the TARDIS apparently doesn't translate particularly rude insults, as seen in "The Christmas Invasion".
    • It doesn't appear to translate certain alien languages, either, such as the Judoons' "Yoh Soh Froh Sloh" speech in "The Stolen Earth", although Word of God claims the Judoon speak in a kind of "military shorthand", which, since it's not actually a different language, isn't translated.
    • Lampshaded in "Vincent and the Doctor"; when talking to the Doctor and Amy, Vincent van Gogh — played by a Scottish actor — assumes by Amy's accent that she's Dutch, like him. Amy — also played by a Scottish actor — doesn't know what he's talking about. Apparently the TARDIS equates Scottish-accented English with Dutch-accented French, in both directions.
    • In "Cold War", Soviet characters speaking Russiannote  are given British accents analogous to their character stereotypes if they were British.
    • Possible Fridge Brilliance in series 7. In "The Rings of Akhaten", Clara needs help from the Doctor while talking to some of the aliens in the market. Since in the same episode it is also strongly implied that the TARDIS doesn't like her, it may be that the TARDIS is refusing to translate for Clara out of spite.
    • The Past Doctor Adventures book Asylum uses this as a plot point — the TARDIS is apparently translating the Doctor and Nyssa culturally in order to demonstrate their personality to the people of the 1270s. The Doctor discovers that he is speaking mostly in English but with occasional switches into Latin and a handful of French, in the manner of well-spoken educated men of the period; and Nyssa is speaking completely in French, in the manner of the aristocratic class.
  • Enemy at the Door is set on the German-occupied island of Guernsey during World War II. The German characters are depicted always speaking in English, even among themselves. As a side-effect, this also means that there are no scenes where a German who speaks no English struggles to communicate with an islander who speaks no German. Perhaps less obviously, the islanders are also depicted always speaking in English, though French and the local language Guernésiais were also commonly spoken on the island at the time.
  • Farscape is the Trope Namer for Translator Microbes, but the only main characters who speak English are Crichton (Token Human) and Sikozu (Omniglot who can't use the microbes), so nearly every scene without either of them uses the convention.
  • Game of Thrones renders "The Common Tongue" as English; all other languages are consistently represented by Con Langs. In Mereen, we see the words "Kill the masters" written on the walls when Dany encourages the slaves to rise up and overthrow them. After Dany declares herself queen of the city, we see "Mhysa (Dany) is a master" written in response. Since most of the city does not speak the Common Tongue, this trope is probably at play here. George R. R. Martin admitted that he isn't a linguist like J. R. R. Tolkien, and therefore the Common Tongue doesn't have a Conlang of its own like Westron does; the series' wiki suggests that the Common Tongue is simply English in an alternate reality, much like the Galactic Basic of Star Wars, or rather American English spellings with British English pronunciation.
  • The neighborhood in The Good Place automatically translates everyone's speech to the language they're most comfortable with, along with censoring out any cursewords. So while Eleanor and the audience hear everyone speaking English, Chidi hears everything in French as that's his first language (although he is fluent in English and several other languages).
  • In Highlander: the Series, virtually all the dialogue in flashbacks takes place in English, even if it makes no sense based on the context. Even in the present-day scenes, although half of the episodes take place in France, almost (though not quite) all the conversation is still heard as English by the audience. In one episode, an entombed Immortal is extracted from a sarcophagus and immediately asks - in English - if "Rome still rules the world." Fan theory holds that she was actually are speaking either Latin or Hellenic Greek; languages that the character is asking would likely know having lived during times and places where those languages were still commonly spoken.
  • I, Claudius has characters speak English with a modern accent equivalent to their background. Upper-class Romans and certain aristocratic foreigners (those who would be expected to be fluent in Latin and/or Greek) speak The Queen's Latin, lower-class Romans have British working-class accents (usually Cockney), a the Jewish innkeeper speaks with a stereotypical Yiddish accent, and Caligula's Germanic bodyguards simply speak modern German.
  • The title character in John Doe is fished out of Puget Sound by some Hmong fishermen. The first clue that he somehow knows everything, except who he is and how he'd gotten there, is that he replies to their questions in their own language (with subtitles), without even realizing he is doing so. His encyclopedia-brain had, in effect, pulled this trope on him from within.
  • Obviously, in Kung Fu, all the flashback scenes set in the monastery are translated from a Chinese language, probably Putonghua (Mandarin). This leads to an oddity in the episode The Passion of Cheng Yi where Cheng Yi insults Caine by presenting him with a carved ant, pretending to have misremembered Caine's nickname, "Grasshopper" as "Pismire". Since pismire is an old English word for ant, and the Chinese word for ant does not sound like "piss", this makes little sense.
  • Lost:
    • In "Across the Sea", the mother of Jacob and MIB is washed ashore on the island, 40 weeks pregnant, and meets the false mother. They speak Latin until the Translation Convention kicks in.
    • Also seen in all of Sayid's flashbacks to his time in the Republican Guard; the first of these starts with a couple sentences in Arabic before the camera passes behind a person's head and everyone's speaking English when it gets to the other side. This is in stark contrast to Jin and Sun's flashbacks, which remain entirely in subtitled Korean thanks to the actors actually being able to speak it.
  • MacGyver features many such examples. One episode "For Love and Money" features Czech being used by a number of characters, but nothing said in that language is relevant to the plot. When Anton and his (GRU agent) wife, both Czechslovak, confront each other in an LA zoo, both speak in English.
  • Maigret is set in Paris but features a British cast. All the main dialogue is in English, but French background conversations can be heard and all writing is in French. Important pieces of written information will feature English translations floating alongside them.
  • Masters of Horror: "Imprint" is set in 19th century Japan with a single American main character. Unlike the second season's "Dream Cruise", this episode was filmed in English but with all the characters presumed to be speaking Japanese the entire time. Christopher is first thought to be Dutch.note 
  • In the Mission: Impossible TV series, there would frequently be signs and other writing in the background with appropriately foreign-looking words (called Gellerese, because the wording was devised by the director/producer Bruce Geller), but the characters would always appear to be speaking English when conversing with locals. We can assume that this trope was in effect.
    • In-universe, the IMF agents were all supposed to be impossibly fluent in the local language, wherever they went.
  • Napoléon: All characters speak English on screen, even when it's clear that French is actually being used. Not just among the French nationals, but presumably also Napoleon's meetings with Metternich and Alexander I, given that for centuries French was (and to a large extent, still is) the language of diplomacy in Europe.
  • The three part docudrama Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial features this throughout, with the German characters speaking only in English-accented English. German only appears in archive footage.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • "Promised Land" begins with the Tsal-Khan Dlavan and his grandson Ma'al speaking in their native language before it switches to English. From this point onwards, the audience hears the two of them, Krenn and T'sha speaking in English when they are interacting with each other and speaking in their own language when they are being observed by the escaped human slaves. The Tsal-Khan language also sounds quite aggressive to human ears, which serves to make them appear all the more intimidating.
    • In the opening scene of "Tribunal", which takes place in Auschwitz in 1944, SS-Obersturmführer Karl Rademacher speaks German before switching to English when he addresses Leon Zgierski. Later in the episode, Aaron Zgierski, Leon's son who has travelled back in time from 1999, converses with the inmates in Polish until he sees his father as a young man and it again switches to English. When the older Rademacher is confronted with his younger self in 1944, their conversation is presented in English but the implication is that is in fact taking place in German.
  • There's an interesting use in the British sitcom Private Schulz, where all of the German characters are played by English actors and use those accents, but when Schulz speaks to English speakers in English, his actor adopts a slight German accent.
    • In one confusing scene, Schulz and his commanding officer kidnap a pair of English agents. In-Universe, the English speak English (which the CO doesn't understand) and the CO speaks German (which the English don't understand), and Schulz is interpreting between them—but all the actors are actually speaking English, for the benefit of the viewer. It takes a moment to realize that the English agents and the CO can't understand each other.
  • Sense8:
    • Most of the time the audience hears English, regardless of what language the characters are speaking. Spanish sounds like English spoke with a Spanish accent, Hindi sounds like English spoken with a Hindi accent, etc. (Of course, Riley also sounds like she's speaking English with an Icelandic accent when she actually is speaking English with an Icelandic accent.) The cluster can all understand each other no matter the language they are speaking, and thus so can we. It is implied that they hear each other in the language that they understand the most. The only time it's not used is when a member of the cluster starts speaking another's language. In fact the only member of the cluster who is confirmed to speak more than one language beforehand is Capheus, knowing both English and Swahili through a throwaway line with Riley.
    • Sometimes when cluster members first meet, they actually start using each other's language without realizing it. Kala yells at Wolfgang in German, and he snarks back in Hindi.
  • The Spy: All spoken languages, with the exception of a few snippets of religious utterances, are rendered as accented English. Given that the series takes place in Israel, Argentina and Syria, it's sometimes not clear what language people are supposed to be speaking. Text is usually left untranslated, but a few key snippets transform into English translations on camera.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In the "Summit"/"Last Stand" two-parter, the seven remaining System Lords meet to decide the fate of the beleaguered Goa'uld Empire and whether to allow Anubis to rejoin their ranks, and the viewers hear them speaking English. However, Daniel Jackson was inserted into the meeting by the Tok'ra, and early in "Summit" Jacob Carter said that the person to be inserted has to speak fluent Goa'uld (which Daniel does). The implication is that there's a translation convention in effect for the duration of the meeting, and possibly other instances where the Goa'uld speak English to each other and their troops.
    • In "Serpent's Venom", we hear Apophis and Heru-Ur talking to each other in English when the POV is in the room with them. When we go back to the cloaked ship from which our heroes are working sabotage, they and we hear it over the radio in Goa'uld. This really seems to suggest Translation Convention is at work.
  • Also often seen in the Star Trek franchise. In one notable Deep Space Nine episode, Quark, Rom and Nog find themselves in a 20th century American military facility. Whenever a scene is shown from the humans' perspective, the humans speak English and the three Ferengi are incomprehensible. When the scene switches to the Ferengi's perspective, they speak English and the humans are incomprehensible, even though the humans can be assumed to speaking English "in reality". Chalked up to Universal Translator damage. Ferengi speak is heard in the Ferengi language created for the show (or something that sounds like a well-thought-out language — contrast Stargate SG-1, where "kree" is half the Goa'uld vocabulary. However, it's doubtful that the producers went as far as they did with the Klingon language since we only get to hear Ferengi spoken twice evernote .) while the English is still English, but heavily garbled.
    • Deep Space Nine dances between Translation Convention and Translator Microbes in the episode "Statistical Probabilities". In that ep, some Federation citizens are watching a recording of Weyoun (of the Dominion) engaging in negotiations. As he always has, he speaks perfect English. They then switch the computer into "Native Language Mode", and he's suddenly speaking Dominionese (where he makes a grammatical slip that doesn't have an equivalent in English and the translator didn't carry over, providing a vital clue). This makes it clear that, in many many instances on Trek, the universal translator is in use even if it's not commented on by the characters. Thus, it's unclear whether Quark, Kira, Neelix, Kes, or any other non-Feddie speaks a word of English (explicitly the most widely-used language of the Federation in several TOS episodes).
    • One of the best subversions to this trope yet is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok": the Enterprise crew is unable to understand the new aliens even though the "universal translator" could render their words in English, it's just that their language is so full of proper nouns (and comprised mostly of idioms) that it's impossible to understand without the prerequisite cultural background.
    • Another good subversion is the early Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Babel". The Universal Translator can't help you when you've got a disease that causes you to mix your words around.
    • There was another DS9 episode where it took about a half-hour (in-universe) for the universal translator to figure out a new race's language and start translating it. Until then, no one, including the audience, can understand them.
    • Perpetually averted with the Breen, whose speech always sounds like electronic gibberish. Other characters can understand them, leading to Bilingual Dialogue, but not the audience; we don't even get subtitles.
      Weyoun: I don't care how many Cardassians you have to kill; find Damar, is that clear?
      Thot Gor: Skrskzlkzklskxn.
      Weyoun: I'm going to hold you to that.
    • Usually averted in Star Trek: Discovery with the Klingons (as mentioned below). The episode "Into the Forest I Go" is the one episode that shows the trope in effect: when Burnham confronts Kol, she has her communicator out. Initially, Kenneth Mitchell (playing Kol) speaks in Klingon, which is then repeated by the communicator in English, and it likewise translates Burnham's English into Klingon. After establishing what's happening, Burnham places the still-active communicator aside and Mitchell switches to speaking English for the rest of the scene.
  • An odd case involving sign language in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye: many conversations between Sue and other Deaf people where it would make more sense for Sue to sign without speakingnote  begin with everyone communicating in subtitled ASL, then switch after a few lines to Sue speaking while signing for the benefit of the audience.
  • The Tomorrow People (1973): "Achilles Heel": An alien points out a device that he plans to use to speak English, though we never hear him speak anything else. Later, he speaks gibberish for a bit until he adjusts the device. Earlier, in "Into the Unknown", one Tomorrow Person claims that, as he is the only one wearing an artificial environment suit, he will be the only one able to understand an alien, though again, we only ever hear English.
  • Trotsky: Russian is used even when characters from many different backgrounds who would not logically know or use it are speaking (for instance Sigmund Freud, when lecturing in Vienna).
  • Averted in The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "No Time Like the Past". In Nazi Germany, SS guards tipped off by a hotel maid demand in English to be let into American Paul Driscoll's hotel room. By the time they break the door down, Driscoll is gone, and the guards and the maid actually begin to speak to each other in German.
  • Tyrant has all the characters in the fictional Arab nation of Abbudin speaking English. This leads to uncertainty sometimes as to which language is actually being used in some scenes; some of the locals clearly do speak English because they converse with non-Arabic-speaking Americans, but there are also scenes where the Abbudin-raised American main character is talking to locals in what is probably Arabic, and when locals speak to each other it is definitely meant to be Arabic.
  • Wallander, the British adaptation of the Kurt Wallander novels, is filmed in Sweden, but uses this in nearly its purest form. The actors are all British and speak English with British accents. Apparently, they decided that attempting Swedish accents would sound silly. Emphasis on nearly- virtually all the written text on-screen is in Swedish, which leads to Sounding It Out moments.
  • In Warrior (2019) when Chinese characters speak amongst themselves, they speak in perfect, American accented English. When they speak when white people are around, they speak in subtitled Chinese. When a Chinese character speaks directly to a white person, they speak in stilted, Chinese accented English. The aversions to this are protagonist Ah Sahm and his sister Mai Ling, who speak to white people in perfect English with American accents but this explained as them having learned English from birth from their American grandfather.

TV Movies:

  • In the 1991 Made-for-TV Movie Chernobyl: The Final Warning, the Russian/Ukrainian characters spoke English with British accents when they were assumed to be speaking Russian among themselves, and broken English with Russian/Ukrainian accents when they were speaking English to American/British/English-as-a-first-language characters.
  • The Nodame Cantabile movie begins with the Frenchmen that appear speaking in French for about a minute or so, then notes that all non-Japanese dialogue beyond that point would be dubbed in Japanese for the convenience of the viewers.


  • Airwolf largely averts this one, with Russian conversations taking place in Russian, often subtitled, although stuff shown only once in English is sometimes repeated in Russian (as in "amerikanskii spion"- American spy). Dom and Stringfellow can't understand Russian or for that matter, Spanish. This causes problems.
  • In The Americans, all the characters who are undercover Soviet agents in the US speak English to one another; they're not actually speaking Russian, but rather are under orders to only use English so as to keep their cover in case someone is listening. This order is only breached once, at an emotional moment at the end of the season 1 finale. Russians who aren't undercover agents speak subtitled Russian to each other, unless speaking with Americans.
  • They really are speaking and writing in English in Battlestar Galactica and Caprica. Caprican is identical to modern English with the exception of the swear word "frak" and some terms like "Crypter" instead of "Mayday" and "wireless" instead of "radio". Within a ~150,000-year span, the language went extinct and was reconstituted through the universal subconscious.
    • Which is a subversion, as fans had, from the get-go, mistakenly assumed that the show used Translation Convention - although that would have been weird with the huge GALACTICA visible on the ship's hull.
    • Also, Gemenese is Romanian, Tauron is Greek and Leonese is French. Virgon is actually the birthplace of the colonial language. So it might be fair to say Virgon = English (British) and Caprican = English (American).
  • Handled bizarrely (and hilariously) in Blackadder: Back & Forth. Several Roman centurions are having a conversation while defending Hadrian's Wall, and they speak in modern English — until one character says "Good to see you practising your English!" They then switch to Latin, because apparently, until that point, they were actually speaking modern English.
  • In Boardwalk Empire, Italian mobsters sometimes converse in (subtitled) Italian.
  • The Channel 4 sitcom The Book Group features two main characters who are not native English speakers. When these characters are speaking with their husbands, they speak their native languages.
  • In Breaking Bad, Latin American characters speak Spanish among each other, which is usually (but not always) subtitled.
  • Almost a third of the scenes in The Bridge (US) are in Spanish with English subtitles.
  • An episode of "Delocated" uses a Face/Off parody to switch the main characters "face" with that of a Russian gangster; when he attends a gang meeting they all speak to him in Russian and he has to ask everyone to speak in English with the excuse that he wants to work on it.
  • In Heroes, all the Japanese characters speak Japanese amongst themselves. Maya and Alejandro mostly communicated in Spanish while on the run from Latin America to the US. There was even a conversation between Mr Bennett and Mr Nakamura in Japanese, even though they could both speak English.
    • Interestingly, and perhaps in keeping with the idea of different languages/different fonts a la comic books, the Spanish and Japanese subtitles are very different - they are in different fonts, sizes, colours and appear in different places on the screen.
    • Additionally, Masi Oka, the Japanese-American actor who plays Hiro, puts on an exaggerated Japanese accent whilst speaking English as Hiro has only begun learning English since the start of the show. When Future!Hiro from five years hence is seen briefly, he speaks in Oka's own accent. According to Japanese fans of the show, there are certain contextual jokes within Hiro's speech too - he tends to speak in quite a childlike way, using turns of phrase that are more common amongst young Japanese children. This is to add a layer of subtext to Hiro's optimistic, childlike personality. Masi Oka is also responsible for this addition - the scripts are written in English and the actors who speak Japanese translate them themselves. (Presumably for speeches by Takezo Kensei/Adam Monroe and Noah Bennet, they are translated phonetically for them.)
    • Ando is played by James Kyson Lee, a Korean-American who does all his Japanese lines phonetically.
    • However, nobody in India ever speaks anything but English. Even when Mohinder returned there in season 1 and we met lots of Indian characters, there was nary a word of Hindi to be found.
  • Slightly altered in Lost, in which the audience always hears the Korean couple speaking in Korean. However, their dialogue is only subtitled when nobody else is around; if there's another character who can't understand them, neither can the audience. This resulted in the entire B story flashbacks for several episodes being in Korean with subtitles. Obviously, they spoke Korean even in the extended flashback sequences because the actors actually know Korean. One scene also uses a similar gimmick to the 20th century Ferengi scene used earlier, in which English-speaking characters are viewed from Jin's point of view, and their voices are scrambled because Jin can't speak English. (An interesting sidenote: Daniel Dae Kim, who plays Jin, has lived in America nearly all his life and only spoke Korean with his family growing up. When he got the part, he worked with Yunjin Kim, who plays Sun, and who is a native of Korea, to brush up on his Korean.) In contrast, the first flashback for Sayid, an Iraqi character whose actor does not speak Arabic because he is an Englishman of Indian descent starts out in Arabic, but after about ten seconds, the camera pans behind a character's back, and by the time it finishes the pan, all the characters are speaking English. A similar trick is done for the flashback sequences of the Nigerian character Eko, also played by an English actor (though of Nigerian descent).
    • Averted in a later episode, "One of Them", where Sayid's actor does speak extensive Arabic. This is due to Sayid acting as an interpreter between the US military and his Iraqi commanding officer.
  • On Star Trek: Discovery, all the Klingons speak to other Klingons in subtitled Klingon. The only times they use English is when they are explicitly supposed to be speaking English, or when someone is listening to them with the help of the universal translator. This is lampshaded when one (human) character notes his Klingon captor's English fluency.


  • From the movies onward, Klingons in the Star Trek universe are generally exempt from the translation convention (probably to showcase the completeness of the Klingon language). The exception, of course, occurs in all-Klingon scenes such as on board Klingon starships during certain Deep Space Nine segments. Presumably Klingon is being spoken, but the dialogue is in English as Klingon + subtitles would be unnecessarily cumbersome for the actors and the viewers.
    • Though they are understood by other characters, Breen speech apparently sounds like scary garbled electronic noise to the viewers. (The Expanded Universe claims that it sounds like garbled electronic noise in universe as well - the secretive Breen encrypt all their communications, even direct speech.)
    • In the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, humanoid, reptillian and arboreal Xindi use the translation convention, but insectoid and aquatic Xindi do not.