Switch to English

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Oh, you speak English! Good! (In German) You can turn off the subtitles now.
German Policeman, The Man With Two Brains

Characters begin speaking in a language that is not English[1] but find an excuse to switch to English so that the audience doesn't have to read too many of those pesky subtitles.

Unlike Translation Convention or Translator Microbes, the characters who Switch to English really are speaking English.[2] Usually, a specific reason will be given in the work for characters switching to a different language in mid-conversation. There are many ways that the switch can happen.

A common reason given to justify two non-native speakers speaking English to each other is that they do so in order to "practice." Conversely, sometimes Alice and Bob might discover that they are both from an English-speaking country and don't need to speak the vernacular of where they are in when speaking to each other. Maybe Alice will suggest to switch to English because she knows it better than the current language of the conversation, or maybe they are somewhere where few people know English and they don't want to be overheard, or so on and so forth. If this is done poorly, it can be jarring and seem forced, especially if the characters really have have no good reason to switch.

Keep in mind that some examples of Translation Convention can be mistaken for this. This trope only applies if there is a reason in universe for the characters to be speaking in a language the audience can understand instead of the characters' own. This does not apply to situations where the characters speak English for the convenience of the audience, but are understood to be actually speaking another language. Also compare Completely Unnecessary Translator, which is about a character speaking to someone through a translator only to reveal that he actually speaks their language perfectly fluently.

See also Eloquent in My Native Tongue, which can be an inverse of this trope, as it may start with them speaking an unfamiliar language and switch to a more comfortable one. (It may also be played straight, if the speaker's native language is English...)

Examples of Switch to English include:


Fan Fiction[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In The Teraverse tale Over The Line, most of the first eleven chapters involve a police investigation taking place in Mexico, narrated in Spanish (with Translation Convention in play) by the lead detective. At the end of that chapter, the young lady being interrogated, Teraverse superheroine Sister Marie, finally gives up on her own high-school Spanish and initiates a switch to English, and at the same time, explicitly declares her American citizenship and requests an advocate from the United States government.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Japanese-American O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 precedes a speech to Yakuza members by explaining in Japanese why she's about to switch to English. "So you all will know the seriousness of my warning, I shall say this in English."
  • In Inglourious Basterds, Colonel Hans Landa is speaking to a dairy farmer in French, and he suggests that they switch to English because it is better than his French. The real reason is that the Jews that the farmer is hiding do not speak English, and Landa doesn't want to alert them to his suspicions too soon.
  • Moscow on the Hudson: During an early scene in Russia, two characters decide to practice their English by continuing their conversation in English.
  • In The Man With Two Brains, Dr. Hfuhruhurr gets pulled over by a German-speaking policeman. When he replies to the policeman in English, the policeman says, "Oh, you speak English! Good!" and directs his partner to turn off the subtitles.
  • Frequently happened in Until the End of the World: Claire variously speaks French and English, and also some German. She frequently switches to English to converse with others.
  • In The Transporter, a Chinese father tells his daughter to converse in English with him (even though she speaks perfect Chinese), because language school was expensive.
  • In the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, two French characters have conversations in English, via the "you have to practice this foreign language" excuse.
  • In Star Trek the Motion Picture, Klingons speak Klingon with subtitles to set the mood and then speak English for convenience.
  • Inverted in The Legend of Zorro. After the title character rescues his son from the Big Bad's gang, they start a conversation in English. Then Zorro cuts the conversation off and requests that they converse in "the language of our fathers"—Spanish. The rest of the conversation occurs in Spanish with English subtitles.
  • In Johnny Mnemonic, Takahashi and Shinji begin a conversation in Japanese, before Takahashi chastises Shinji for speaking "terrible" Japanese and demands Shinji talk to him in English. Towards the end of their conversation, Takahashi switches to English, as well.
  • In Gung Ho, Takahara Kazuhiro's wife starts speaking Japanese to him in one scene, but he tells her to practice her English and they continue the conversation in English.
  • In the Jackie Chan movie Rumble in The Bronx, Jackie comes to America and meets up with his uncle. The two speak in Chinese for a while but his uncle soon asks, "How's your English?". Jackie mentions that his English is passable so his uncle insists they speak it from that point on. The rest of the film is in English.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In an episode of Burn Notice, Micheal pretended to be a Russian spy. He began talking to a contact in Russian, who suggested switching to Spanish, because his Russian was rusty. After a bit of dodging the suggestion [3] they settled on English instead.
  • Often happens in Covert Affairs. Annie will find her contact, begin speaking to them in their native language and then the contact will say something about being fluent in English and from there on out they will speak in English.
  • In the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode The Cycling Tour, John Cleese is a Soviet officer making a speech in Russian to fellow Soviets, pausing for the subtitles to show, and then says in Russian, "Forgive me if I continue in English in order to save time."
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Curse of Fenric", a group of Russian soldiers are on a secret mission in England. The first scene has them speaking Russian with subtitles, then their leader says "From now on, we speak only English", and they do.
  • In Brothers and Sisters, Sarah is in France and attempts to ask for directions from a Frenchman. After much struggling, the Frenchman casually reveals he can speak English and the rest of their conversations stays in English.
  • In Stargate SG-1, Daniel Jackson is sent over to Russia to handle negotiations. Russian being one of the numerous languages Jackson knows, one would think that he'd speak in Russian while there. But it turns out that his Russian contact thinks his Russian is terrible, and asks that they stick to English instead.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Half-Life 2, two Vortigaunts are speaking to each other in their native language, but when they notice Gordon Freeman is listening in nearby, they apologize for their rudeness and switch to English.
  • This happens at the very beginning of Grand Theft Auto IV. Niko tries to speak to his cousin Roman in Serbian, but Roman switches to English, because he has not spoken Serbian for so long that he has forgotten it.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Can be an example of Truth in Television. Many people who have immigrated to another country may speak in the language most common in their new country instead of their native tongue for convenience's sake.
  • In multilingual families, a conversation can start in one language, switch to another, and then switch back again. This is often because concepts may be easier to express in one language than the other.
  • Invoked by France's then-Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at one meeting of the European Union Council of Ministers; the ministers had all sat down and donned their earphones, when Kouchner, who was chairing the meeting, said something of the effect of, "Guys, take those damned silly things[4] off. Everybody here speaks English, we'll get more done that way, and we're not fooling anyone with this nonsense."
  1. or the language that the majority of the work is in, with which the intended audience would be most familiar
  2. Or something else. It depends on who's watching.
  3. A running gag in the series was that, despite Micheal being a Miami native and several other main cast members knowing it, Spanish is not one of the many languages he speaks
  4. i.e. the earphones