The 5 Stupidest Ways Movies Deal With Foreign Languages

#2. Everyone Really Speaks English (Just Like Real Life)

Since explaining universal translators can be such a headache, some scriptwriters just have everyone actually speak English. In the Stargate TV series, most of the aliens they visit via Stargate speak English. They are often humans, but usually humans that were sent out to those planets thousands of years ago before English was invented. Even odder, the TV series directly continues the plot line from the Stargate movie where the Earth team's attempts to figure out the extraterrestrials' language (ancient Egyptian, sort of) is a pretty big deal. In some episodes, the aliens continue to speak alien Egyptianese occasionally, and then sometimes suddenly switch to English, for no apparent reason. (Well, no story-related reason. Obviously feeding actors fake Egyptian lines for an hour-long episode is tiring!)

The Highlander TV series really takes the cake here though.

Duncan awakens a 2000-year-old Egyptian mummy whose first words are, "Does Rome still rule the world?" In English.

I realize the Highlander TV series is not where you go for historical accuracy, or any kind of accuracy whatsoever, but this is still a bit much.


But is where you go for tantalizing but unfulfilled promises of nudity.

#1. Have Actors Speak The Foreign Language Whether They Can Or Not

We do this all the time. Pretty much every time you've seen an American actor pretend to speak Spanish or Chinese.


And sometimes when you've seen them pretend to speak English.

Americans don't usually notice. They accept that this super-spy or brilliant scholar is speaking flawlessly to the natives with their own language even though half the time, it's so badly spoken that the international version of that movie needs subtitles when it goes to that country.

To imagine what this looks like to them, think of Arnold Schwarzenegger. We had a thickly accented Austrian guy forced on us playing American soldiers, American cops, an American running man, an American killer robot and an educated genius who can speak 12 languages (all of them in a thick Austrian accent I guess), over and over again. Finally we got tired of it and put him into political office so he would stop.


Arnold Schwarzenegger being pregnant is more believable than Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking 12 languages.

Keep that image in mind when you consider how American audiences raved about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, while Chinese audiences winced as they watched Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh, Cantonese speakers, stumble through their Mandarin lines. To non-Chinese speakers, the dialogue comes across as nuanced and flowing, while to a Chinese speaker, it is like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice come out of a Chinese martial artist.


Good, now you can't enjoy that scene anymore either.

With all the hassle of representing foreign languages in movies, it seems like the only real solution is to stop having foreigners in movies. I'm personally looking forward to a refreshing epic retelling of how the Americans beat the Americans in World War II.

For more from Christina, check out 4 Nobel Prize Winners Who Were Clearly Insane and The 6 Worst Parts of Being Chinese (Not In The Stereotypes).

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