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Also known as a "Universal Translator", this is a special kind of Applied Phlebotinum that automatically translates communication from the speaker's language into the listener's, thus removing those pesky "language barriers" from between people of different countries, times, species or planets.

It is commonly used to Hand Wave the appearance of Aliens Speaking English, by implying that the aliens are actually speaking in their native tongue and their words are being automatically translated for the (in-universe) characters' benefit. This is distinct from a Translation Convention, where the aliens appear to be speaking English solely for the audience's benefit.

We must, of course, assume that said microbes work either by imparting the ability to speak a common language (in which case, the characters are using Translator Microbes, but the audience is really experiencing the Translation Convention) or that the microbes substantially alter the listener's perceptions, as otherwise, they would appear to be dubbed over like in a foreign film rather than merely speaking English (a good example of this, sans aliens, occurs near the start of the 1980s Dune movie). That said, given how closely lip movements will appear to match the words for a film which is dubbed very well, it is not inconceivable that a translation done by super-advanced science might be so good as to make the discontinuity between lip movements and voice difficult to notice. Or perhaps they affect vision as well as hearing. Also don't forget that your brain lies to you all the time - you are seeing what you are expecting to see, so when you aren't really concentrating on watching the lips moving, you probably won't notice, especially if the microbes suppressed your visual recognition in that way. Of course, there is a bit of Willing Suspension of Disbelief at work here, since it would be ridiculously hard from a production standpoint to film English-speaking actors and have them move their lips in a fake language, just to dub the same actors' voices in English at the end anyway.

This trope not only predates television, it predates most literature. One of the earliest known instances of it can be found in True History by Lucian of Samosata. Written in the 2nd century AD, this story includes adventures in outer space, where everybody speaks Greek (of course). An even earlier example is The Gift of Tongues given to the Apostles at Pentecost in The Acts of the Apostles. After the Holy Spirit comes to them, they address a large crowd drawn from many different nations, and everybody hears them speaking his own language. The members of the crowd are astonished that the people doing this are all Gallileans (normally assumed to be uneducated rustics).

Almost all Trapped in Another World stories will postulate that Translator Microbes are part of the magical nature of this other world. No justification is required or expected, although it's often good to have some kind of Hand Wave to point out that it's not "realistic".

A well-done page on this is here.

Translator Microbes have a tendency to break down when faced with alien cuss words. It is rare for them to state that their transport is overloaded with Anguilliformes.

See also Aliens Speaking English and Common Tongue. Compare Bilingual Dialogue. See also Omniglot, when a character can do this by training or super power.

Examples of Translator Microbes include:


Anime and Manga Edit

  • Tower of God: The Pocket multi-tools have a translator function so that everybody in the tower can understand each other. Since it's altogether several billion people, that is quite necessary.
  • The Hinman in The Twelve Kingdoms act as Translator Microbes as a secondary function (their primary giving the owner kick ass martial art skills).
  • This is Mokona's special power in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Since the cast themselves are from 3 different worlds, if they get separated from him, they can't even understand each other.
  • A similar thing happens in the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind manga. The Torumekians & Eftal peoples speak whatever the series has been translated into, whereas the Doroks speak a strange language written in apparently made-up characters. Very few characters are bilingual & rely on the telepathic powers of Psykers like Nausicaa or Chikuku to translate & are at a great loss without them.
  • In Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?, the Zentradi are shown to be talking their own language for about half the movie. Then after capturing our heroes, the Zentradi archivist Exedor turns on a universal translator. Suddenly the Zentradi are speaking English (conveniently translated to Japanese for the Japanese audience's benefit).
    • In Macross Frontier, the V-Type infection is caused by literal Translator Microbes, that allows the infected party to tap into the Vajra fold communication network/HiveMind. The downside of this however is that the host's health deteriorates since the bacteria infects the brain, that is unless, they were infected before birth wherein the bacteria will instead live in the stomach/lower intestine with no ill effects to the host whatsoever.
  • Mentioned in the Bonus Pages in Vol. 23 of Mahou Sensei Negima.

 Q. How are all the classmates able to speak the language in the Magical World?

A. It's thanks to interpretation magic. It's very elemental magic.

  • Fushigi Yuugi has Miaka, a Japanese teenager, in the midst of people in a book written in Chinese and a world reminiscent of Ancient China. Then again, who ever said that the world in the book was Ancient China itself?
    • Fridge Brilliance: She's actually inside the Japanese translation of a Chinese book.
  • Like in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Yuuri of Kyou Kara Maou cannot understand a word anyone is saying to him in the magical world at first, until he gets zapped with language magic (or something, I dunno) and then he can understand everyone perfectly.
  • Doraemon has a pocket dogu called "Hon'yaku-Konnyaku" (translation konjac). This piece of jelly allows one to understand and speak any known language after eating it. The duration is unknown. Doraemon also has a variety of flavors of konjac such as miso.
  • In Zero no Tsukaima, Saito can't understand anything anyone is saying just after he is summoned to be Louise's familiar. Bothered by his nonstop babbling, Louise casts a silence spell on him. Instead, it magically translates everything for him.


Comic Books & Strips Edit

  • In Silver Age DC comics (mainly Legion of Super-Heroes) alien characters either spoke a common language called Interlac, or used "telepathic earplugs" to understand each other.
  • Former JLA member Manitou Raven, a time-displaced prehistoric shaman, would summon spider spirits called a word-weavers which he would place in his ear and his wife Dawn's in order to communicate with the Leaguers. For obvious reasons, Dawn made efforts to learn English on her own.
  • In the Snarfquest comic strip, a goofy-looking critter called a gaggaleech[1] gains the ability to communicate with everything due to a ring-granted Wish. It uses this power to play pranks on the other characters, but is forced to change its diet from blood to fruit juice [2] because "everything" includes prey.
  • Spider Jerusalem was injected with a literal translator microbe in the Cyberpunk series Transmetropolitan
  • In Atavar, the Kalen inject Atavar with a...thing... to realign his language neural centre, allowing him to speak their language.
  • One of the many functions of power rings in Green Lantern.
    • In the graphic novel Green Lantern: Secret Origins and possibly in other comics, Hal curses and swears and the ring goes "unable to translate".
    • Katma Tui ran into a translation problem in the Alan Moore Green Lantern story "In Blackest Night" when attempting to recruit Rot Lop Fan, an alien whose species evolved without sight, into the Green Lantern Corps. Their language had no words pertaining to the concepts of sight, light or color, so her ring's translation feature couldn't interpret even the phrase "Green Lantern" into his language.
    • Also, though they're supposedly programmed with every language in the Universe, there are exceptions, such as the Vegan languages (the Guardians have no jurisdiction in that system) and the language of the Indigo Tribe.
  • In the X-Men books, Doug Ramsey has the mutant ability to translate languages, both human and computer.
  • It's implied that the kids' costumes in Power Pack have universal translators built in.


Film Edit

  • In the movie The Last Starfighter, one of the first things that happens to the hero once he arrives at the Starfighter base is a small disk attached to his lapel that translates brain waves so he hears perfect English, even though that's not what's actually being spoken.
  • Star Wars averts this by having C-3PO, a protocol droid fluent in over 6 million forms of communication, interpret for the characters (especially in Return of the Jedi for Jabba the Hutt, and later for the main characters so they can speak with the Ewoks).
    • Interestingly, in one re-release, Jabba's dialog in RotJ was given subtitles too. It was eventually realized that this made C-3PO entirely superfluous, and it was dropped in later releases.
      • The difference of phrasing between the vicious gangster and the meek protocol droid is amusing, though. Sort of like Lost in Translation. Also, most characters are bilingual or trilingual and able to understand each other; the reason that many speak their native language is that they are unable to speak galactic Basic. See Bilingual Dialogue.
  • Subverted in Star Trek VI where the crew of the Enterprise, trying to get past Klingon border guards in order to rescue Kirk and McCoy, don't use the universal translator because the Klingons would somehow be able to tell. The fact that the Klingons didn't notice the really slow and rough translations from Uhura as she thumbed her way through an English-Klingon dictionary must mean that the universal translator is pretty awful.

 Uhura: We art thy freighter... Ursva. Six weeks out of... Kronos... We art delivering food... things and... supplies to Rura Penthe...

    • The novelization reveals that the border guards actually let the Enterprise through out of pity, believing that the Ursva's captain was simply a particularly inept smuggler.
      • He also decides to give them a little message in smuggler's code, so the 'smugglers' will know that he wasn't fooled one bit, thus explaining the nonsensical 'joke' he tells as a signoff. That whole scene makes so much more sense in the novelization.
  • Similar to Star Wars, District 9 has aliens speaking their own language and humans speaking English, but both fully able to understand and communicate with one another. This is rather necessary, as the aliens' physiology means they're incapable of pronouncing human words, and vice versa.
    • Especially notable is the marketing for the film: the fake MNU corporate website (which is disturbingly convincing and realistic) lists the available jobs in the District 9 branch, including law enforcement and R&D. Among those are jobs requiring the ability to understand the Prawn language (such as translator or alien-tech engineer); these also come with the highest salaries. Also, other in-universe web media (the dissident blog and criminal alert googlemap gimmick) allows for language selection, with special D9-font developed for alien text that can be downloaded and used locally.
  • In Battlefield Earth, the Psychlos have a device that can teach humans their language, which they only use on one human because they didn't consider the "man-animals" intelligent enough to teach, despite all contrary evidence.
  • Star Trek parody Galaxy Quest has some sort of translators. They appear to work for the Thermians (the friendly aliens) in a similar way to Klingons, with exclamations in their alien language often remaining untranslated. Oddly, the translators are devices used by the Thermians to make themselves understood, yet the antagonist aliens (an unnamed reptilian species) also appear to speak English despite never having even heard of humans before. Being a comedy, it probably shouldn't be expected to make too much sense.
  • Appropriately for a sci-fi homage/parody, Simon Pegg thinks this is how Paul is speaking English in Paul. Of course, he's wrong:

 Paul: Actually, I'm speaking English, you fucking idiot.

  • The live action Transformers film gives the first attempt in the series why the robots are capable of speaking English just fine, their minds access the internet and are able to assimilate personality quirks appropriate to them, such as Jazz talking and acting like a hip black guy (itself based on the G1 character, voiced by renowned black musician Scatman Crothers). Both Megatron and Frenzy speak in both English and mumble in what seems to be a Cybertronian language.
  • Men in Black mentions a translator, along with the fact human thought is considered a disease by some aliens.


Literature Edit

  • Ponter from Hominids a neaderthal from an alternate universe where Neanderthals and not humans survived uses his implant to communicate with peopl from a universe like our where english is spoken and homo sapiens survived.
  • In the Alcatraz Series, a pair of magical glasses that grant this power is considered one of the most dangerous objects in the world, on the basis that knowledge is power.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy uses the Babel Fish, though in this case the ridiculous nature of the translation device (inserted in the ear) probably means its use is satirical -- like most things in H2G2. The fish itself, of course, is named after the biblical Tower of Babel myth.
    • The babel fish, as it is known, subsists entirely on sound waves. A side effect is that these sound waves are converted into brain waves, which are excreted by the fish, into your brain.
    • It also proves the non-existence of God, much to God's consternation.
      • So it basically craps the translation into your brain...
    • Doesn't explain of course how everything is written in English.
  • In The Dresden Files, a demon trying to tempt Harry into losing his soul provides translation as one of several favors it does for Harry. He knows he shouldn't keep relying on it, but...
  • The Pendragon Adventure begins with Bilingual Dialogue - Uncle Press and a Denduron native communicate while understanding each other perfectly. Once Bobby's Traveler nature kicks in, he gains the ability to read and understand the languages of all the other Territories. Presumably, it applies to acolytes too, since Mark and Courtney get messages from Spader, Aja and others that are somehow in English. Possibly they are translated by the rings used to send the messages between territories, given that when acolytes use them they are addressed to a specific person, not a territory in general. For some reason though, some languages seem like they must be the same as English. For example, in "The Pilgrims of Rayne," some people think a sign says "Rubity" when really it was worn down and originally said Rubic City. Since proper nouns presumably have no translation, and Rubic City is a combination of a proper noun and a common, translatable noun, this would only make sense in English.
  • In Animorphs, all Andalites in the military have translator chips implanted in their brains that can translate any language after a brief exposure to it. In addition, their "thought speak" can be understand by any sentient being, because it communicates concepts in addition to specific words.
    • The ridiculously convenient nature of thought-speak is eventually Justified Trope by a backstory novel where we learn the Ellimist took his extremely high-tech "communications system" with him when he took the form of a prehistoric Andalite; presumably the genes or literal Translator Microbes or whatever he was using got passed on to his descendants.
  • In Timeline, the time travelers had earpieces that translated for them. The problem was that only one of them actually knew how to talk in period and he was pretty shaky at it (he was a history buff/archeologist) so for the most part they could understand (reasonably, the translators weren't perfect) but not speak without sounding crazy.
  • Subverted in the Prince Roger series. Although the majority of the translation is provided by toots (computers implanted in the user's brain), the toot still needs to have something with one or two degrees of relation to the language in use before it can start trying to translate. And even then, things aren't smooth - they find out in March To the Stars that the original language sample they've been working from all along has been strategically edited to make all mentions of the locals' new religious habits incredibly euphemistic. Since the locals are now ritualistic cannibals and they're asking for Prince Roger's girlfriend as a sacrifice, Prince Roger is, understandably, Not Pleased to find this out. It doesn't end well for the locals. Additionally, since the native Mardukans lack toots entirely, they have to learn all languages and dialects the hard way.
  • The wizards in the Young Wizards series can use the Speech to make themselves understood by all beings (non-wizard listeners usually perceive it as being in their native tongue) and can understand every language. It's so effective that wizards can all speak to animals.
    • Animals? Heck, at one point they speak to the air molecules and make it remember when it was solid like it was a billion years ago, so they can walk on it. And there's a rather hilarious scene involving Kit's DVD player and remote control.
  • In Gregory Frost's novel Shadowbridge, the world is filled with incredibly long bridges, divided into spans. Each span has its own language, but visitors will magically find themselves fluent in it a few minutes after entering.
  • The Yuuzhan Vong from the Star Wars Expanded Universe had a Translator Worm as part of their biotechnology. The tyzowyrms, small worms who could be inserted in the ear to understand foreign languages. Somehow, it also allows them to speak unaccented Basic.
  • Heavily subverted in the Sector General series by James White. Translator packs are Walkman-sized devices that must be body-worn (typically on a lanyard around whatever anatomical landmark corresponds to the neck), only work for known languages, and can't translate vocal inflections, nonverbal communication, context cues or (amusingly) foul language. Basically, they're dumb terminals running the hospital mainframe's translation program, which isn't a whole lot better than a modern Web translator - and when the mainframe crashes, as in the Etlan "police action" (read: minor war) of Star Surgeon, chaos results.
  • John DeChancie's Castle Perilous is wrapped in a translator spell to serve its numerous interdimensional "guests".
  • The Shakugan no Shana novels mention an Unrestricted Spell that performs this task; presumably, everyone is just using that all the time.
  • Subverted in the Left Behind series. Though the Antagonist is the Anti-Christ and has the power of mass-hypnosis, he still speaks nearly every major language and will give speeches in all of them. Consecutively.
    • Played straight with the Christian characters when preaching, though, in that the Holy Spirit makes it so that everyone hears the sermons in their own languages.
  • In the My Teacher Is an Alien book series, the aliens have a universal translator that is implanted into the brain. Every species speaks its native language, and an individual hears the alien language with their ears, but the translator makes them aware of what it means. This implant is also capable of translating non-verbal communication as well, as some of the species don't have vocal cords. This trope is also applied directly, in that the aliens who are sent to Earth as teachers have a second implant that causes them to speak English.
  • Crowned Kreg series by Olga Larionova are Darker and Edgier Space Opera, so protagonists learned language of star-traveling Human Aliens via memory-writing device and used it normally in first book, but later (when frantic planet-hopping started) team laid their hands on magical translators. Those worked with any sentient creature using any form of spoken language, but frequently translated speech as strange or broken dialect and sometimes (on more unusual subject) as incomprehensibly weird puzzle, forcing user to ask partner in conversation to explain the same in other words and then try to put it all together.
  • Make Way For Dragons. The hero is one of the few people on Earth who can do magic (that's why he met the dragons). Despite his ever-increasing talents, when he finds he can talk to dogs (a dog), his other non-human friends just hear barking. Nobody converts to vegetarinism on the spot.
    • It would be pretty strange to convert to vegetarianism on a dog's say-so.
  • Many Star Trek novels had the communication pins have translator devices.
  • In The Fantastic Flying Journey, Great-Uncle Perceval's grey powder provides the users with the ability to communicate fluently with animals.
  • Done in Tad Williams' Otherland novels, although Justified Trope in that computer technology has evolved to the point where simultaneous voice translation is a standard feature of the 'Net. There are cases where this fails due to linguistic nuances or a character speaking in a language that the translation software doesn't recognize.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley disliked this trope and tried not to use it; when she resorted to it in Hunters of the Red Moon, the translator sometimes wouldn't convey cultural nuances or figures of speech.
  • Neal Asher's Polity novels include two different implants that serve this function: Augs (the standard brain implants wore by everyone) provided instantaneous translation of recognized languages, while the more advanced Gridlinks actually downloaded the language directly into the user's head, essentially making them native speakers of it.
  • In the third book of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, the main character has the ability to make inanimate objects speak. He uses this ability to make friends with a 8-foot tall giant spider, by telling a piece of spider's web to translate the spider's chittering for him. A spider web speaking spider-language of course makes perfect sense.
  • In the Dragonfall 5 sci-fi juveniles by Brian Earnshaw, there were twin alien animals that carried out this function. Played for laughs when they have a scientist traveling on the ship; he gets rather annoyed when they kept translating his Spock Speak, e.g. "Negative!" as "He means no."
  • Partially subverted in C. J. Cherryh's Chanur Saga, Tully is given a translator device but he has to manually program it using pictographs and it can't translate many of his words (though the readers usually have a pretty good idea what his ####s mean).
  • The Brain Pals in Old Mans War translate alien languages for their users, but only if the language is known to the Colonial Defense Force.
  • In the Night Watch books, while in the Twilight, all languages are automatically translated into the listener's primary language. This allows Anton to have a friendly conversation with an American soldier on leave while in Prague.
  • Happens in one of the earliest SpaceOperas, Lensman, which provides near-perfect translation. Near-perfect because it still has to sometimes make up words for concepts that have no human equivalent.
  • The Bible. Sometime after Jesus ascends to Heaven, the Disciples are blessed so that when they speak, everyone hears it in their own language, allowing them to spread Jesus' teachings around the world.
    • Only actively shown in the Acts of the Apostles example mentioned above. In fact, at one point as a prisoner, Paul makes a point of speaking to a crowd in a language his guards don't understand.
  • Subverted in Guardian of Honor by Robin D. Owens. Yes, the Denver attorney transported to a mystical world does get an animal companion who can translate and help her learn the local tongue -- but the attorney is horrible with languages, and even when she becomes "fluent" in it, she still has such a thick accent that she sounds like she's drunk.
  • A magic example of Translator Microbes from the novel Time Cat. A cat and boy, Jason and Gareth, travel through time while Gareth's magic allows Jason to understand and speak the common language of whatever place and time period he's in.
  • This is one of the talents of the fairies in Artemis Fowl. It's partly to do with magic, and partly because fairies were the first race to develop language and every other language (including animal languages, such as dog and dolphin) is an adaptation of Gnomish.


Live-Action TV Edit

  • Farscape is the Trope Namer, using Translator Microbes which are capable of translating seemingly everything except cusswords and units of measurement.
    • One plausible explanation why cusswords and units of measurement aren't properly translated is because their meaning is not neccessarily the same as in English. After all most English swear words originally had a specific meaning, and it could be that a word like "Frell" while used in a similar context, originally had an entirely different meaning to the F-word. Units of measurement also might not be identical to those on Earth. For instance an "arn" is often used in context as one would "hour" but it might not neccessarily be a period of exactly sixty minutes. Since there's no real English equivalent of the way they measure time, its merely translated into a way that's easy to say in English.
    • In several episodes, this is used as a plot point, as D'Argo at one point starts a program in his ship that speaks in an archaic form of his own language. He can't understand it, and has to have the computer research the language and inject him with new microbes just so he can make out a few words.
    • There are three known languages besides ancient Luxan that can't be translated by the microbes: Pilot, Diagnosan, and at least one dialect of Scarran.
      • Pilot can be translated, but it has to be downshifted to their equivalent of Dick and Jane on Valium for the audience to keep up.
    • The inverse happens as well: Sikozu's race is incompatible with translator microbes, but fortunately, is able to learn languages extremely easily. Her first scene with Crichton involves him teaching her English (presumably, she's already learned most of the other species' languages). This comes in handy later when Moya arrives at Earth without Crichton, and Sikozu is able to establish communication with humans (who don't have translator microbes).
    • The rationalization for a universe full of aliens speaking Australian English is forgotten when convenient, such as when Crichton wants to impersonate a Peacekeeper by putting on an Evil Brit accent.
    • And then there's Klingon which John knows and like Star Trek is not translated.
      • The translator microbes presumably can tell when someone's speaking a language with the intent of not being understood... in addition to the Klingon example, one episode has the crew distract a hijacker by all spouting nonsense in their native languages, none of which is translated by the microbes.
      • This is best illustrated by Crichton himself in Season 4, who, for some reason, has decided to start using liberal doses of Spanish, particularly when the wormhole obsession has full hold over him. The Spanish, of course, is untranslated, further confusing everyone around him. Modern neuroscience does indicate that we use different parts of our brains for understanding and speaking primary languages (ones we have from infancy) and secondary languages (ones we learn later in life), so it may be that the Translator Microbes only act on the primary language region, leaving second and misc. languages untranslated.
    • Made irrelevant in some episodes, particularly one in the first season, when John ends up on a very Earth-like planet, which is undeveloped, and has never had contact with any alien race. Somehow, John is able to communicate freely, despite the natives having no translator microbes.
  • Star Trek uses a Universal Translator. Amazingly, it works even if the Federation has never seen nor encountered the aliens or their language before (apparently, by analyzing its grammar and vocabulary).
    • It was subverted in one Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, where a new species comes to the station and their language is so different, that the universal translator has to spend about half of the episode to figure it out — but then again, it manages to figure it out despite the fact that they repeat the same sentence a hundred times.
    • Another Deep Space Nine episode had the Ferengi characters crash-landed in Earth's past and due to an unfortunately timed malfunction unable to speak or understand English for a brief period. Of course, their mouths still made English words.
    • Likewise, Star Trek: Enterprise had several instances where their more primitive universal translators needed some time and calibration (sometimes by a professional linguist) to figure out a new language.
    • Also subverted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok", where despite translating the individual words, the resulting speech was still incomprehensible. The language was too steeped in cultural metaphors.
      • Yes, an entire planet of Tropers.
      • Similarly, the season 1 Deep Space Nine episode "Babel" has pretty much the entire station affected by a disease that causes aphasia. There's nothing the translators can do when your brain tells you the word for "chair" is "buggy".
    • These examples suggest that, even if not everyone in the Trek Verse speaks English, most speak something similar to Earth languages.
    • An episode of Star Trek: Voyager hung a lampshade on the convention, by having a cryogenically frozen guy who could only speak Japanese marvel at how the Americans he was frozen with are somehow speaking Japanese, while the Americans equally marvel that he's speaking English. This turns into a brief debate about who's speaking what language, until Janeway interrupts to explain how the universal translator works.
    • Another episode of Star Trek: Voyager featured an alien whose language was so out-there (bordering on Black Speech) that the universal translator couldn't handle it, forcing Harry Kim to work on the problem for the better part of the episode.
    • And it appeared before that in the Next Generation episode "The Ensigns of Command", with the Sheliak, a race of vaguely octopus-like non-humanoids whose minds are so alien that the the universal translator couldn't find enough reference points to work with. The Sheliak had already learned English themselves in order to negotiate a border treaty with the Federation, but considered human language so imprecise that the treaty they insisted on stretches over several thousand pages.
    • Oddly, it seems that the universal translator switches itself on and off when someone is speaking Klngon, probably to give the writers a chance to show off a real live alien language.
    • The original series establishes that the translators work directly from thought patterns. It also explicitly establishes that it can detect what gender an organism is, even if that organism is a gender-less cloud of energy. Both of these concepts were completely ignored after the episode in which they were introduced.
  • Doctor Who states that the TARDIS is psychic and provides translations directly into its passengers' minds.
    • Also assigns accents, on a consistent basis. For some reason, "French with a Dutch accent" is translated into "English with a Scottish accent" and vice versa.
    • This bit of Lampshade Hanging was actually woven into the story in "The Christmas Invasion", where the TARDIS universal translator suffered a Phlebotinum Breakdown due to the Doctor being unconscious. The protagonists had to resort to a "mundane" translator to understand the Sycorax, and the moment they suddenly started speaking English, Rose realized that the Doctor had recovered.
    • Subverted in "The Impossible Planet", where the language is so incredibly old that it's untranslatable.
    • A plot point in "The Masque of Mandragora" when companion Sarah Jane is revealed to be Brainwashed when she questions why she understands medieval Italian.
    • This is explored in "The Fires of Pompeii". When the Doctor tells Donna about the Translator Microbes' effect, she wonders what happens when they speak what they think is Latin. It's translated into Welsh.
    • The TARDIS also translates anything in a classical language (for example, the Classical Ood) into Latin.
    • Some early episodes have the Doctor unable to communicate even in common Earth languages (such as French); Fridge Logic explains that the translation abilities of the TARDIS grow over time. It's not made clear whether this is due to the TARDIS itself or to the Doctor learning more languages (both options have been used in-show).
      • The TARDIS also doesn't seem to like translating Judoon; presumably, this is Rule of Funny, as it allows both them and the Doctor to go around saying "Flo! Bo! Jo! So!"
    • Interestingly, the Doctor also seems to speak to both cats and babies, but the TARDIS doesn't seem to allow his companions to.
    • The ultimate test of the TARDIS telepathic circuits comes in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio "Survival of the Fittest", which features alien insects that communicate through scent. The TARDIS translates, but the Doctor's German-speaking companion points out that it it worked perfectly, they wouldn't get the residual scents as well. And the Doctor wouldn't have "a stuffy Prussian accent."
  • Stargate SG-1 uses Daniel Jackson, an expert linguist. The movie upon which the series is based hinges entirely on Jackson's linguistic skills, both to interpret the "operating manual" of the Stargate and to communicate with the people on the other side. In the first season, his skills are used on and off to talk to natives, but this is quickly forgotten (since it would make for clumsy storytelling if everyone else had to use Jackson to translate). As the series progresses, his expertise is used primarily to access Imported Alien Phlebotinum, as the inhabitants of at least three galaxies appear to have mastered the language of the "Tau'ri" independently (see Aliens Speaking English).
    • There are 4 languages in the galaxy once you leave earth: Wraith, Goa'ould, English and Ancient.
      • The Unas and Asgard also use their own languages (at least sometimes, at first).
      • The Wraith are telepathic, so at least they've got that excuse for knowing English. Why everyone else in the galaxy knows English is...questionable.
        • The Goa'uld have been taking earthling slaves for centuries, so presumably one of the hosts for the System Lords knows english and they figured it was the most pervasive language on the planet, the ancients lived on earth for a long time (not necessarily with english speaking people, but then they ascended and gained much of the knowledge of the universe and they did invent a translator.
          • The Goa'uld had been taking earthlings as slaves for centuries, but their latest visit to Earth was 700 years before present day at the latest, so their language shouldn't have been anything recognizable as modern English. Same for any of the transplanted humans encountered off-world.
    • One explanation (not shown on-screen, but offered by the show creators in one of the "behind the scenes" documentaries) is that the Stargates actually insert some sort of nanite into travelers that allows universal translation. You'd think that would show up on med<ical scans, though.
    • The original released information for Stargate Atlantis months before the show premiered mentioned that translator devices were among the technology the team would find in Atlantis. This was never seen in the aired pilot, however.
  • Subverted in Babylon 5. English is called the "human trade language", and many aliens on the station were (presumably) taught English; thus, they actually are speaking English. Among each other, they speak in their native languages with English as a Translation Convention.
    • There is also Interlac, a "common language" designed for easy translation. Many signs aboard the station are printed in three languages -- English, Interlac, and Minbari.
    • In fact, this trope is used as a plot point when a Minbari ship meets a new alien race, and sends them language files on Interlac, and the aliens respond in Minbari, leading them to realize that they are not the first Minbari ship these aliens have met.
  • An episode of the Australian 1980's science show Towards 2000 about translator software had a skit in which various international businessmen (all played by the host) tried to negotiate a deal but got stymied by the too-literal translation of what they were saying. Eventually the computer blows up when called upon to translate the most incomprehensible language in the world.
  • In one episode of The Dead Zone, Johnny briefly dies. He is amazed that he and the Native American ghost that he had been hanging around with can finally understand each other. The ghost explains that everyone sounds the same in the land of the dead.
  • In an episode of Andromeda where Harper has a massive database downloaded into his brain he starts speaking in various languages and suggests that someone make some kind of nanite that lets you speak any language.


Tabletop RPG Edit

  • The old Spacemaster time travel supplement weaves some deft pseudo-linguistic gobbledegook around this trope by introducing a language called "Intrinsic" that can be understood by any human being and that can be easily learned.
  • In Traveller one of the programs one can use with a wafer jack is a translator.


Video Games Edit

  • In The Longest Journey, April listens to somebody speaking Alltongue for a few minutes, and her brain appears to learn to "translate" the language, so she hears the speaker as if they were talking in plain English.
    • This is a characteristic of Alltongue itself. Anyone who listens to it for a while will be able to understand it. Indeed, that's why it's called Alltongue.
  • Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic makes a passing reference to "autotranslators", but no further explanation is given. Possibly it has to do with the player's Personal Electronic Thing.
  • All the aliens in Super Robot Wars Original Generations use translation devices, though they are pointedly not perfect. When one guy tells the alien his name (which means 'Mysterious Gourment' in German) one of the alien commanders incredulously asks if his translator is broken. Also, in a fourth-wall breaking moment, another guy begins his normal battlespeech, which segues into an episode splash-screen. After this, the same alien commander just has to ask "... 'Chapter 30'? What the hell?"
    • Arguably, that makes them working too perfectly. "Mysterious Gourmet" really is the English translation for that character's "name". The fact that it was able to translate a German phrase when they're most likely speaking Japanese or English shows that whoever made that really did their homework.
  • The video game Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters is semi-famous for its amusing subversion of this trope, which also makes the race rather scary upon further viewing: the ship's computer is unable to fully translate the language of the Orz, leaving the player to puzzle out bizarre, vaguely Engrish-sounding sentences such as

 "Hello to our *house*. Do you feel *better* yet?

If you are *campers* you will enjoy *the change*, but maybe not yet.

It is best if many happy Orz are coming to your *house*."

    • Not only that, Earthlings managed to make an entire race our enemies by thinking that translators didn't work. On the first meeting. In case you are wondering, said race is VUX. The Earthling captain told his assistant that VUX must stand for "Very Ugly Xenomorph." Which, unfortunately, was clearly broadcasted and translated to the VUX ship. Way to go, humans.
  • In Excelsior Phase One Lysandia, you need to obtain the Miracle Ear to speak to the inhabitants of the Monster Town Grethal.
  • Averted Trope in Descent: Freespace, where an alien race speaks in incomprehensible grunts overlapped by a speech synthetizer's monotone that is roughly half a second behind. In a game heavy with verisimilitude this turns out to work better than almost any kind of alien-spoken English would. Particularly since the obligatory Returning Destroyers (the Shivans) are the one inscrutable mystery race in scifi games to stay inscrutable, and never speak at all.
    • The game's files on the Vasudan people teases the player by saying that these "incomprehensible grunts" are in fact a language more complex and sophisticated than any on Earth, to the point that even if humans could decipher individual words, it would probably still be incomprehensible.
    • In Free Space 2, the NTF rebellion turned out to be a cover for the revival of a top-secret project to create a Shivan communications translator. Although the GTVA managed to obtain the technology just before the ship containing the prototype was destroyed, we never get to know what happened to the technology or the rogue Admiral who went on-board the Shivan transport. With the game's publisher bankrupt, and the space-sim genre practically dead, we never will know.
    • Parodied in the Free Space 2 joke campaign Deus Ex Machina. As an NTF pilot, you are able to witness the top-secret ETAK translator device in action for the first time. Unfortunately, the translator outputs everything in L337-sp34k. It turns out the Shivans thought Terrans and Vasudans communicated via "h07 Pl4s
  • Subverted in Albion. The player character spends some time taught the locals' language while recovering from a shuttle crash by his more lucky and longer conscious companion.
  • In Little Big Adventure II, you eventually pick up a translator device that allows you to understand the aliens.
  • Mass Effect offers up two explanations. The first is that there is speak a galactic trade language, in order to make politics and commerce easier. It sounds like English, but that's purely Translation Convention, as at the end a Prothean hologram is played, only the player (who got exposed to two Prothean beacons as well as the Prothean Cipher to make the beacons understandable) can understand it. We hear as perfect English, albeit with static, but your party acts like it's incomprehensible gibberish, aside from Liara (who helped the player understand Prothean in the first place and has been studying them for years) and even she only understands brief fragments of the conversation.
    • The second explanation plays this trope straight. Most will speak the galactic trade language, but there are those who can't or simply choose not to. For them, there is this trope, detailed in the downloadable content and in the second book. Translation synthesizers translate most foreign languages into whatever language the user programs it to. It uses the extranet to pull in any new dialects, and can be in almost any form, from jewelery to PDAs. In the book it is shown to malfunction at times, as it was never built to translate multiple languages all at the same time, and if a an alien is injured and/or insane, the translator has trouble translating the garbled speech. Note that the languages have to be decoded by linguists before the machines will work, it is NOT a universal translator like from Star Trek.
    • If female Commander Shepard romances Thane Krios, he will use a word that Shepard's translator is unable to understand, saying her "translator just glitched."
    • Furthermore, certain alien slurs like Tali's 'bosh'tet' go untranslated, probably because there's no English equivalent or, alternately, that a direct English translation would not carry the same implications as to a quarian. Some specific idiomatic phrases don't translate well either: "There's still a, how do you humans say it, fly in the lotion?" Also, when Garrus attempts to woo female Shepard, he assumes he can translate turian pick-up lines into English for the same effect, and ends up telling her that her waist is "very supportive".
  • In Tales of Eternia (aka Tales of Destiny 2 in the US), Meredy and the Celestians speak the Melnics language, which can be understood by the Inferians only by wearing "Orz Earrings"; these use some sort of psychic Techno Babble to send the actual desired words into the recipient's brain, and require the users to be on similar "psychic wavelengths". Interestingly, Meredy (or the psychic equivalent of her voice) speaks in pidgin English for the entire game; whereas when the Inferians actually reach Celestia, all the other Celestians speak with no accent at all, and the requirement of being on the same "wavelength" is, ironically, waived. None of this is ever explained.
  • Semi-averted in the Half-Life games. While the friendly aliens speak English, the Vortigaunts speak a very formal, ritualized form of English, and although the G-Man speaks perfect dialectical English, his... rhy-thmsss tendto be subtly... wrong. You even come across two Vorts speaking in their native language; they apologise for their rudeness and promise to speak English for your benefit from then on "Unless we wish to say unflattering things about you." They then go back to their incomprehensible chanting. Wait a minute...
  • In Star Ocean, advanced species have universal Translator devices (that when necessary can double as EXPLOSIVES). They understand the people who aren't yet inducted to the Pangalactic Federation/Terran Alliance because they've documented and recorded them behind the scenes (read: from orbit). As such, they can speak to anyone (there are no unknown groups in the galaxy) except the Aldians, who are already space-capable and wholesomely unfriendly until their entire species is blown up in Star Ocean Till the End of Time.
  • Conquest Frontier Wars mentions a translator to begin with but ignores it later. The Calareons are smart enough to not need one but the Mantis occupationally speak in the wrong order (partially justified due the fact English is in the wrong order compared to several other languages).
  • While riding the Conveyor Belt O' Doom on his way to being turned into one of the bad guys, the player character of Quake IV gets injected in the head, and a monitor overhead which had been displaying incomprehensible gibberish turns into English. Similarly, after that the overhead announcements and threats of the Strogg become garbled English.
  • In Halo: Combat Evolved, the Grunts' speech is translated, but the Elites are mostly unintelligible. In the second game, the Elites are finally heard in English due to advanced UNSC translators. The Covenant, however, are also heard speaking English to each other when there are no humans around, which is obviously Translation Convention.
  • In Space Quest I, ridiculously awful janitor Roger Wilco can't naturally understand anyone. However, early in the game he gets an item literally called the Strange Gizmo. Turning it on (which requires a bit of inventive thinking) allows him to understand any alien speech. In Space Quest 2, he still carries the same device, only this time, it's called the Dialect Translator and cannot be turned off. It's only useful once in that game, while Space Quest 1 requires it to be on for the entire game.
    • In the EGA original version of SQ 1, it was always called the Dialect Translator. TURN DIAL
  • In Iji, the protagonist's nanofield allows understanding and speaking in the language of both alien species. It's also parodied with an item that messes up the conversation and speech.
  • Averted in Ratchet and Clank. Intelligent organic species share a language (it's never explained if this is a case of a lingua franca like in Mass Effect or nanotech-induced translation), but robots have their own (although many speak organic language) and lesser organisms have individual languages, such as the Tyrrhanoid language which consists largely of farts, gurgles and belches.
  • Averted in The Dig: Despite they Cocytans' advancements in science, they haven't found a way for people of different languages to communicate, resulting in Low's first encounter with the Alien Inventor being a mostly one-sided conversation. Instead, the Cocytans engineered an entirely new language, designed to be as easy for others to learn as possible, and wrote and compiled all their notes in this language into a massive database for new arrivals to learn their language from, which is exactly what Maggie does. This requires the player to first rescue Maggie so she can talk to the Alien Inventor, after which a simple Translation Convention is applied. However, the game plays this trope straight again when Low walks through the transdimensional portal in the endgame, where the Cocytans exposit that all minds can communicate without barriers in Spacetime Six.
  • In The Legend of Zelda Minish Cap, Link has to eat a special fruit, in order to understand the language of the Minish People.
  • In Onimusha 3, Ako, the tengu, has the power to make everyone in range of her understand each others' languages. This is why Jacques, Michelle, and Henri, who all speak French, can understand Samanosuke, who is from ancient Japan. When she disappears to travel through time, they become unable to understand each other again.
  • Interspecies diplomacy in Galactic Civilizations is pretty pointless ("greeble sig doob?") until you research or trade for Universal Translators. You can even build an improved version, Diplomatic Translators, that translates for you and suggests the best way to phrase your demands or responses, granting you a bonus to your Diplomacy rating.
  • Spore has something along these lines; once you reach the Space stage, you can fly all over the galaxy and meet any number of semi-randomized alien species. They all speak differently garbled types of Simlish, but pop up in the chat box in perfect English; whether this is a Universal Translator at work, Aliens Speaking English or just a Translation Convention for the player's benefit is never actually addressed in-game.
  • Shows up in Hey You Pikachu as a gameplay mechanic - the player's handed a device called a PokeHelper that translates human language into something a wild Pikachu understands.
  • In SD Snatcher, a "Lingu-Disk" to translate Spanish lets Gillian speak with Mr. Cielo.
  • In Assassin's Creed, a majority of the dialogue takes place in genetic memories being relived by the protagonist, Desmond, but the Animus renders all of the Arabic, Italian, etc. into understandable English for him (and the player).
    • Indeed, your kidnappers say that they could revert everything back to period appropriate dialects, but that it wouldn't do you much good unless Desmond had "read Chaucer."

 Desmond: Chauncy who?


Web Comics Edit

  • In Catharsis, while in the Land under the Chair, Jen, Baxter, and Rremly all get infant dust bunnies shoved in their ears so they can understand the fluff language.
  • In Traci Spencer's Compass, the dimension hopping employees of TDC are given translator implants. See these pages.
  • In El Goonish Shive the Uryuoms (but not the chimerae, according to the Word of God) have the ability to instantly learn any language by rubbing the knobs of their antennae against the head of someone who speaks it, or teach a language which they know to others in the same fashion.
  • Consciously averted in Fans, where a group of aliens communicate by a form of visualized telepathy; only artists with exceptional visual imagination are able to communicate (and mate) with them.
  • Inverted Trope in Megatokyo where Largo's new translator translates Japanese into bad "Engrish". It didn't help that he used a spam mailbox to 'improve' the translation.
    • At first. After he fine-tunes it, it makes perfectly understandable English out of Japanese Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness and vise versa.
    • No, the best part was when it successfully detected something the people talking didn't realize. Just to be perfectly clear, it was translating from English, into Japanese.

 Junko: How many other "toys" are you playing with, "Great Teacher" Largo? (subtitle: how many other "toys" [women] are you fooling around with Sensei?)

Largo: Toyz? I pwn many. (subtitle: "Toys" [gadgets and games]? i own lots of gadgets and games)

  • The titular planet in Earthsong provides a psychic translator microbe field which allows anyone on the planet to understand anyone else, speaking or writing. Writing remains in the original language however, and once noone's left who understands the language concerned, it reverts to incomprehensibility until it can be laboriously deciphered.
  • Killroy And Tina has Universpeak, an "empathic language" that allows communication with all lifeforms, even aliens and animals, when aided by a Neural Enhancer.
  • In Not So Distant many characters have Translators, but apparently the newer models have some trouble with things like names, and with not misinterpreting some things as obscene words (which they seem to have no problem rendering in different languages).
  • In the 70-Seas side story; Tossa Roto Polly, a squat crane like bird, can translate any word it's heard in two different languages, however it doesn't know how to put the words in the right order.
  • In The Dragon Doctors , there's a world-wide magical spell called "The Language Barrier Breaker" in effect at all times, which comes in handy when a girl who's been petrified for 2000 years is restored to life.
  • Parodied in this page of Sci-Fi spoof Intragalactic with the translator macrobe: A painfully large, jagged metal machine that must be jammed into the brain through the eye socket. "Hope you aren't allergic to tetanus!" The translator macrobe veel tranzlate everisink you sai viz a bad Russian aksent.
  • Spacetrawler has a language microchip that's implanted in a person's brain by a mechanical helmet.
  • In The Lydian Option, the Tha'Latta implant translators into prisoners, loaded with the languages of other species incarcerated in their prison.
  • Deverish Also has the dialect-indoctrination spell. Unusually, it's not perfect; you can only use one language at a time, can only learn a new one this way by finding a mage who speaks it, and if they mess up it can leave you unable to use your original languages until a more competent mage fixes the problem.
  • The Erlkönig in fancomic Roommates probably has a translator spell because Word of Ashe that he never bothered learning other languages (speaks in runes) but can still understand and speak "English" when he wants to... in runic looking letters.
  • Kila Ilo has translator implants, one of the main characters refuses to have one on the basis brain surgery is necessary for the implant.


Western Animation Edit

  • In Teen Titans, Starfire could learn a language by kissing a native speaker. Robin is, needless to say, depressed to hear that their random first kiss meant nothing (this editor has never been able to verify whether this is a Tamaranian racial ability or a talent unique to Starfire).
    • In the comics, at least, it's a racial ability. And any skin contact will do; Starfire kissed Robin because that's the fun way. In the X Men/Teen Titans crossover comicbook, she learns Russian in a similar way smooching Colossus. Much to Kitty Pryde's chagrin. Nightcrawler immediately asks if she'd like to learn German.
    • In Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo, she also kisses a random Japanese boy to learn the language. This time, when she explains why, Robin's pretty relieved...
  • Spoofed in Futurama: Professor Farnsworth's Universal Translator can only translate into an "incomprehensible dead language" (French).
  • In most versions of Transformers the Cybertronians either speak their own language but it's translated for us, or it's never even mentioned that they speak another language and they have no trouble conversing with people (Transformers Animated). Explained in the movie as the Cybertronians learning Earth languages from the internet, which facilitates their pop-culture references (and Jazz's blackness).
  • Space Ghost. In addition to talking to all sorts of aliens on a regular basis, in the episode "The Time Machine" Space Ghost can talk with a 12th century Viking with no problem, and in "Clutches of Creature King" he speaks to the Mighty Mightor, who's from a prehistoric era.
  • Lampshaded and played with in the first "Peabody's Improbable History" episode. When Peabody first invents the WABAC, he and Sherman take it back to ancient Rome, where the meet a man speaking in Latin (and ignoring them). Peabody adjusts the machine, so that now they can hear the Roman speaking English; turns out he's a used chariot salesman (who is still ignoring them). Peabody makes one final adjustment, so that the historical characters they meet will interact with them. As Peabody puts it, "Not history as it was, but as it should have been."
  • Phineas and Ferb The Universal Mustache Translator in "The Chronicles of Meap" translates an Alien language (comprised only of the word "Meap") to English; however this is only for the English speakers' sake, as the aliens can apparently understand English. Leads to a well done subversion of a Big No, where instead of NOOOOO! it comes out as out as MEEEEEEEEEEAP!!
  • The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest has Dr. Quest's "Language Translator" device, which Jessie uses in "Ice will burn."
  • These exist in Adventure Time, and they are used by rainicorns (who all apparently speak Korean) to speak English.


Web Original Edit

  • The magical drug Lucidrol in Magical Security Taskforce, used primarily by transfer student Yuki. It has a few interesting side effects: the user cannot discern which language is being spoken to her, including his/her native tongue. It also translates crazed ranting and poor handwriting. Another character takes a dose to translate a complicated legal contract.
  • According to Word of God, all the Matoran Universe characters in Bionicle were hit with a signal from Mata Nui, which upgraded them with software that allowed them to communicate with the Glatorian and Agori.
  • The Correlians are the first to have this technology in Registry of Time.
  • Elcenia: Elcenian dragons can do this as a native trait, and there are a number of wizard spells that do the same thing for speech and written language. A sufficiently odd language--for instance, wolfrider, which includes a telepathic part--is not fully translated by standard spells, and poetry and songs translated do not rhyme.
  • Discussed in Cracked, which calls Translator Microbes The 3rd Stupidest Way Movies Deal with Foreign Languages.

Notes

  1. really a very scary "Darkshade Death Leech", but it keeps this secret for obvious reasons
  2. and is extremely annoyed to find that even apples beg for mercy while being drained of their vital fluid

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