8 Popular English Media That Were Originally In A Different Language

Malaysia ranks #2 in English literacy throughout Asia, so it’s no surprise that we’ve grown up consuming entertainment and media from the English-speaking West. But did you know that some of the more well-loved English books, songs, TV shows and movies were originally in another language?

Let’s see if you spot any of your favourites!


Beyond The Sea

Photo credit: Amazon.co.uk

Original Language: French

Robbie William’s rendition made a hit again when it featured in the Pixar movies ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Finding Dory’, but readers would probably recognise Bobby Darin’s 1959 version in famous shows like Austin Powers, Lost, The Blacklist and X-Files. So catchy is this song that even Darin wasn’t the first to sing it in English!

The original, ‘La Mer‘ (‘The Sea’) was first written in French by well-known chanteur Charles Trenet and sung by Roland Gerbeau in 1945. Trenet’s own more famous rendition was not made until 1946. In that same year, songwriter Jack Lawrence adapted the music to slightly different English lyrics, from an ode to the sea into an iconic English love song.

Seasons In The Sun

Photo credit: Discogs


Original Language: French

In 1999, Westlife shot this song – and their band – into the hearts of many tweens, much to the annoyance of older music fans who remembered Terry Jack’s hit version from way back in 1974. But neither the Irish boyband nor Canadian singer sang it first!

In 1973, poet Rob McKeun wrote a somewhat loose English language adaptation of the French song ‘Le Moribond‘ (‘The Dying’). ‘Le Moribond‘ was first written and sung by Belgian singer Jacques Brel in 1961.


Around The World In Eighty Days

Photo credit: Penguin Books


Original Language: French

Jules Verne’s 19th century tale about British gentleman Phileas Fogg’s journey across the continents in 80 days has been abridged to appeal to a whole range of age groups, adapted into various shows, plays and movies and inspired many an action-adventure story throughout history.

But this well-loved classic wasn’t originally in English, even if its hero was! Verne first wrote and published the story in French (titled ‘Le tour du mond en quatre-vingts jours‘) in 1873, and the English version was released soon after. In fact, many of Verne’s classics ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’ and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea’ were in French!

The Alchemist

Original Language: Portuguese

An inspiring allegory for many seeking self-improvement, ‘The Alchemist’ was significantly more well-received in English than it’s original Portuguese. First written – allegedly in only 2 weeks – in 1987 by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, ‘O Alquimista‘ follows the journey of a young shepherd named Santiago in his quest to find his destiny. The English translation was released in 1993 and has seen much success across the world.


City Of Angels

Photo credit: Enter The Caged Pod

Original Language: German

Remember when Nicholas Cage was an angel who fell in love with a mortal woman played by Meg Ryan? The 1998 movie itself received mixed reviews, but its soundtrack that included Goo Goo Doll’s ‘Iris’ and Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel’ made ‘City Of Angels’ a pop culture icon of the late 90’s.

The original German version of the movie, ‘Der Himmer über Berlin‘ (‘The Heavens Over Berlin) or ‘Wings of Desire’ was released in 1987 to critical success in Europe.

The Departed

Original Language: Chinese (Cantonese)

Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring big names like Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and Leonardo DiCaprio, this 2006 movie is actually a remake of a 2002 Chinese-language film, ‘Internal Affairs’.

The original Hong Kong version is famous in its own right, featuring big names like Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, but both movies’ focus on regional organised crime families – the Hong Kong triads in ‘Internal Affairs’ and Boston mob in ‘The Departed’ probably made them less recognisable as similar stories.

TV Shows


Photo credit: Wikimedia


Original Language: Swedish

Nothing seems more American than reality show ‘Survivor’, with host Jeff Probst’s stoicism in the face of the castaway’s never-ending drama. Malaysian viewers would have a special spot in their hearts for this ridiculous survival competition show, since the first American season took place in Sabah’s Pulau Tiga in 2000. Since then, Malaysian has played host to other versions of the show, from Survivor Australia to South Africa.

However, the premise of such a show as first introduced by the Swedes in 1997, with their very own rendition called ‘Expedition Robinson’.

America’s Funniest Home Videos


Original Language: Japanese

Who could forget host Tom Bergeron’s witty remarks on the stupid things Americans have inevitably filmed themselves doing? Or glared in envy at the family who wins the USD 10,000 prize for having the dumbest (funniest) moment caught on tape? The Americans get all the fun!

But this schadenfreude-based reality TV show first made its debut in the even more outlandish Japanese programme, ‘Kato-chan Ken-chan Gokigen TV‘ that aired from 1986 to 1992. The Japanese version was a comedy variety show, with a segment that featured viewer-submitted funny home videos.

Pop culture and media is a great way for beginners to learn a language, and what better motivation than to check out the originals of your favourite songs, books and shows to see which version did it better? Get professional language lessons through a certified tutor through Kaodim today!

written by Louisa Lee