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The Klingon language system has evolved over the related series and episodes.

Why did the producers in later series and episodes, especially in the movies (epic scene from ST 7 Generations as example), decide to have Klingons speak English to Klingons almost always? They did that otherwise in some cases before and it was really good.

Why didn't they have Klingon subtitles or some indication if they were actually speaking Klingon?

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    Its for sake of ease. Between each other they understand without need for translation, so its as if they speak in clear terms to each other (as the audience that's English) but when they speak to someone who is NOT Klingon it bears more realism that it is different than English. – GµårÐïåñ Oct 8 '14 at 20:49
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    In the later series, Klingons could breed with humans. Try getting over that suspension of disbelief. Or the physical pain, for that matter. – yelxe Oct 10 '14 at 21:49
  • I believe it was in Star Trek 6, where they started out speaking Klingon, but then they were all of a sudden speaking English. There was a noticable transition for this, and it was so that the audiance knew it was translated for them. – PiousVenom Oct 13 '14 at 19:51
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    For the same reason the characters in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar don't speak Latin. – user38178 Jul 22 '16 at 20:02
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The in-universe explanation is quite simple: they don't. They're speaking Klingon and the universal translator makes it sound like they're speaking English.

It's basically impossible to tell which characters speak English due to this device, as by the 24th century they're small enough to fit inside a Starfleet Combadge, as Captain Janeway mentions in The 37s:

Nogami: You are all speaking Japanese.

Jack Hayes: [to Nogami] Sounds to me like you're speaking English.

Janeway: It's because of a device we have, a universal translator. [points to her combadge] It allows us to talk to each other, even though our languages aren't the same.

The size of the device means it's basically guaranteed that their ship will have one installed for communicating with non-Klingons, especially as the Duras sisters from Generations have fallen out of favour with the Klingon Empire and basically survive by working with other species, such as the Romulans in TNG 5x01- Redemption II, Bajoran terrorists in DS9 1x03- Past Prologue and in Generations, as you mention, they're working with the El-Aurian Dr. Soran. As none of these species have any reason to speak Klingon or English, it's a fair assumption that they're all speaking their native languages and Lursa and B'Etor have a Universal Translator about their person.

Whether or not they're shown talking in their natural or translated language really depends on the director and writer. In some of the TOS movies, such as The Undiscovered Country, Klingons are shown to be speaking Klingonese whenever there are no humans around. In one scene, Kirk and McCoy are standing in a room full of Klingons speaking Klingonese, then we see there is a Klingon manually translating to English, before jumping back to the same actor speaking English, which indicates that the mouth movements matching up with the translation is simply a stylistic choice to avoid re-dubbing every time a Klingon appears to be speaking English in the movie.

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    Nice answer! I gave it a thumbs up. My answer is the one below, talking about filmmaking tropes rather than offering an in-universe explanation. Seems as though Star Trek has figured out a way to use the trope and justify it in-universe. That's rare! – BrettFromLA Oct 16 '14 at 16:30
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    One can easily guess that in Star Trek VI, Kirk and McCoy's equipment was confiscated (they were being tried for murder), and thus they had to rely on a Klingon translator. – John Sensebe Mar 23 '16 at 19:45
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    It's great how the universal translator even translates for the audience. – faintsignal Feb 4 '17 at 23:30
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I bet it's the same reason people from France speak English, just with French accents. The majority of English-speaking audiences don't want to read subtitles. Having actors speak English, but with accents, is a trope that filmmakers developed to simplify dealing with other languages.

(One fun example of this is Sean Connery's character in "The Hunt for Red October". He's supposed to be Russian. So for a few scenes, he speaks Russian. Then the camera trucks in on his mouth while he's speaking, so that his mouth fills the frame, and he starts speaking English with a Russian accent. He does that for the rest of the movie, if I recall correctly.)

Plus, as far as the Klingon language goes, it would be tough for normal actors to learn their lines.

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    For the rest of the movie except when the Russian crew meets the American crew, further playing up that the Russians were always speaking Russian; it was just translated for the audience's benefit. – Roger Oct 8 '14 at 20:57
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    I've always loved how they did that in Hunt for Red October. Such an elegant device! – System Down Oct 8 '14 at 22:38
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    Connery's character was Lithuanian, not Russian. This is specifically mentioned in the movie (and book) as part of his motivation by the analyst Ryan. He was Soviet, of course, and would have spoken Russian most of the time in service (with Lithuanian accent, probably, the languages are not closely related). His name, Marko Ramius, isn't Russian also (Alexandrovich... well, that part is, but that is more a convention, like adding -ova to foreign names for females). Of course this doesn't matter much for the effect of the accent. – his Oct 8 '14 at 23:29
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    Another movie in which this is done well is Valkyrie, where Cruise, who is speaking German, transitions to English almost mid sentence while the German fades into the background. It was meant to show that the translation was being done for the audience's benefit. – bobbyalex Oct 9 '14 at 9:16
  • Not to forget about Babylon 5 a whole science fiction series around cultural differences etc. where aliens only speak "gibberish", if the character followed by the audience doesn't understand it either. – Mario Oct 13 '14 at 7:56
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For perspective, watch "The Hunt for Red October". Notice that aboard the Red October, at the start of the film, all dialog is in Russian. There is a scene in the captain's cabin where the characters are speaking Russian with English subtitles, and all of a sudden, they are speaking English and there are no more subtitles.

The point is that in-universe, they are still speaking Russian; the language switch is just for our (and the actors') convenience. The funny thing about Red October is that they did it in a way that is somehow subtle and obvious at the same time.

Getting back to Star Trek. There are two scenarios:

  1. The Klingons (or for that matter, any other non-terrestrial race) are speaking amongst themselves and we the audience are the only humans listening. In this case, they are speaking Klingon (or whatever) in-universe; we hear English because we as the audience are privileged observers (and it's whole lot simpler production-wise) - the "universal translator" is hooked up to our TVs, if you must.
  2. The Klingons (or whomever) are talking to humans. In this case, if everyone is speaking English, we must assume either they are speaking English (in-universe) or it's the magic of the universal translator at work between all parties.

There are scenes where the universal translator fails or there is not one present (or they intentionally don't use it). In this case, we hear Klingon.

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Almost ALL aliens speak English, not just Klingons. I can't quote the names of the episodes, but I have watched the original series for years (own the DVDs) and remember most of the show plots. I remember episodes where Kirk and the crew went to planets and encountered species who didnt speak at all but used telepathy, and some other episodes where the script included a line or two that stated the aliens were of such higher intelligence they can translate speech so the humans can understand them. But I don't believe there was ever an episode in the original Star Trek that provided an overarching explanation for why everybody in the universe spoke English. I read on another internet forum that Roddenberry considered this problem and initially had a scenario planned for translation of alien speech, but this plan was discarded as too complicated (or something ) So the writers just let everyone speak English for their convenience and the convenience of American viewers. I assume they assumed we would just accept English speaking as part of the "miracle" of life in the space traveling future. And for the most part, we did. But it ALWAYS bugged me, just a little, even as a child watching reruns after school.

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Klingon commanders/officers learn to speak English at a very young age. This is so the Command crew on board a Klingon ship can communicate sensitive or classified subjects between one another in front of the rest of the crew. It also comes in handy for monitoring Federation comms, as this is not widely known in Starfleet. Alternatively, the commanders simply do not want the crew to know who or what they are talking about certain subjects, thus a basic Klingon crew member does not learn English and will not understand what their commanders are saying when they chose to speak it. This comes from the Star Trek cannon universe explanation.

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    Specific source for this? And why English, and not some other alien or human language? And 21st century English, or what should be different 24th century English? – cde Mar 23 '16 at 1:06
  • Agreed. This could prove to be an interesting answer with some additional reading, so please provide sources to back everything up and to better solidify your answer. – MattD Mar 23 '16 at 3:56
  • It was quoted in a Trekyard's episode as being from the canon universe. I do not recall the episode off the top of my head, but I will try and look back and find it. Mr. Foley is the one who read the explanation, and it sounded like it was from a star trek book. This guy knows a lot about star trek history, so I would not doubt him... – Jay Wiegs Mar 23 '16 at 19:26
  • English is the universal language in the Federation, so it would make sense that Klingon's and Romulan's learn the language as the Federation has the most species in the Trek universe. Universal translators would be the common means for communication, but they can easily be recognized if used by an enemy ship... – Jay Wiegs Mar 23 '16 at 19:33
  • If you watch Star Trek movies / series you will notice on most occasions the Klingon's and Romulan's Commanders, Officers, and Officials speak English to each other, but use their native language when giving orders to the crews or subordinates. – Jay Wiegs Mar 23 '16 at 19:50

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