What is your approach to languages?

Spirit of 1977

Banded Mongoose
I found only one prior thread about using languages. MgT has Language Skill, and by TL 9 we have decent translation, and practical by TL 10. I want to discuss some potential complications and solutions.

In my setting, completely error-free translation does not happen until TL 12, when we innovate autonomous robots. There is the additional problem of comprehension: some sophonts cannot hear/interpret the speech of others, and some sophonts cannot reproduce the speech of others. These are physical limitations which can be overcome with computers at TL 12+. So by TL 12 the translation problem is solved if computers and software are available.

But in my setting there is a physical solution. There is one prominent sophont for whom language is trivial: their own language is content dense, they can hear a wide range of tones and interpret many intonations, and their voices are like synthesizers. As such, they are widely sought out as translators, though they are hard to employ. But instead, this sophont used their language skills to construct a physical universal translator: Sign Language. Sign Language may be used by any sophont with vision, 2 arms, and 4+ digits per arm. Sign Language has been carefully constructed to map equivalent concepts to the same sign, regardless of the source language. Sign Language is mostly used by anyone who travels between the stars. Official organizations like the military have added their own signs for clandestine purposes to allow silent orders. If my setting were ever filmed, I'd use ASL for Sign Language, because why not?

Is language important to your setting, and if so how?
Yes and no. Do a variety of languages exist? Yes. Does it matter most weeks whether the PCs are using a TL 12 translation program in their wrist comp/implant vs speaking the language through learning? Not usually.

Do they get brownie points for speaking Gvegh properly from a group non Imperial Vargr? Sometimes. Am I going to give them the benefit of the doubt on some cultural elements if they speak that culture's language instead of relying on translation? Almost certainly.

So, short version: I am likely to reward learning the language more than I am to penalize not knowing it. But it will sometimes be a plot point.

Like, I read a detective novel once where the protagonists failed to realize that these two groups were run by the same person, because they didn't realize that one file translated the guy's Chinese name with a Mandarin pronunciation and the other file with a Cantonese pronunciation. So it was written exactly the same in Chinese, but spelled differently in English.

So, there's fun things I do with language from time to time, but I don't make it a constant nuisance.
Universal translator.

It's likely that any human based language can be relatively easily understood by a computer programme, likely at technological level nine.

Customs and etiquette may be required for each cultural region, so that context can be understood.

As regards alien languages, that likely depends on the degree of their physical and psychological differences to humans.
Ever watch Stargate the TV series?

There is a reason a few episodes in suddenly every alien spoke English...
I'd probably ask players to elaborate on their backstories as they develop, including details that might suggest familiarity with local dialects, experience with languages, etc. I'd keep track of that stuff, as a means of making encounters more colourful. There might be any number of interactions where something as simple as accent, current slang, or understanding of a cultural-linguistic nuance could alter the encounter for better or worse. At the very least, it aids in portraying distinct NPCs, if you can tell yourself, say, "this person is wary/dismissive of Character X because their accent is stereotypical to his ears" or making it so that a player that has a certain background stands a better chance of picking up on a double meaning or implication.
"So, there's fun things I do with language from time to time, but I don't make it a constant nuisance."

This sounds about right. I just decided that sound wasn't necessarily the best lingua franca across different sophonts, and because it's an RPG we can still speak while understanding that the characters may be using their limbs. Plus, since not everyone speaks Sign Language, you can have justified secret communication.
If we wanted to be realistic, there would be thousands of languages just in the Imperium alone, and most people would probably speak a bit of whatever language is the lingua franca, as well as their home language. Translator machines would be needed by Travellers basically all the time, which sort of messes with my mental image of how things should appear.

I assume that players speak either Galangic or Vilani as their native language and learn the other in school - unless they have an unusual upbringing or a minority culture, in which case it might be some other native language. But I assume downward the number of languages they will encounter whereever possible. For example - give the Aslans one, Zhodani one, Vilani one, unrealistic but it makes for a better game. Day to day, they encounter foreign languages often, and don't generally understand them, but I treat the two main ones as lingua franca more or less, so if you have them both almost always in the Imperium you'll be able to talk to someone without using machine translation. If someone is using a minority language or foreign language, you probably won't understand them, though, unless you are geared up to do it - which you probably won't be unless you were expecting to encounter this problem. So you can talk behind someone's back so to speak, while sitting in front of them. And pretend not to understand it, in the hopes they will drop useful information.

Machine translation inhibits social interactions, too, so it is hard to use your social skills, interpret nuance, and interpret uncommon dialect and idioms, but of course often necessary nonetheless - (IRL in my work, I often use simultaneous translation - i.e. people doing it - and I assume it is like that - you normally get the point, but it can seem a bit rambling and it looses a lot of nuance and cultural references that normally spice up a conversation).

So my solution is partly to give players more language skills, partly to ensure they don't need as many of them through unrealistic assumptions about home many languages there are. and partly just to treat it as a somewhat solvable problem - so that getting the language skills is useful, but it isn't game over if they don't have the right one. The objective is to make it seem like cultural flavour and a problem that can crop up as a major issue (when I want it to), but not a tedious thing because there are solutions which allow it to be brushed aside or resolved when it stops being a fun problem and starts being an annoying problem.
"If we wanted to be realistic, there would be thousands of languages just in the Imperium alone"

Absolutely, just like on the real Earth. But "realistic" is the wrong metric for an RPG, in my opinion and expressed by several here. I think "believable" is better, and even that could be debated as inferior to "fun". Your solution is a good one.
My degree is in linguistics, and that actually leads me to want to treat language issues lightly or even ignore them in a game. I could very easily dig a rabbit hole of details that I would find interesting and that would take weeks to explain to other people, with no actual benefit to the game. I'm happy to just say "this is impossible, but so is FTL and without that you don't have the basic premise so just let it be".
It is easy to get a French person to speak english. Approach the person with the french you had in school. 30 years ago. That you never got more than a C in. Suddenly the french person will decide that butchering english is a much better choice than butchering french.

Tried that at Calais port and on french highway rest stops. Works like a charm :)
My wife I and found the problem is mostly Paris, not France. Out in the country, people always reacted well to my wife's basic French.
Umm, it's the King's English, has been for a while now...

what really pisses the French off is that English is still the common language of the EU.

English is also common in India, China, some say the USA too.
The problem was not the french person hating my french. But realizing that his/her englisch was better than my french. In my experience with the french trying is what counts. Demonstrate that you are willing and they will then switch to the best language shared (That can be german in some parts of France)
It is often the case in other countries. If you can at least say 'Sorry, I don't speak your language, do you speak xxx', people will be more inclined to help. I can confirm this for Japan, and I barely have two or three dozen words of Japanese.
As for French people speaking decent English, it is easy nowaday with all the series/movies that you can watch in English with French (or other languages) subtitles. It helps a lot. But there are far less French series/movies with English subtitles.
Add a few hours per day on YouTube, Twitch, Netflix & other platforms and people will improve their English pretty fast.
My semi-point was that at least in the Imperium and vicinity, Galanglic, at least in pidgin form, is probably at least intelligible to and by most Travellers in most situations. Like odd ammunition sizes and non-metric tools and parts, if there is a plot reason for incompatibility of languages or anything else, use it. If it just slows down the game or results from a random die roll, don't.

(Except now I can't get the image of the man my wife refers to as the-man-who-is-married-to-my-mother crashing his scooter (knees give out if you get to be 80ish and weigh more than 300 pounds (um, 136.36 kg, or I can't remember how many stone, or stones? Is it pluralised?)) into the all-you-can-eat buffet table, knocking it over, and yelling at the wait staff in a southern drawl that is inexplicable for a man born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.)*

*Nested parentheticals. Yes, my non-sequiturs have tangents. Need more sleep or Ritalin, or something.
. . . weigh more than 300 pounds (um, 136.36 kg, or I can't remember how many stone, or stones? Is it pluralised?)) . . .

14 lbs. = 6.35029kg = 1 stone.
(And I believe stone is both singular and plural in this usage, IIRC).

One of those English Units that we Americans didn't retain along with all of the others for some reason.
14 lbs. = 6.35029kg = 1 stone.
(And I believe stone is both singular and plural in this usage, IIRC).

One of those English Units that we Americans didn't retain along with all of the others for some reason.
So... a gross stone is just more than a short ton... and thanks to The Google, I just learned a long ton is 20 long hundredweights* each of 8 stone...

*not to be confused with the short hundredweight.**
**not to be confused with the number of furlongs in a farthing***
***I think I'd rather compute the number of shot glasses in a fifth. Sorry for polluting the forum with nonsense, it's been a day.
***I think I'd rather compute the number of shot glasses in a fifth. Sorry for polluting the forum with nonsense, it's been a day.
Yeah. I hate days...

All of this is subject to creating amusing plot complications, but in my version of OTU, pretty much every Imperial world with a Class B+ starport speaks Galanglic with a wee bit of an accent. When you get to C- starports, the accents get progressively less comprehensible. Similarly, the further you get from the starport, the more pronounced the accent.
Most non-Galanglophones will pick up the best [their language] <=> Galanglic translator they can get.
These differences mostly exist to give people a hint where someone is from, not to interfere with communication.

Speaking Vilani is like speaking Latin or French -- a sign of being formally educated or French.

Speaking any of the other languages gives you points with folks with the right ethnicity and the ability to feign ignorance when an overly friendly local drunk won't believe you don't speak Galanglic or Nederlands.