I would like to play a character who excels in impersonating people. Of course, a high Deception skill comes in handy. But what if I want to impersonate an elf, a dragonborn or an orc? (Alter Self, a Disguise Kit or other such tricks are viable options). People would probably expect me to speak Elvish, Draconic or Orcish. And that's my problem. I can grab some languages with the changeling race, and some more with an appropriate background. I think a Knowledge Cleric would also get some extra languages. But still, my character can never know EVERY language.

That’s where the Tongues spell comes into play. In older editions this spell would let you speak any language. But I’m not sure about the 5th edition version of Tongues. It only says …

This spell grants the creature you touch the ability to understand any spoken language it hears. Moreover, when the target speaks, any creature that knows at least one language can hear the target and understands what it says.

Can I fool listeners with this spell? Would an elf actually believe that I talk to them in Elvish? Or would any listener recognize that I only make myself comprehensible with magic?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am. But I didn't add "UA" as tag, because the changeling part is just for context and has nothing to do with the question about the Tongues spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – hohenheim
    Apr 5, 2018 at 13:41

3 Answers 3


The spell does what it says it does.

The spell does not say that it translates. There is no mention of the caster having any influence over language used or that the native tongue of the target matters.

Others can simply understand what you say, regardless of the language you use to say it. They can still hear you say it, though. So if a listener does not understand the language you use, they will have the experience of understanding sentences in a language they might never have heard. I would count that as an obviously magical effect in most cases.


DM Call

Unlike previous editions, where tongues caused the speaker to use a language, 5e says nothing about language spoken - just that the speaker is understood. And abilities in 5e do exactly what they say.
Tongues is for communicating, not for infiltration.

The DM would be well within their rights to state that the character is using an obviously magical effect, destroying any hope of successful deception.
The DM could also allow a Charisma (Deception) check to trick the target into believing that the speaker is using the expected language. This is a more generous approach, not one dictated by the game mechanics, but is in keeping with player intent and the limits of the listed abilities.

Regardless, the tongues spell does not confer the ability to speak a specific language. It makes the target universally understood.


Listen, I know of a way to be able to speak all languages by level 11 specifically to avoid the use of Tongues.

Of course, it sounds like you're aiming for a level 1-5 character, so I can only recommend the following. Half-elf/High Elf/Firbolg, Sage/Anthropologist/Acolyte, Knowledge Cleric.

This will start you out with seven languages: Common, Elvish, Dwarvish, Gnomish, Goblin, Orc, and Giant. Halfling isn't really needed as the halflings speak Common as often as not. That covers all the common languages, so most mortal plane folk are in your vernacular.

You want to talk with Fey and animals, take 2 levels of druid and take Circle of the Shepherd. You want to talk with residents of the Underdark, take a level of Ranger, take Drow and Duergar as Favored Enemies, learn Undercommon. Ranger guilds are a good place to find more languages, too. You want to speak with Dragons, take a level of Draconic Sorcerer. Everything else can be snapped up with 4 levels of Rogue with the Mastermind subclass and Linguist Feat. Take 2 more levels of Druid, read Qualith as an octopus, and take the Prodigy feat to learn the last of the sixteen languages, if you're a half-elf.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can't stack multiple races and backgrounds on the same character. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 24, 2019 at 14:22

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