Say I've got a hero who's been summoned to another world. The inhabitants of this world have been expecting his arrival, and are armed with the knowledge that he won't speak their language. So the first thing they do is give it to him. Every method I've come up with for this has left me unsatisfied. Here's what I've run through:
Transfer of knowledge. Someone who knows the language, or knows how to teach the language, magically transfers that knowledge to the hero so that he instantaneously understands everything that's said. The issues I have with this are that "transfer of knowledge" being a magical skill seems too powerful. There aren't enough limitations, and adding a limitation like "oh, it only works for learning languages" is too contrived. In a world where this is possible, every child would learn all of the knowledge available in the world as soon as their brains are developed enough to contain that much information. I would prefer to keep a tighter rein on the limitations of my magical system.
One of the things I've considered to help with the limitations is that, since these particular natives have had prior knowledge of our hero's coming, they could have spent potentially years preparing a spell specifically for the learning of language. A sort of "welcome to our world" gift basket of magic. It still leaves me with my original problem, however, of the transfer being possible at all. Just because it's difficult or time-consuming to do this doesn't mean that every single person wouldn't take advantage of it.
Another thing I've considered is eliminating the learning of the native language entirely, and instead have the natives speak English. The most likely justification here would be that the hero is not the first person to have traveled here from Earth, and the previous visitor(s) brought the language with them. It would be reasonable to explain away that it was known or at least assumed the hero would come from the same world, so the welcoming committee learned English for this specific purpose.
I'm not fond of this execution, in large part because I don't want any other Earthlings in the story, and would only be incorporating it (at the moment) for this very specific purpose.
I've also thought about using telepathy instead of spoken language, and communicating using emotion and intention instead of words. This appeals to me in some ways, but I hit a big hurdle in my plans for deliberate misleading of characters. It's hard to lie when you're talking using your emotions.
Finally, I considered using a magical item to imbue the hero with the knowledge of the local language, like an amulet (or, I dunno, an enchanted hearing aid :P ). Once again, you run into the issue of the magic system having the ability to transfer knowledge. This time it is not into a person, which is better, but it is into an item, and that makes it almost as overpowered in my eyes. It adds the hurdle of altering the vision I have for my magic system, which currently uses the human body as a vessel for magic and potential energy stored in the body as fuel. For example, in the scene as it's currently written, a native of the world touches our hero and heals some minor injuries. I'm happy with that, since it's completely reasonable in my mind for someone to use their own energy to accelerate the healing process, and for this person to have the ability to channel that energy into another person. But in the same action, our hero learns the local language.
For the life of me, I cannot justify this without going outside of my comfort zone for the costs and limitations of the magic system as it currently exists.
So... Any ideas that anyone has would be much appreciated!