Languages

by Marissa

Question: In my book I have a character that speaks multiple languages but I don't know if I should say they said blah blah blah in this language or if I should actually write what they say in that language.


Answer: Any time you make your readers work to enjoy the story, you risk losing them.

If readers don't know all the languages you are writing in (and the vast majority of English speakers won't) they will get frustrated if there are parts of the story they cannot understand and enjoy. True, there may be some readers who will type every phrase into Google Translate to find out what is being said, but only your most dedicated fans will go to this length.

An alternative would be to include the translations in footnotes, but some readers will find that annoying since it breaks the flow of the story. It can create an academic tone which may not fit your aim.

A few words in a foreign language whose meanings can be inferred from the context can set the mood or establish the context without becoming a burden. However, it is generally better to write everything in English while making it clear that the characters are speaking a different language.

The exception is if you don't want your reader to understand the foreign words. For example, Shakespeare has a scene in which a king meets his intended bride for the first time. She only speaks French and he only speaks English. So the scene is about them finding a way to establish a relationship despite the communication barrier. The audience shares the king's point-of-view.

Comments for Languages

Click here to add your own comments

May 16, 2014
Another option
by: Jiří Petruželka

A possible (plausible?) way might be to write the sentence in foreign language AND THEN in your language. This most likely would have to be used only sparingly, not for full dialogues.

Something like:
"Nechci s ní mluvit". I don't want to talk to her, he said.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.


 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook


NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles


"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards



"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero