Although our stories may center around English-speaking characters, there are occasions when they include characters who don’t speak the language well or at all. Although inserting lines in a foreign language may seem like a daunting task, following these helpful guidelines can help you add realism and depth to your stories without confusing your readers.
- The most important rule to follow when using a foreign language in your story is “keep it short.” Your readers will come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and you can’t expect them all to navigate a lengthy passage in a language they have not encountered before. Keep your foreign language interjections to one or two sentences.
- In addition to keeping it short, you must provide context for your foreign language lines. Make absolutely sure your reader understands what the conversation about and where it’s going before you use any foreign languages. Then, you must describe the characters’ body language, facial expression, and tone, and be sure to describe the reaction of characters who speak the same language.
- Consider using a multilingual character as a translator who helps the other characters understand lines in a foreign language. To avoid confusion, define this character’s role before you introduce foreign dialogue. If you don’t have room for a translator character, make it very clear from your English-speaking character’s reactions what is going on.
It takes practice and careful editing to use foreign language lines in your English language prose. Lengthy, out-of-context passages in a foreign language can confuse your readers and draw their attention away from your beautiful prose in the language they know. However, by following these guidelines and practicing, you can add realism to your story’s world and get your readers more involved in your stories.