Lost in Μετάφραση

Writing alternate languages within a story can be tricky for many reasons. One, I never assume the reader knows what is being said and two, I never assume that the reader will bother to look it up and translate it.

Therefore if I use alternate languages in dialogue that I myself am not fluent in, (And I do) I follow these simple rules I set up for myself.

– I have another character translate
– I have narration translate (This is awkward to write and read IMO because it still
leaves the characters not knowing what was said)
– I have the speaker translate after speaking their native tongue
– I never translate and have someone comment on the rudeness of the speaker OR I
leave it mysterious if it fits into the scene
– I make sure body language, expression and action translate for me (This one is fun
and challenging to do)
– If both or all characters in the scene speak… say Spanish I might narrate that they
are speaking Spanish, put the dialogue in English and change the font to italic.

There are points in my books where a character who doesn’t or won’t speak English. There is always a purpose for it story wise and for my purposes it’s necessary for character development.

There are plenty of online translation tools out there, but how accurate are they? For fun if you go to one of them type in a simple sentence. Translate to another language then another and another then back to English and sometimes what you get is hilarious or illegible… so sometimes yes and sometimes no for accuracy.

(This example has not been edited/proofed by anyone who speaks/reads/writes Italian)

Valery rolled her eyes at Anne’s juicy work gossip. “I think you should quit and find a better job. That place is toxic.”
“Ogni sciocco vuole dare consigli.” Tony said under his breath reaching for his coffee. 
“Seriously?” Valery glared at Anne’s boyfriend.
“He said Every fool wants to give advice.” Anne elbowed Tony. “Don’t be rude.”
“Since when do you speak Italian?” Valery looked across the small diner table at Anne.
“Since I’ve been teaching her. Want to learn?” Tony said with a sly grin. “Sei bella e arroganteo.”
Valery crossed her arms. “And what pray-tel does that mean?”
Tony just smiled and sipped his coffee. 
Anne shook her head and chuckled, “He thinks your beautiful and arrogant.”
Valery grinned. “Spot on Tony.”

I do have french, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Latin in my stories. For now I’ve used multiple translation services to make sure they say what I want them to. Before I finish editing will fully intend on having someone who reads, writes and speaks those languages proofread them for me.

My advice about foreign language in writing.
Be careful and seek assistance if using a language you are not fluent in, otherwise what you meant to say could be lost in Lost in Μετάφραση (Lost in translation) 

-Sheryl

Other posts about dialogue

Conver(Conversation)sation

Conversing is easy…not!

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4 thoughts on “Lost in Μετάφραση

  1. I’ve written blurbs including other snippets of language, usually well known phrases, but I’m never quite sure the translation is accurate so I refrain, but I love the idea. It adds pizazz to the story, its intriguing when you aren’t sure what is being said.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a character that says things in other languages all the time, Sometimes I let the reader in on it sometimes I don’t. If I don’t I make sure the scene, body language and context is clear to suggest what’s being said. It’s fun if done right.

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