Welcome Wednesday – Speaking in Tongues

Welcome Wednesday – Speaking in Tongues

Welcome to this week’s edition of Welcome Wednesdays!  I hope y’all are finding new authors to read, and new readers for your books with these weekly questions.

Today, let’s talk about languages.  Authors, do you ever use any foreign languages in your books?  How do you handle it?  If a character speaks Spanish, or French, or whatever, do you translate for the reader or let them figure it out for themselves?  Do you use foreign terms to help establish the setting, or for particular effects?  There are lots of other possibilities, too, so whatever you’re doing with languages, tell us about it!

(and be sure to leave a description and link for your book, too!)

I’ll begin!  I mostly don’t do a whole lot with foreign languages (other than the use of latin-based medical terms, considering Sara’s profession in the Dream Series).  Mostly, if it comes up, Sara notes that someone is speaking Spanish (or whatever) and that she does or doesn’t understand what they’re saying.  But there is a little bit of French in book eight, DREAM VACATION (as you might expect, since the second half of the book takes place in Paris):

I walk the last few steps into the lobby of the Holiday Inn, and head straight for the front desk.  I take a couple of deep breaths, and try to work myself up to an appropriately hysterical tone.

Bonjour, Madame,” says a young, perfectly coiffed and made-up woman, in a spotless, immaculately-fitting hotel uniform.  She eyes me with distaste, or possibly something much stronger.

“Hello,” I answer, not quite panting.  “I – I hope you can help me.  I need to find a guest.  A boy.”  I stop to take a ragged breath and continue on.  “My daughter,” I grab Grace, pull her next to me.  She gives the woman a very embarrassed look, which I’m sure is quite genuine.  “She’s been crying about him since last night.  She – you know how girls can be, she never got his last name, and if she doesn’t hear from him before we go back home today, she’ll just die.”

It seemed like the lie that would get the best reception.  This is supposed to be the most romantic city in the world, isn’t it?  Beth speaks up, before the woman – Monique, I read off her uniform – can get a word in.  “S’il vous plaît aider mon amie. Sa fille va la rendre malheureuse pour les six prochaines mois si vous ne le faites pas.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, but I can guess at least some of it.  And it seems to make an impression on Monique; she softens at Beth’s words –and appearance, probably – and then asks me, in a patient tone, “Madame, what do you need?”

“I know the boy’s name, and his sister.  Jamie is the boy, the sister is Zoe.  They’re American.  And they checked in last Wednesday.  I just need to know what room they’re in.  If Grace doesn’t get to see him, she’ll just die.  Do you have a daughter?  If you do, you have to understand.”

Beth again chimes in, “Elle me rendre fou si vous n’avez pas l’aider.”

Monique looks to Beth, sighs heavily.  “Oui, je comprends tout à fait.”  Again, I’m not sure exactly what Beth said.  But whatever it was, Monique told her that she understood.  She turns back to me.  “I will see.  It will take a moment.”


I purposely don’t translate it, because I want the reader to be in the same position as Sara (assuming the reader doesn’t read French, of course!) – not quite sure what’s being said at a moment that’s very important.


And now it’s your turn!

(when you’re done here, please stop by Exquisite Quills, where there are daily memes just like this one and plenty of fantastic authors you can discover!)

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8 Replies to “Welcome Wednesday – Speaking in Tongues”

  1. Hi, first time here 🙂

    I use smatterings of Spanish, French, and/or Italian, depending on the character and scene, but not very much in the general word total. More for effect.

    Usually, not always, I try to indicate the translation indirectly. Like maybe the pov character’s internal thought comment about a term’s meaning. Or a misunderstanding of what the word (even an English word) means to someone hearing it.

    In my novella thriller, One Night in the Hill Country, immigrant and native born Texas children are involved, often to humorous effect, though again, not always 🙂

    It’s interesting, recently reading a lot of UK authors, I have to keep my Kindle reader’s British dictionary loaded to catch some of the turns of meanings from words.

    Foreign languages may be a relative term stretching from variations of our own same language (English) to a whole different tongue. Interesting. Anyway, glad I found this site, all the best everyone.

    One Night in the Hill Country, set in Texas : http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MXGMN68

    Queen, in progress, set in Vermont, same characters.

  2. My book, Hong Kong Treasure, is an international romance between an American woman stranded after a typhoon and the Chinese man who rescues then falls in love with her. I mention at the beginning of the book about Deshi’s broken English and only sprinkle a phrase or two of Cantonese in the pages.

    The book has a happy ever after ending but the journey there is rife with mystery and intrigue:)
    amzn.to/1ACgwor – to get your copy today

  3. I am the author of only one book so far (Growing Up Neighbors). In that book I did not use any reference to foreign language, as it doesn’t fit into the story. I’m not sure if any future books will use foreign language either. I love French and Spanish, but at this point, I don’t see any of that being incorporated into my novels. But you never know 🙂

    Growing Up Neighbors is available on kindle and paperback at: http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Up-Neighbors-Frances-Hoelsema/dp/B00PJGYW40/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1447857221&sr=8-1&keywords=Growing+Up+Neighbors

  4. In my book KEEP OFF THIS GRASS I have used the Matabele language from Rhodesia, as it was called in those days. In order to help readers I have attached a glossary at the back of all the terms used in the book.
    Otherwise the novel is a recount of one family who fight to keep their ranch, not from politicians, but from an international gang.
    Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/429512
    Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JQIJCBA
    The best response and 5 Star reviews is from readers at Amazon.co.uk who obviously knew the territory well.

  5. Hi James! I love that excerpt. And I love the use of languages in fiction. I have a series made up of an hispanic family–7 siblings. [Plug] Book one is free right now, Letters From Home– http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Beth-Rhodes-ebook/dp/B00GETKXAI/ –and I have book two, Outside The Lines, coming out in December– http://www.amazon.com/Outside-Lines-Love-Beyond-Reason-ebook/dp/B017OF2LBE/

    First of all, I loved the movie Fools Rush In, and I’m a cradle Catholic, so jumping into a big family came naturally to me. The use of Spanish in the books–more in book 1 than book 2–was fun to do. Like you, I used a few longer phrases, like when my character was angry or emotional. Never translating word-for-word, I usually was in the opposite character’s head so I could use that POV to try to interpret exactly what my Mexican-American character meant. In book two I used the language as a marker or sign of how the hero had changed. By the end of the book, he can follow the heroine’s Spanish and reply to her more readily because he has learned to understand her.

    But still, I never want to lose a reader, so there are a couple times I actually tag something like, ‘she went off on him in Spanish’. Or the like. I’m actually writing book 3 right now and the male character is a Rodriguez brother and the female lead is a linguist–Darcy. I’m a little nervous!!! That’s alot of translation, even if it’s just for my own knowledge. Thankfully, I have a sister who speaks Spanish and a friend who is Colombian, so… I have my ways.

    Mostly, the reader’s on their own, though. Unless it’s part of the story, translation takes narrative into some kind instructional… I think, anyway. 🙂

    Great topic, I may have to crack my blog to talk about it!

  6. Hi, James.

    Love this blog, and appreciate the opportunity to tell you about what I’ve been doing with foreign languages in my writing.

    In my debut novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, Bruno the Elfy comes from a parallel universe, where they speak Bilre. He does use Bilre terms, and I do translate some of them. Others, I let the reader figure out the context, and have a lexicon at the end for readers.

    First, the blurb explaining what AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is about:

    One Elfy for an entire planet?

    He’s supposed to be the Watcher for his people, the representative on Earth from his dimension, but the small being known to his enemies as “Jonny-Wonny” wakes up to big trouble — trapped in a bizarre house in Knightsville, California with humans straight out of reality TV. Jon knows that something has gone dreadfully wrong — he’s starving, lonely and dressed in funny clothes.

    Enter the couple’s supposedly ten-year-old diminutive daughter, who is “Not Daisy!” but is brilliant, sweet…and using high level magic with ease. She’s also desperately in need of a friend.

    Insisting her name is really Sarah, and christening him Bruno, his new friend asks him how they’re going to get out of there.

    The only thing that comes to mind is for Bruno to ask his teacher, Roberto the Wise, for help. But Roberto’s attempt at help only enmeshes all three of them further in a web of deceit and treachery. Bruno finds out that, unfortunately, most of what he thought he knew about himself was very wrong…and much of what Sarah knows about herself is also wrong, including her age.

    Worst of all, a Dark Elf is on the scene and is intent on corrupting the local Humans, including Sarah’s parents.

    New names, new locations, a new mission–Bruno is going to get to the bottom of all the craziness, and Sarah will be there for him every step of the way.

    Watch out, universe–an Elfy is on the loose!

    Here’s an excerpt from AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE:

    “Does Sarah mean anything in your language?” the girl asked, her lips pressed tight in an obvious attempt to suppress a smile. “I know what it means in this world—it means ‘princess’ in a very old language, but even if I like the name, I don’t think I’d make a very good princess.”

    He smiled at her. “Well, yes, it does. In Bilre, the Elfy language, schiara—” his pronunciation turned the sch- into a soft s- sound, and the word came out Sarah “—is one of the words for ‘friend’…a special friend.” I probably shouldn’t tell her that it can also mean “beloved,” he thought. We’ve only just met, so it’s a bit early to talk about that sort of thing. He shook his head again and changed the subject. “I’m sorry, it’s just frustrating. I came all the way here, and then your parents have treated me so badly…”

    “I’m sorry,” she said. “You don’t deserve it.”

    * * * * * End Excerpt

    You see how I’ve used the language, there? Bruno thinks about how he doesn’t want to scare this young lady — who he somehow knows isn’t ten years old, but is comparable to his own age instead (late teens, on the verge of adulthood) — but explains a part of what Sarah/schiara means.

    I did this because Bruno isn’t human. He’s not from our world at all. He’s only three feet tall, he’s been cast out by his own people, and he doesn’t know he has any magic, either. He’s been systematically lied to and abused most of his short life.

    Yet…he’s a good person. He doesn’t want to hurt young Sarah. He instead befriends her, and treats her with kid gloves. He gives her reason to fight against her evil parents, and a reason to believe in a better future, despite the fact they don’t know how they’re going to save Bruno’s mentor, Roberto the Wise, from a terrible fate.

    At any rate, if you want to read more, there are sample chapters available at the Twilight Times Books website:


    And the book is available at both Amazon as an e-book (Amazon US link is here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JMSPR5Y/) and at Barnes and Noble as an e-book (link is here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-elfy-on-the-loose-barb-caffrey/1119190597)

    Hope you will enjoy it!

  7. One of my latest books (The King of Infierno) was based in Spain. I used some Spanish without translation because I felt the context made it unnecessary.

    Also, by introducing a foreign word/ sentence, into a character’s thought process, you can then have the character “think” it through and draw a conclusion in English.

    In my opinion, adding Spanish, French, Japanese.. to your story (provided of course that the storyline suites) will add authenticity – if it’s done correctly! Please ENSURE that your translation is correct!

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