1. Marranda
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    Marranda Senior Member

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    Bilingual conversation: How can I make this work?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Marranda, Jul 20, 2011.

    The short is I have three characters in a conversation; one speaks only Spanish, one speaks only English but understands some Spanish, and the third person is speaking 'Spanglish'- mixing Spanish and English in his sentences.

    The problem I am having is figuring out exactly how to word their sentences so that a non-Spanish speaking reader can still understand the conversation and what's happening, without having to break out the translation dictionary.

    I already have the Spanish speaking character giving short answers, the 'Spanglish' speaking character limiting his Spanish to mostly recognizeable words, and the English speaking character thinking the translations in her head, but... I just worry that I'm getting the proportions wrong.
    Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

    Suddenly, the quiet little man next to Sabby chuckled, then let out a full-blown belly laugh. Everyone stared at him as if he'd lost his mind, except Sabby, who was still looking at him as if she couldn't wait to get away from him.
    "Es empleada." he said, wiping tears from his eyes with the backs of his hands.
    "No way, Chale, you can’t be real! Sabby is...muy Loca.”
    “Si, es perfecta.” Chale said, nodding at Sabby.
    “This a bad idea, Jefe." Bentley was shaking his head.
    What? Sabby began to panic in earnest. He wants to hire me? Her stomach did a dizzying flip-flop. She could barely tolerate sitting next to him, and he wanted to hire her?
    "Thanks, but no thanks, dude. I don’t do Mafia jobs." She was definitely not interested in working with this creepy little guy, and the last time she got tangled with a mob it got her kicked out of Illinois for… Well… She was still banned from the state.


    I'd like feedback, opinions, and all the suggestions you can give me! I am open to trying a different approach too, if this bilingual/'spanglish' conversation just doesn't work.

    Thanks!
    +rep ;)
     
  2. CottonCandi
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    CottonCandi Active Member

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    I didn't see any problem with what you have. As a non-spanish speaker the only things I didn't understand was: "Es empleada." he said, wiping tears from his eyes with the backs of his hands. (But I imagined it had something to do with laughing and humor.)

    “Si, es perfecta.” Chale said, nodding at Sabby (this I thought was yes, is perfect.)

    As long as you keep them few and simple I don't think you will lose the reader.
     
  3. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Well, it's an incredibly small excerpt, but it works fine for me - language wise. If you continue to do it this way, with her translating with inner thoughts the way you have here you'll probably be fine. If there is a lot of it though, it could become cumbersome for you. Something to consider.

    I don't often get hung up on what I don't understand in other languages though and am happy to try to deduce what I can from the actions of other characters and the actions of the speaking characters themselves (as well as context of course). Others may feel quite differently.
     
  4. Sundae
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    Sundae Contributing Member

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    The only problem with this is that it would be really annoying for a Spanish-speaking person to read. Once or twice is okay, but reading something, understanding it, and then having it drawn out and translated and explained again would become tiring very quickly.

    There are ways to avoid it. Maybe the translator misinterprets everything. That would make for a good read at least for Spanish speakers.

    But as first advice. I'd ask you why you need to have characters that speak so drastically different? What does it add to you overall plot. If you come to the conclusion that you absolutely need this aspect of your plot, then I'd focus on the main character of your story and not place as much emphasis on other two characters. So, next question, who is your main character? If you have more than one, that's a different story, but if you do know who your main character, then just keep in mind the imperative part is your MC understanding/mis-understanding what is being said.

    You cannot guarantee that your reader will even pick up on "Spanglish" or even the "easy" Spanish words (some people may have never even heard or have read even the tiniest amount of Spanish). You're writing on an assumption that your readers will understand every nuance and that is a risk because your story can go both ways. Instead don't worry if your readers don't understand the Spanish that is being spoken. Don't focus on translating it for the readers, we won't care. What we do care about is how it affects your main character. How your MC translates it, how your MC reacts to it, and how what is being said will overall impact the plot and direction of your story.
     
  5. Marranda
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    Marranda Senior Member

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    I don't know how this happened, but one of the sentences wasn't in the spot it was supposed to be! I fixed it. See above quote.
     
  6. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I think it's fine. While I agree that the main focus is your main character and how things affect them, as Sundae said, there is nothing wrong with what you've done here. And if you'd done a direct translation, I could it see it being annoying, but you've worked it in and it's fine. I like it this way better, but even the other way, the spanish speakers will probably get over it.
     
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  7. Marranda
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    Marranda Senior Member

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    Ahhh ok...
    Sabby: speaks only English. Is a homocidal maniac from Bentley's past.
    Bentley: Mixes Spanish and English when he talks. Is Chale's "left-hand man", and is considered 2nd in command.
    Chale: speaks only Spanish. Is the head boss of a west coast Empire that started out as a gang who recruited unhappy members of other gangs. So he rarely makes an appearance.

    Before this excerpt Bentley abducts Sabby and throws her into the back seat of a limousine. This is where Sabby meets Chale, and where Chale learns that Sabby would be perfect as his own personal hit man, so he wants to hire her. After this excerpt, she is hired by him and gets his orders through Bentley. Whenever she does see him, she doesn't engage in conversation- Allowing me to let her interpret what she hears as she thinks she's hearing it- instead of revisiting this multi-cultural conversation mess.
     
  8. Sundae
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    Sundae Contributing Member

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    Ah... well, I thought this was the format you were using for your whole story. Never mind then, this is fine and understandable.


    Here, the only thing I really see that could potentially be a problem is the repetition of how you go about doing the translating. It would be equivalent to like the same sentence-structure repetition.

    "He said knowing." "He said grudgingly." "He said emphatically." "He queried listlessly."

    You might be heading the same route as far as structural format from scene to scene when they are in the room together, so this is probably just something you should watch for and maybe find different ways to carry the scene a different times.

    Though I don't think it's a problem, just keep an eye out.
     
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  9. PenandPencil
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    PenandPencil Member

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    I think it's grand :) I don't understand a word of Spanish (well, maybe a few) but it wasn't that hard to understand. Just keep it to a minimum, and simple Spanish, as CottonCandi said above.
     
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  10. teacherayala
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    teacherayala Contributing Member

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    If your Spanish speaker has anything longer to say, for example, a complete story, just make it clear that your English speaker is understanding the story through the other character's translation and write it in English. I think it's ok. It definitely could get confusing if it's like that during the entire book. I find that I have the same problem when trying to include Spanish in my writing. It is difficult to do! :)
     
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  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Establish that the characters are speaking different languages but that dialogue is rendered in the language of the text.

    There are exceptions, but you should not generally expect your readers to be bilingual.
     
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  12. offelias
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    offelias New Member

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    I went to a local pub once where a Polish barman only had a basic grasp of English. He pronounced 'lager' as 'larger' and then proceeded to tell me it cost "two pounds without the eight pence" (£1.92). Pure genius! It cracked me up but I fully appreciated his ability to tell me exactly what I needed to know in such a round about yet effective way. What a genius!
     
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  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^lol.
    I thought this example was done well and it seemed like good, genuine dialogue. I don't think you need to change it. However, it's clearly the girl's POV. If you have scenes where she isn't present, I'd establish they were speaking Spanish and then have it written in English with only a few Spanish phrases appearing, just basic greetings and so on. This is how I've mostly seen languages handled in other published novels I've read.
     
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