1. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Dealing with a character that doesn't speak english?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by agentkirb, May 10, 2012.

    So I had an idea for a story. I haven't completely thought it through yet but essentially what happens is a foreign celebrity comes to America and clashes with the protagonist of the story in some way. It doesn't really matter how... the point is that they are going to have to speak to each other and be able to understand one another while both of them speak different languages. Do you just make up a character that can be the person's translator and do it that way? Or do you cheat a little and come up with a reason for the guy to know English?
     
  2. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I won't be surprise if foreigners who come to America, specially celebrities, can speak at least some communicable English. You don't need to give a reason for that.
     
  3. aimeekath
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    aimeekath Senior Member

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    A lot of foreigners would be able to speak at least some English, I think.

    Anthony Horowitz's Circle of Five books contained a non-English speaking character, but he could communicate with the rest of his group through a dream world where they all spoke a united ancient language. It's a very different type of story, but if he found a way then I suppose you could too.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If the celebrity doesn't understand the language at all, and somehow ended up in America with no support staff, then don't minimize the difficulty. Tell it from her point of view. She is talking at people (write what she says in English), and they are looking at her like she has a rotting disease and are moving to avoid her. No one understands, and no one seems willing to help (at least at first). She feels very alone and lost and frightened. She doesn't know how she will eat, or find a safe place to sleep, or anything. She may not even know exactly where she is, and being a celebrity, she is used to being able to depend on others.

    Milk it.

    When the protag appears, he is willing to help. He recognizes she is lost and panicked and doesn't speak English, but can no more communicate with her than she can with him. Stick to her point of view. She sees a compassionate face, but doesn't know if she should trust him, and she only hears gibberish when he speaks.\

    I do think her POV is the better one to choose for this,
     
  5. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Couldn't the reason be as simple as learning the language in school? I was taught three in school. (studied one in my first school; then I moved country and was taught a further two languages at a different school)
     
  6. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Well, said person would have a support staff with them. I'm thinking the situation would be something like the Olympics when it takes place in an English speaking nation. So they would have translators and stuff like that.

    Hmmm maybe I can just do it the easy way and say that the guy knows english if it's a common language for people to learn.
     
  7. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    English/American is one of the most spoken second languages (I think Spanish is first but I could be wrong on that) But, if you want to use the language barrier in the story to some degree, just give your foreigner a more limited grasp of the language, that way the two characters could communicate in English but there might still be some hurdles to climb. (Perhaps your protag might even speak a bit of your foreign character's native language just to mix it up a bit and create more possibilities for interaction and action.)
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, I was envisioning a situation in which he gets separated from his support staff, and is wandering lost among people who don't recognize or understand him. That would make an interestsing story in its own right - a somewhat spoiled person of privilege who finds himself in a situation where his fame and wealth mean nothing, and he can't even communicate with those around him.

    English is the lingua franca of business, so it is taught in most countries. Personally, I find it embarrassing that Americans, by and large, expect everyone to speak English but make little or no effort to learn other languages themselves.

    Certainly in a multinational event such as the Olympics, there would be little difficulty in finding an interpreter, even if someone became separated from his entourage.
     
  9. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    If you consider the Indians who can speak English and the Chinese who are learning to do so in recent times, English is definitely the most spoken language in the world. I think Mandarin and various other Indian languages will come before Spanish in terms of number of people who speak them.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Note that wordsmith said second language. :)
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    They aren't many countries where no English is taught at school. That's why I wanted to teach English, you know, see the world and all that. Of course, it doesn't mean that everyone speaks it. Funnily enough, there are actually a few Turkish mega singing stars who have humble backgrounds and didn't get much schooling, so they don't speak much English. Their level is similar to the Tom Hanks character's English in Terminal.
     
  12. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    English is the most commonly spoken second language, Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken first language.

    In most Japanese anime set in modern day, for example, at least some of the characters know some English despite the entire storyline taking place in Japan. Death Note had Light able to read English well enough to understand the English instructions on the Death Note. (There's a bit that sounds really funny in dub, where he says "'Death Note', as in a notebook of death" - he's actually translating between English and Japanese in that line.)
     
  13. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Yeah, I think I'll just do it that way and make the assumption that the character learned enough English to pass in conversation.
     
  14. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is true in Japan outside of fictional scenarios too because English is a compulsory subject (as of last year it is even mandatory from an elementary level). You'll find even though pronunciation can be a bit off sometimes (due a lack of speaking opportunities) the actual knowledge of vocabulary is good.
     

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