1. ladybean
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    ladybean New Member

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    Foreign Characters:

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ladybean, Mar 12, 2010.

    I have a character in my story who is NOT a main character. Alain is more of a side line character who is important to one of the main characters, Christopher. While I already know I do not need to have him actually in the story to show how he is important in Chris' life, I would like to put him in a few times for added interest. Alain is Parisian and the relationship between the two is heavily based on the fact that Chris speaks French fluently.
    I do NOT speak French and even if I did I wouldn't have them conversing in French because those who do not wouldn't know what is being said. However, they converse primarily in French. Should I attempt a sort of broken English such that he speaks a little English when in America without using bad dialect? I do not want to create the stereotypical Frenchman either. The book "The Awakening" deals with a group of Creoles in New Orleans and I liked how Kate Chopin slipped French into their English sentences but that would be somewhat out of my ability.
    I could also just avoid having them interact, which is my least favourite option. In some scenes it might be useful to have a couple sentences in French pass without any translation so that the other characters have no clue what is being said between the two of them. :confused:
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't show the conversation in broken English if it's in French. French people are generally very articulate and if they are reasonably well educated their conversation is often fairly sophisticated and formal. They have a lot of formal phrases that they use even with people the same age as them. So, I would perhaps try to give a flavour of this in your dialogue.

    When I have characters speaking Turkish, my second language, I aim for the above because the situation is similar. For example, I might have a character say: 'The poor child is forced to earn bread for the whole family' because in Turkish we often talk about 'unfortunates' and say 'ekmek parası' = bread money, so to me this gives a better idea of how the people speak.

    If you are showing their speech in English, again IMO just give a slight feeling of how they speak. There are typical mistakes that French people make when they speak English, which you can probably find on any ESL website or forum--ask there. The accent of a French person is not necessarily very strong, particularly if he's from Paris. Actually, they often have a slightly American accent. It's not like creole speakers, that's more how they'd speak in the area of Marseilles.

    And try not to overdo it as it could become a bit odd or irritating.
     
  3. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    Write the conversations in English (or whatever language you are writing in) but make sure to point out that they are actually speaking French.

    You can write the "French" dialogue in italics or something, have non-French speaking people wonder what they are saying, etc. Just as long as the readers understand that its supposed to be French, only its translated for their convenience.

    Whatever you do, do not use accents unless the person in question actually speaks with an accent.
     
  4. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Je dois m'excuser. I must apologize. I completely misunderstood your question."

    If the language is an on-going issue, set up a key of sorts to indicate the characters' speaking in French, such as the above where the character's first few words may be in the foreign language but s/he continues in the lingua franca. It's an old ploy, but it works.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This question comes up quite often, and the answer is generally going to be the same in all cases:

    Remember to whom you are writing.

    If I am the whom, and I have to go and grab a foreign language dictionary to understand the story, you have automatically lost 75 out of a possible 100 interest points.

    Let me add, that in real life I work as a professional interpreter, and still.... :)
     
  6. PJ.Paradox
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    PJ.Paradox Member

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    The dialog of foreign speakers should be taken on a case by case basis. For example, if there is an long detailed conversation happening in French between two characters, and it is relevant to the story, type it in fluent English, and indicate that the conversation is in French so the reader knows. If the details are not so important, and the conversation is a bit shorter, you can just say that the conversation happens, describe the body language of the speakers, and then have the one that communicates with the main character summarize in dialogue so that the reader knows what the main characters know.

    If there are cases where only 1 or two lines spoken in French that the main non-speaking french characters can hear, then I personally think it adds flavor to a novel to see the actual words - but you would want to find a native French speaker to translate for you. Sometimes authors just say that something short was spoken in French, and describe the sound of the words as perceived by the main character.


    As for English dialogue spoken by the native French speaker, I am going to disagree with some of what people have said here. I think you SHOULD include the broken, or slightly-off sounding English, BUT in so doing you need to do the research to make sure the style of broken English is correct to avoid offending people and of course making your book realistic and accurate for your readers.

    To do this, even if you do not speak French, you need to research the difficulties that Native French speakers have when learning to speak English, and the very basics of French sentence structure and pronunciation.

    My suggestion for doing so would be this:

    Find a native French speaker who is looking for language exchange, meet with them, tell them that you are not interested in learning to speak French, but want to help them with their English, and learn about French culture. You can also mention that you are writing a book if you want including a French character and would like to know about the things that are difficult for them in speaking/learning English so you can portray the character accurately.

    I tend to believe that the only way you can do a good job writing about something is to KNOW it. By doing a language exchange with a native French speaker, you will not only learn the speech patterns and phonetic sounds of the accent for your character dialogs , but also the cultural perspective of a native French speaker interacting with native English speakers on a regular basis. You may be surprised the things that stand out to them that we take for granted. What you learn will enable you to make your writing more complete for this and projects involving French speakers to come.

    Afterall, if you just assume broken English is broken English, and you have your character speaking English like someone who was born and raised in Taiwan any reader who is has experience with French and/or Chinese speakers who also speak English is going going to be like "What the hell?"
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, this is why I suggested checking out ESL forums. A French person won't really be able to tell you the characteristic mistakes he makes because he doesn't know they are mistakes, and you don't want to run the risk of offending.

    Any good English teacher who works in France would be able to give you a long list of typical problems in a few minutes, I expect. I know I could give you about three pages off the top of my head on the type of mistakes Turkish students make when speaking English!

    To start you (my parents have lived 30 years in France) they say 'Tanks God', 'I am agree wiz you', and they say this 'ollways'
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    when you have people speaking in english to whom that is not a native tongue, the trick is to use only syntax, not phonetic spelling, to show they're speaking with an accent...

    other languages' sentence structure is not the same as english, so people from other countries most often construct their sentences as they would in their own language when they speak english, so you need to study how french people word things in english...
     

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