1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Character who speaks French

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by deadrats, Jan 5, 2017.

    I've been playing around with this character in something that is probably still too early to call a novel. I want my character to know French as a second language to English. I don't know why yet, but that's okay. I am making it up as I go and I really like how it's coming together. So, I'm not seeking ideas there, though, it's always fun to brainstorm and hear what others have to say. I just don't feel stuck right now. However, this is my question: Should I learn French? It only seems appropriate that is I'm going to put something like this in a novel, I know a little about it. I don't really want to do it, but I rather start now than have to cram halfway through the book or something. Or maybe it's not important. What would you do?
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Do you have seven years in which to learn the language? If so, sure, why not - learning new languages is good for your brain. (And seven years is the amount of time the ESL people in my area estimate it takes for an English-Language-Learner to become fluent).

    But assuming you have something else to do with your time? I think learning an entire language just because you've whimsically decided one of your characters speaks that language is going way too far. I mean, assuming you're going to publish in English, most of your readers won't read French, so how much of your hard-earned knowledge would you really be able to insert into the novel?
     
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  3. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I would say learning another language to write a book in which your character knows a second language is SERIOUSLY time intensive.

    I'm currently learning Spanish. I've been working at it for a year and I'm no where near fluent, nor confident in my ability to speak. I think it'd be a profound waste of time to learn a language just for that reason.

    That said, I'm enjoying the process, and I'm growing as a person as a result of learning to speak Spanish. So if you just want to learn a second language, and plan to use it for writing, sure. Go for it.

    But don't think it will be easy. @Wreybies can attest to my struggle just in the last couple months. New languages are tough when that area of your brain has been long out of use.
     
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  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I never meant learning it fluently. I meant like learning a little. Maybe get Rosetta Stone. It might help me become more invested. Just a thought.
     
  5. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I have learned several and am proficient in speaking none, though I can read several. However, since your book will be in English, rather than French, I think learning a few key words and phrases, with the assistance of a proficient speaker, would suffice, though learning French might be fun, anyway. My book had dabs of several languages in there, but just words here and there, promptly translated. If you have Sirius XM, channel 166 is Franco-Country Canadian popular French music, very good for listening/background. Variety of styles, country, love, pop, rock and roll.
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    If you think it'd be interesting, go for it, obviously. But how would you see yourself using it in the novel? If you're not fluent you'd need someone to help you with phrasing anyway to make sure it flowed properly, right? So I'm not sure how valuable it would be for you to just know a smattering.
     
  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I was thinking in terms of character development and not for using French in the book. Don't know if that was unclear.
     
  8. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    Just curious, what do you think you would gain for character development from learning some French phrases?
     
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  9. Sam Woodbury

    Sam Woodbury Member

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    Assuming that the book will be written in English, you probably wouldn't have to use much of the other language other than a few key phrases that you would expect your readers to know. Most books with characters speaking foreign languages simply have them speak English for obvious reasons, even if it is set in a time or place where English does not exist. If the character who the POV is centered on does not know that language then they would just hear unintelligible words. Learning another language would be beneficial for other reasons, but I don't think it is necessary solely to present a character who speaks another language, because, depending on how vast your setting is, that could quickly get out of hand.
     
  10. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I don't really think it's necessary. If it's the character's second language, native speakers will forgive poor grammar or idioms that don't translate. Just be sure that you are using the right type of french.

    "J'ai eighty pommes."
    "J'ai quatre-vingts pommes."

    A frenchmen would only say the second one, but a Canadian would use them interchangeably. Luckily, there aren't that many differences. The major ones have to do with food.


    I've been a semi-fluent reader/writer for 15 years and used to work for a Paris-based company.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
  11. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    I recently finished a book that all the characters spoke either French or Spanish.
    I tried it several ways with the English translation in parenthetical brackets. Next I changed all that to all English with just a few known phrases. The editor did't like that, so I ended up writing it all in English (my target reader). I paid careful attention to what they would say and how they said it, to keep it both in the time period and the style of the language.
     
  12. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Do you have access to somebody who speaks French as a first language? If so, use him or her as a translator if you want entire sections of dialog to be French. When a person who isn't fluent in the language tries to write as if he or she is, the results can be ludicrous, and people who know the language can almost always spot the imposter. Unless you are very proficient at learning languages (and there are such people), I doubt that even years of study would prepare you for writing that accurately.

    Kurt Vonnegut, who spoke a little German but wasn't fluent in it, had a character in Mother Night who preferred to write poetry in German. So the character printed the German versions of the poems (which actually were translated from Vonnegut's English by one of Vonnegut's German-speaking friends) and provided "English translations" which were really what Vonnegut wrote. It was an effective device.

    If the dialog is to be in English, but as if said by somebody fluent in French but not in English, note that there are two things that might convey that: The use of French syntax or word order, and vocabulary. (I worked for a Frenchman once; when I said something foolish, he would respond with "Are you out of your brain?" ... a literal translation of a French expression.) Syntax is trickier, though. It takes a bit of listening to foreigners speaking English as a second language to discern where they might be using a construction in their native tongue. For instance, an Irishman asking "Is he come with yourself?" is using a sentence structure that seems weird to us, but perfectly acceptable in Gaelic.
     
  13. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    The most I think you're likely to get out of this kind of thing is picking up the most common errors. I live in Latvia and if I had a penny for every missing 'the' or 'a', every confusion of 'before' and 'until', every time someone conjugates a verb already modified by an auxiliary ('did he said?'), every failure to modify word order for indirect questions ('I wanted to ask you where is it'), ad aeturnum, I'd be able to purchase said post-soviet republic a couple times over.

    Does that make much of a difference when it comes to writing a novel, though? Not really.
     
  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I was just thinking that if French is something important to my character, then maybe it would help me to know a little French. I thought it could be another way to get into character a little. But I haven't even decided if I'm going to stick with this novel. Either way, I never had any intention of actually using French in the writing.

    Haven't you guys ever done something to help you get in your character's head or help you better know and write them?
     
  15. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Is this like 'method writing' as in 'method acting'? Interesting idea. I'm way too lazy, but if it helps you it helps, and you learn something in the process.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    When you first posted I was going to ask if this is a "Maybe there's something in this for my novel. How can I get enough exposure to it to find out?" thing. Then I probably got distracted.

    Maybe you could just expose yourself to various forms of Frenchness, with a focus on the language, and see if the result is, "Ooh, I could use that!" versus, "Bored now. What next?" French movies with subtitles? Books? (On a Google, I see that someone called William Alexander wrote a book called Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart.

    Stuff like that?

    I heard a podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love and The Signature of All Things. She was saying that while writing the second novel, which is partly about moss, she did all sorts of research about moss. And now, moss enthusiasts come to her during her book signings to give her gifts of moss, and she doesn't know how to tell them that, um, that was for the book, and she's done with moss now.

    Linda Grant had a blog, The Thoughtful Dresser, but now that she's written the book by the same name, she doesn't seem to write on that topic any more--though it is still a wide thread in some of her other books. Alyssa Harrad, the author of Coming to my Senses, a nonfiction kinda-memoir largely about perfume, doesn't seem to write much about perfume any more. (She might; I may have just lost track of where she's writing.)

    So authors getting interested in something, immersing themselves in it, letting that feed their work, and then letting that thing go, seems to be a thing. I realize that at this point you're not talking about full immersion, but more sort of nibbling on the topic. I'm just saying that, yeah, anything can potentially feed your writing, the French language as much as anything else.
     
  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    That's exactly what I was thinking. Only you say it better here. It's not often that I write novels.
     
  18. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    My wife is French-Canadian and she assures me that "J'ai eighty pommes" does not exist.

    However, if you were is Switzerland, you might say "J'ai huitante pommes."

    I can appreciate the OP's desire to learn a little French. If I were writing about a pastry chef, I'd certainly learn a little about pastry-cheffing.

    A trip to Montreal would be an eye-opener.

    Bill
     
  19. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I lived in Montreal for four years and think I forgot more French than I learned while I was there... but I wasn't trying too hard to use it.

    There are other places in Quebec where you need to speak French to get by. Montreal's lovely, but pretty English-friendly (luckily for me!).
     
  20. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    Hi BayView,

    I lived in Montreal my whole adult working life and couldn't pick up French because English was always an option, so I moved to the thoroughly French East End, only to find the patois incomprehensible.

    There was a new professor at the university where I worked who was required by Quebec law to pass a French exam. When the examiner started talking to him, he interrupted him to ask, "Excuse me, what language are you speaking?"

    Bill (not a professor)
     
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  21. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yeah, fair enough - I was right downtown when I lived there (McGill Ghetto) and didn't venture into the suburbs too often!
     
  22. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Have two characters that speak Russian, and one of them is not Russian. I use it a little bit to show
    the connection these characters have, but only in emotional scenes and very limited.
    Granted there are Alien languages used in a limited fashion as well, just a bit more casually though.
     

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