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  1. Tassyr

    Tassyr New Member

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    Help writing for a character who speaks English as a second language?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Tassyr, Jul 23, 2019.

    I've got a setting I'm working on that has a lot of people of different cultures in a large, sprawling urban setting. As a result I'm going to run into plenty of characters who don't speak English as a first language- be it that they emigrated, or learned it at school instead of at home, you name it.

    I don't want tips on the whole "phonetic accent" thing- I personally never really liked that- but mostly what I'm after is speech pattern. See, I know unless you've learned another language extremely well, your speech pattern would betray your origins simply by what words you omit, what words you include, order, that kind of thing.

    The main one giving me trouble right now is a Frenchman, but eventually I'll run into others. Anyone know where I might find resources about this? Short of watching lots of movies, of course.
     
  2. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    I don't know where you live, but try visiting an area where there are commonly people who speak English as a second language? I know that's vague, but perhaps a restaurant or other business owned by an immigrant family.

    Spend time with friends and their families who speak English as a second language?

    You can use this forum as a resource. Plenty of people work with non-native speakers on a regular basis. Perhaps they are in a family with non-native speakers, or have friends or co-workers. Perhaps it is literally their job to help people who aren't native speakers.

    ---

    I work at a coffee shop and many of our customers are first or second generation immigrants from Eastern Europe.

    So they say things like, "Can I get a the... the cappuccino?" That *a* was intentional. It's a thing with them. When they can't think of the word they do "a the" and draw out "the". Hence the ellipsis.

    We sometimes have some first / second generation immigrants from China or Japan (usually China) and they don't do the "a the..." They actually tend to omit words like "the" or "a", in my experience, when ordering. As far as I know this is a reflection of how different their language is from Western language.

    The letter 'r' is typically very pronounced as well with those from Eastern Europe. Imagine someone making that sound where one rolls the 'r', but it's only for a split second. Like, it rolls once, not several times. Just enough to stand out and be noticed.

    They all tend to rely on the person with better English to lead the conversation. Which is usually why I, or whoever else is taking their order, ask lots of questions. "What size?" Or if it's a frappucino we'll ask, "What kind?" And they ask "What kind do you have?" And then we have to list them all.

    There are also plenty who speak English just as competently (Hell, even more so) than native speakers. Just with an accent.

    You don't need to talk to them like they're dumb (besides being insulting, it doesn't help them get better at learning the language), but I've welcomed the challenge of trying to explain things as simply as I can to them. 'Cuz, like, I got a job to do and stuff, and my interaction with them can't afford to take 10 minutes. Anyway, that usually just means less words, practicing K.I.S.S., and providing information on a "need to know basis" if you will. You don't need to talk slow like you're making fun of them, but it doesn't hurt to speak at a more relaxed pace.

    IfYouActuallyThinkAboutItAndListen, ThisIsHowNativeLanguageSpeakersTalkToOneAnother. Breathe occasionally between the words with people who speak it as a second language. Avoid slang.

    My point is that using phonetic accent is, in my opinion, the most amateur method of conveying this sort of thing besides outright telling the reader. You can reveal a lot in context. Don't just pay attention to the way that the foreigner is speaking, but how native people speak *to* him or her.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
  3. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Thy rod and thy Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Research the base language, as Foxx said. Asians don't use articles or plurals generally (Can I get two hamburger please? And coffee, one coffee) Europeans gender nouns (This coffee is hot, isn't she?) just to pull some random examples out. People from Muslim countries pepper their speech unconsciously with insha'allah, for some of them it's a matter of devotion, for others frustration, and for many just habit. English is an SVO language (Subject-Verb-Object I eat rice), but in Japanese and Korean the subject is unnecessary and the verb goes at the end: Rice eat.

    Some thoughts.
     
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  4. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't watch lots of movies. Go and read French people's English homework from school. You can't generalise because your speech patterns will be governed by your mother tongue and/or any other language you might know, esp languages you already speak that resemble the target language. So it's no good asking about "English as a second language" - you need to focus specifically on how the French speak English, which would be entirely different from how a Chinese or Czech person might speak English.

    But anyway, if this was just for an atmosphere of authenticity and not for a major character in your book, I personally wouldn't bother. This is way more complex than you think and simply not worth the work.
     
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  5. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    This forum is peppered with "English as a second language" -folks. You can find many patterns from our written texts. And you can ask from us.

    As a Finn I can tell something about us.

    - Large personal space. 1 - 1.5 meters is ok between two close friends talking together. If you come in the distance of 70-80cm we might tell our friends that you came between skin and flesh.
    - In Finnish emphasis is always in the first syllable. You can hear it when we talk.
    - We are quite direct. (Not direct enough I think.) We say what we mean, we mean what we say. We don't sugarcoat much. We see sugarcoating and empty promises as a deep dishonesty.
    - We are not aggressive. We feel deep. But if things go that way, Finns... or some Finns... how would I say it... do things in a certain effective way.
    - Outside Finland Finns use to miss sauna, salmiakki (NaCl) and good rye bread.
    - We don't brag a lot and we don't like bragging. Our acts should do the talking if there is something good to say about ourselves.
    - If you insult or underestimate us, we really, really, really remember it.
    (Don't talk us about Tony Stark and Iron Man if you want to sell us fighter planes like some bloody loony called B.F from LM. We see it as underestimating and insulting us, being arrogant piece of sh*t and not taking us, our security or our money seriously. And we will remember it - long, long, long time.)

    And some videos.

    Young Kalle - 14 years - gives his mother a mothers day ride.



    Icelander about nordic people.



    So called "rallienglanti" (Rally English, Finns speak lousy English.)

     
  6. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Thy rod and thy Staff Supporter Contributor

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    They sure do.

    [​IMG]
     
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  7. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    I'll put you some privamail.

    I suppose Simo is some kind of number one in the world in his field.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
  8. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Thy rod and thy Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I believe he is, especially considering the conditions he was working under.
     
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  9. Malisky

    Malisky Mercury Retroblade Contributor

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    I read and understand english fluently but when I stop speaking or practicing for whatever reason the english language for some time, I stumble upon silly mistakes when I speak. This is because I stop thinking in english and I have to translate some of my thoughts from greek to english on the spot. Some common mistakes:

    1) Wrong choice of word due to similar corresponding english words that have the same meaning in greek. For example the word έκφραση can be translated in english as: 1) common phrase and 2) expression (facial or artistic). So instead of saying: "It's just a greek phrase", I might say: "It's just a greek expression", because even the word "phrase" is a greek word (φράση) which in greek it mostly means a group of words that make up a grammatical unit. It's the same word, with almost the same meaning, but not exactly. Then there are some words that although greek, at some point in history they got so misinterpreted and ended up having almost the opposite meaning in english. "Empathy" (εμπάθεια) is not a good thing to have (in greek). It means malice, spite or hostility. I have no idea how it came to mean understanding of one's feelings in english, since the corresponding word for such a meaning in greek is "ενσυναίσθηση" (ensynesthisi). Quite different, right? But since I'm fluent (just a little bit rusty), I notice my mistakes on the spot. I might then take my time in order to come up with the correct word and most of the times I find it. It might just take some time as I scan my muscle memory to track the correct file. Very rarely does it appear missing. Just press refresh a couple of times and it's bound to appear. :p

    2) Some greek sayings and idioms. I won't go as far as to say "You're going to eat wood" at somebody. (Although I never had too, really. It means that I'm gonna whoop your ass). This is way too greek of a saying to confuse. But I might say "Good appetite" when someone is eating. My american friend finds this funny every time. Even the french say "Bon appetit!"

    When I clink my glass of beer together with another english speaking fellow I might deliberately say "Στην υγειά μας" instead of "cheers". Why not?

    When I swear, I will swear in greek as well. It's way more fulfilling.

    "Ώπα!" and "Ρε". I don't have the patience to explain when we use these words and why, because it's kinda difficult. The thing is that we use them for various reasons, good or bad. Sometimes, when I speak to english people and I feel close to them and the conversation is intimate or intense a "Ρε Billy" might escape my lips. It's not a bad word or saying but it's considered impolite to speak like this to a stranger or to a person that is not close to you. Maybe the french also have some sayings such as these that make sense only to them.
     
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  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Thy rod and thy Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I did not know that you weren't a native speaker of English, congratulations on some well-done studying.
     
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  11. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    off topic

    - Quite short range.
    - Enough targets.
    - Staying hour after hour immobile in Winter War weather. (Even -40°C.)
    - Some snow in his mouth so that breathing does not tell his position.
    - Several Russian snipers trying to spot him. (One after another. Simo got them.)
     
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  12. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wanted to say, one false friend the Czechs have with English is the word to control. They confuse it with their kontrolovat. So they would say stuff like: 1. I'm going to the doctor for control, or 2. I need to control your car. They mean a check up.

    Oh, and they also call everything high school. There is basic school and then there's high school. They have no idea what primary school is, though they have some idea of what a secondary school is. Education systems are one of those things that simply never translate. I believe high school is just the closest translation they know to express Stredni Skola. But since I'm not American and have never quite understood what High School even is, it all gets a bit muddled up for me lol. But anyway, when they say basic school, they mean elementary school. I've never worked out if by high school they mean their Gymnasium or not, since the gymnasium, as far as I understand, can extend to the same age group as the stredni skola? (Any resident Czechs on here can correct me)

    Basically when a Czech person starts talking about school, I'd much prefer it if they just used the Czech terms because the English terms simply are not equivalent to what they really want to say, and then I, the English speaker, gets horribly confused because the terms no longer mean what they actually mean.
     
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  13. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I had to do a bit of research into Hungarian accents (when they speak English) for my novel, and I found YouTube was a huge help. I searched for any famous person I knew was Hungarian who had been interviewed in English, and found a LOT of very useful stuff. You can probably try that trick with any native speaker of any language, really.
     
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  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I've avoided using any sort of broken English dialog in my writing. I find it much better to state the dialog correctly and then add a line like "It's cold outside," John said, but it was hard to catch every word through his thick French accent. That sort of thing eliminates any possible confusion by the reader. I don't know. It's what seems to have worked best for me. I really don't like dialog that I have to read more than once to have a clue as to what's being said.
     
  15. SomePenName

    SomePenName Member

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    Not accents, but a lot of people who are ESL start off with a very formal relationship with it, usually in a school setting.
    I had some roommates from Brazil and their English was good but to a native speaker would sound very formal and overly proper.
    If we're talking about a French person that is how I imagine them to talk, formal and with little to no slang, shortenings or the like.
     
  16. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

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    Most things I can think of is hard to put into writing, like when I'm unsure about a pronunciation I'll say the word in as many ways I can think of in hope that boyfriend (who's the person I usually speak English to) will tell me which one is correct. He never does.

    As someone growing up in a country where only kids shows are dubbed - and where both English and British shows are as popular - I use way too many "Americanisms" when I talk. I... hope to "grow out of it" after I move to England.

    I don't know if it relevant but people with English as their only language are usually impressed with anyone who speak English as a second language. This is a tad annoying when you're trying to get better at the language and the people you talk to are all like "but your English is already great!". If a person I talk to can tell I'm Scandinavian then my English is not good enough.

    A bonus - while I'm fluent in English I'm really bad at simple stuff. I can never tell AM and PM apart, and I used to have to think really hard to keep Thuesday and Thursday apart :bigoops:. Another issue I have is spelling things out. English E (when you just spell things out) sound more like a Swedish I. I had a co-worker trying to tell me a password and she said "U", so I pressed u, and she was all like "No, UUUU" and it turns out she meant "Y" and I'd never know unless I saw they had the password written down. This is Macedonian to Swedish, though, but letters by themselves can be really difficult.
     
  17. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    Ai don't even try. Impossible.
     
  18. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer New Member

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    Why not volunteer to teach English as a Second Language at the local immigrant centre or refugee centre? You'd be exposing them to your English and you'd pick up some of their English word order, speech patterns and word choice.

    If it helps, I read a book by a police officer once who mentioned that one thing he ran into was that some Spanish speakers mixed up gender pronouns. Like, she was describing a male to the investigator but she said "she" or "her" rather than "him" or "his."

    Slang is another pit fall. For example, I once saw a shirt at a mall kiosk which said, "Can I pet your beaver?" and I'm Canadian. Canada was built on the fur trade. I thought it was a joke about how all Canadians had pet beaver.....plausible, right? Well....it turns out that "beaver" is a slang term for a woman's vagina! Thank God I did not buy the shirt. Thank God I did not wear any such thing at work! Imagine if one of your characters wanted to get another person into trouble. *GASP!!* that would be one way to do it.
     
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  19. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

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    One source of information is movie subtitles. You don't even need to watch the movies. Just read the subtitles. Many of them are obviously not made by native English speakers.

    You can also look for foreign websites that have English versions. Not too many of them can find a native English speaker who speaks the local language, so the translations have been done by locals who have studied English as foreign language.


    Some difficulties are pretty much universal:

    1. Many learners are very confused about present indicative and present participle. That is, they might say "do you understanding?" instead or "do you understand?" or "are they come?" instead of "are they coming?" Even though my native language has that distinction, I still find myself hesitating between "I saw him fall" and "I saw him falling" in English.

    2. They could say "stop to waste water resources" when they mean "stop wasting water resources". Me, I still don't know if it's right to say "I started running" or "I started to run", or if I should use "began" instead.
     
  20. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer New Member

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    Not sure that is accurate. I think it's more the case that the written word cannot keep up with the spoken word and they have to compress it, make it more concise so that the written subtitles or closed captioning can keep up with the spoken words in the film/show.
     
  21. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

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    You are mistaken.

    Shortening doesn't result in grammatical errors. Inadequate knowledge of the target language does.

    When a native English speaker translates something into English, the result will be a grammatically correct English text, no matter if some of the original text is omitted for briefness's sake or not.

    Reading a subtitle file, a native English speaker is able to tell if it's grammatically correct English or not. If there are numerous grammatical errors in the subtitles, it's not because the translator made the text shorter. It's because the translator's knowledge of English grammar is inadequate. That allows for the conclusion that the translator's native language is not English, it's most likely the language of the movie.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
  22. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    This is my method as well. I have an "inspiration Russian" who has my main character's accent. If you're fortunate enough to find someone who's been in an English speaking country for the same length of time as the character you're writing, even better! That helped me figure out how to make my MC's English improve over the course of the novel, because there were many interviews, spanning a couple of decades.
     
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