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On Writing with a Foreign Language…

So my current project takes place in South America…in the beginning.  I have a group of characters who speak Spanish.  The question here is how do I portray that? Do I write in English and just say it’s in Spanish?  Do I write some bits in Spanish and then immediately translate? Or do I go the David Mitchell route from Cloud Atlas and just write certain excerpts in only Spanish and let the readers hope for the best?

I think I’m trying a little bit of everything.  Mainly the dialogue is in English; however, I have managed to put in a little phrases here and there (being half-Peruvian, I use what I grew up with).  I feel that it makes it a little more real by adding this little dash of flavor.  Examples?

I have a character who has a line that goes something like this:

Oye huevon! Que haces aqui? Why are you not at the church yet?”

I don’t translate it.  If you’re familiar enough with Peruvian Spanish, you’ll get the ‘huevon’ bit.  If not, it doesn’t effect the story.  It is simply a name that one character is calling another in jest.  “Que haces aqui?” What are you doing here?  I don’t translate that either since but you see what I did there? What are you doing here and Why are you not at the church yet are asking the same questions.

In essence, I added a little dash of culture but what is important is still in English.  Don’t get me wrong, I do write some dialogue where it has to be translated.  But if you do this, use it sparingly.  So far, it is one of the few places in this project where such a practice is used:

“Parca,” the old man whispered. Reaper.

“Si.”

“¿Me puedes ayudar?” Can you help me?

Cesar nodded. “Por supuesto, señor.” Of course, sir.

What other ways of utilizing a foreign language do you use?  Granted, not all of us are Tolkien’s here who can develop a complete language for books (although, like Tolkien, I did study linguistics….I just wasn’t a professor).  Do any of you try to use your own language when writing?

Thoughts?

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