Author’s Note

In one of my writing projects, characters sometimes speak or think in a language other than English. As a writer, I need to be able to use that language when I feel it is necessary and I hope that reader will receive (consciously or subconsciously) the flavour or meaning that I am trying to convey in my choice. Of course, I understand, actually hope, that most of my readers won’t understand it. Small interjections that resemble those of English are pretty easy to figure out, and repeated words become familiar through context and use. But a whole sentence is a challenge that we both, writer and readers, will need to find a way through. 

There are various techniques for dealing with the use of a language other than English in a story, according to my experience as a reader. 

Glossary. Before the story if not much of the language is used, at the back if there’s a lot of it. To parse a sentence the reader looks up individual words until she gets the jist of the whole sentence.

Repeat in English. Give the phrase in the other language, then repeat it in English.

In-story translation. A creative variation on the above. Have a bilingual character repeat the question in English before answering it, or respond in such a way as to make the other speaker’s meaning clear.

Footnotes. Use the other language as desired, providing a translation in a footnote.

Endnotes. Same as above but using endnotes, either at the end of the chapter or chapter-by-chapter at the end of the story.

Instant translation. Introduced by e-reading. The publisher of the digital version of the book provides a pop-up translation feature that the reader can access by selecting the relevant word or phrase. 

Reader initiative. The reader enters the word or phrase into a translation app or asks someone who know the language to get the meaning. 

I confess I am an impatient reader and will guess at and or skip over foreign words and phrases until a sense of missing out on something begins to irritate me. Only then will I bother to use the tools the book provides. This includes footnotes; I’ll look at a few but ignore most of them, especially if the few I’ve looked at haven’t added anything significant to my reading. Endnotes even more so — I simply can’t be bothered to interrupt the flow and flip to the end of the chapter or the book. However, I will review them when I’m done reading the story. Same with glossaries — I’ll read through when the story is done to see if I missed anything.

What I’m saying is that I don’t think I’m the best guide as to what approach is the best here. So, I’m putting it out there. What should I do?

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