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Fiction and Foreign Languages

  • October 16, 2017
  • Blog

You know what happens. You’re reading a story and a character who doesn’t know your language says something in it. And you cringe, because the word is correct but the nuance is wrong.

A character in my novel, Magical Ties, spoke one word in Portuguese. How hard could it be? It was just one word. The dictionary gave me multiple choices and I chose one. Then I emailed a friend who’s from Brazil.

She was very nice about it. “Um…that’s not the word you want.”

“Really?” I was happy I checked with her but unhappy I couldn’t even manage one freaking word on my own.

“Really.” Then she went into a detailed explanation of the options, teaching me the shades of meaning that a dictionary just couldn’t supply.

It was a narrow shave.

Ask someone who knows the language. If you don’t know anyone, see if your local library can suggest resources for finding someone.

Remember: Details matter.

  • Marie MacBryde • October 16, 2017 at 11:08 am

    As someone who is familiar with Portuguese, I would love to know what the word was, the choice you picked, and what your friend suggested instead.

    • J. M. Levinton • October 16, 2017 at 8:12 pm

      LOL It was a casual term of endearment but I honestly can’t remember what I had originally picked. 🙂

  • Jan • October 20, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    One of my characters spoke German very badly and since I speak German very badly, we were a perfect match.

    • J. M. Levinton • October 20, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      Now why didn’t I think of that? LOL

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