Lola’s Ramblings is a feature on my blog Lola’s Reviews where I ramble on about a book related or a non-book related topic. These are discussion type of posts where I talk about a topic and readers can weigh in on the topic in the comments. Usually these posts are everything that doesn’t fall under any standard header, like tours, cover reveals, memes, challenges, recaps or reviews. Lola’s Ramblings posts are discussions of a certain topic and my point of view on them. The banner for this feature is designed by Michelle from Limabean Designs.
Sometimes I come across a book that contains some phrases in another language, this can be a fantasy or alien language, but most often it’s another real language. Either because the main character is visiting that place or meets someone from another country. I thought it would make for an interesting topic for a Lola’s Ramblings posts to talk about these sort of foreign languages in books. For this post I consider foreign language any language different than the one the book is written in.
Pros and cons for using foreign language
In general I think there are a few things that can be considered good/ positive about using foreign languages in a book: it adds to the feel or brings the setting more alive, having character actually speak another language makes it easier to imagine they are actually in another country or the character in question is actually from another country or planet. On the other hand it also can work counterproductive or turn into something negative. If there is too much foreign language in a book it can get confusing, especially when the reader doesn’t know that language. And how much is too much? I also think that for a reader sometimes foreign language can get you out of the flow of the book, especially with long sentences you struggle to comprehend. An option would be to translate the text. I’ve seen this a few times were the authors wrote multiple sentences in another language and then between brackets wrote the same text in english. But that also feels like it defeats the purpose of using the foreign language in the first place if you are going to translate it all like that and that also gets me out of the book. A better way might be to make it obvious from the context what the text means or have another characters translate it or ask for a translation, but I think this works best with short sentences. So I can see how foreign language in books can be a both positive or negative, depending on how it is handled.
My experience with reading books that use foreign language.
I’ve read quite some books where foreign languages were used and most of those it worked out well. I’ve read a few books were I found the foreign language use excessive or confusing, but most of the books with foreign text I read were done well. I’ll mention a few books I remember reading with foreign language and how they handled it. In February by Audrey Carlan the main character works for a french artist in book 2 and he keeps using french, which the main character doesn’t understand and thus she ask for explanation, which I thought worked well. This way the reader still gets to know what he says and it is in character as the main character doesn’t know french either.
Another author that handled foreign language well is SJ Pajonas in her books she doesn’t translate any of the text, but from the context it’s usually obvious what the meaning is. I don’t know any Japanese, but I’ve watched some anime in the past and that has given me a bit of familiarity with listening to the language, so while I can’t speak it, I still recognize a few words like greetings, apologies and such as those are used often in anime’s.
I also have read sci-fi books were there was some alien language involved, often with endearments or insults. For example Siobhan Davis her Saven series has a few instances with alien language and in most cases you can figure out what it means or even if you don’t know exactly what it means the approximate meaning is clear from the context. There are also scenes were it’s mentioned someone speaks in alien language, which I also think is a good way to handle it. Then the author can mention they speak in another language without having to type it all out.
I also have read one book with a very short dutch sentence, The Legacy Human by Susan Kaye Quinn. I have to admit that reading text in another language you know might the most jarring experience, but it’s also lots of fun as you actually understand the text in the other language. It was only a very short sentence, but I got a bit of a surprise when I realized someone used dutch in a book. I mean you never read a book with dutch words, so that was interesting.
My opinion on foreign language in books
Overall I am okay with authors using foreign languages in their books and even like it most of the time. I feel that using a different language can add to the atmosphere and there are multiple different ways to make sure the reader still understands the meaning, either by translating it, having the characters translate it or by using context to explain the meaning. It’s okay if you don’t know the exact meaning, as long as you get the gist of what someone’s saying. Then again I also think there is such a thing as too much foreign language and it can get overwhelming or challenging when there is too much foreign language. I guess this is another one of those things that just depends on the book and how exactly it is handled, but overall I would say I don’t mind foreign language in books and even would consider it something positive when handled well. I personally mostly read books were the foreign language was done well.