Writing Is A Bad Habit: Talk to Me Like One of Your French Girls a.k.a. Foreign Languages in Writing

Writing in the sense that we talk about it here relies on the artistic use of language. We use words to inform, influence, and most importantly of all entertain. It’s understandable then that when we use foreign settings, fantasy universes, and alien worlds, we might want to use elements of foreign languages to match those settings.

There’s certainly nothing wrong to do that. In fact, using bits and pieces of properly used foreign languages can add a certain flavor to a fictional work. This can even extend to invented fantasy and alien languages. Even using sparing amounts of unusual words can lend an authenticity to something that is purely a work of imagination.

You have to be careful though. When using modern languages, be careful that you do your research properly. It can be surprisingly easy to screw up even the simplest of word uses. I’ve even done it myself with literally ONE word, simply because I read the wrong reference that led me down an obscure rule from a particular dialect of the language. Take the lesson from me to check, double-check, and triple-check.

Even if you do your research properly, you need to decide if it’s even necessary to use the language directly. If a foreign-born character uses a word or reference occasionally during normal dialogue, it could make perfect sense to use the actual language in your text. However, if there are larger conversations, even as long as a sentence, it might be better to simply make reference to the language used instead of large tracts of foreign text.

This especially can be the best approach to fantasy and alien languages. Unless you happen to be a linguist like J. R. R. Tolkien and can take the time to put the requisite effort into a fully developed language, it is probably a horrible idea to wing a made-up language. Sure, maybe invent a few terms to add flavor, but don’t try to whole-cloth something you don’t have the qualifications to create. It will collapse under scrutiny and shatter that oh-so vital suspension of disbelief.

Hope that helps you folks out there in writing land! If you have any thoughts, questions, or criticisms, feel free to drop them in the comments below.

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

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