General · Writing

Foreign Words

Last year, I read a short story by Juan Diaz. It had a few Spanish words in it.

I thought the words were explained by context. To a degree, they were. But not completely.

I found this out when a word I thought was a random curse word turned out to be not so random. It was a derogatory word for gay people. I didn’t know and I was very surprised when the character in question turned out to be gay. (The Spanish guy who told me was all, of course he is gay! Obviously!)

If Bollywood movies include English sentences, sometimes they will repeat it in Hindi. Sometimes, not always.

So . . . how do you use non-English words in fiction written in English? Is a general understanding of the word okay? Like when I knew it was a Spanish curse word and nothing else?

Or does not knowing the exact meaning of the word harm your understanding of the story?

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4 thoughts on “Foreign Words

  1. I think it depends on it. With just one foreign word the context should be enough. I guess. But whole sentences? Those could be important for the story.
    I like it when authors, who do use a foreign sentence – or paragraph -, write the english translation right after it.

  2. For me, it depends. I hate to read entire sentences written in a language I don’t speak because I just end up skipping it, and I have no idea if I’ve skipped something important, but for a single word, I can usually guess – or quickly use Google Translate.

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