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How to best write two people using different languages meeting?

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Andrela, Nov 5, 2018.

  1. Andrela

    Andrela Plot Bunny DLP Supporter

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    Say you had a scene where two characters from entirely different countries or perhaps even worlds meet and need to work together.

    However, they both speak completely different languages. Like English and Japanese, or German and Russian.

    It becomes especially tricky if you have these two people meet in an area far from civilization, like for example a forest or the desert.

    First things that come to mind are gestures like hand movements etc, as well as drawing pictures on the ground. But what else?
     
  2. Seratin

    Seratin Proudmander Prestige DLP Supporter

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    This sounds like a smartass answer but I once wrote a scenario like this and I got both characters blind drunk. This allowed them to gesture to each other without it being overly silly and form a baseline of understanding.
     
  3. Silirt

    Silirt DA Member DLP Supporter

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    We get a lot from people's facial expressions. That said, there are some cultural differences about those; in America people smile at strangers all the time while in other places that's weird. If your characters are signalling to each other with facial expressions, be aware they're not exactly universal.
     
  4. TheWiseTomato

    TheWiseTomato Tactical Tomato DLP Supporter

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    Completely indecipherable charades and a lot of head scratching with the occasional tonal grunt to convey yes/no or good/bad.
     
  5. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    It depends how important it is to the plot. If overcoming the language barrier is a significant plot point, you can do something like I did in The Next Great Adventure. Otherwise, you find a way to gloss over it and focus on the story you're telling.
     
  6. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

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    Have the thing they're working together on be something that the audience clearly understands the mechanics of - say, a sporting event. Something where there are clearly defined strata of success and failure, and let the characters' emotions act as language - the reader will pick up on it. You can supplement this with gestures/ground drawing later, but establishing a nonverbal rapport first is pretty key.
     
  7. Elly

    Elly Squib

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    It also depends a lot on what POV you are using - if it's a single persons POV you can be more free in you interpretation of the foreign persons non-verbal signals and even use the misunderstandings as a plot device.

    If you have an all knowing POV or even a switching POV you could use the misunderstandings for humorous purposes.

    As for signs and other social cues - as a mixed origin person myself, I know the difficulties of trying to communicate across language barriers - often a shake of the head or a nod goes a long way - paired with pointing and shrugging and the like.
     
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