Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Writing Spanish-speaking characters

Great post here by Lisa Bradley, and thanks to Sarah Prineas for the tip.

“If you don’t speak Spanish and your characters do, you absolutely need a fluent Spanish speaker to beta read your story. What’s more, you need a reader familiar with your character’s particular dialect. If you don’t have a real person who can do this for you, you are not equipped to write the story.”

I suspect this is true. Since I don’t speak any Spanish at all, I am fortunately not the least bit tempted to skip this step. If I hadn’t had a friend who speaks colloquial Mexican Spanish, I would probably not have written BLACK DOG with Hispanic protagonists. I tried hard never to touch any word or phrase or sentence after Abi fixed it for me, but for the first time I really get that standard “Any errors are totally my fault” disclaimer you always see. Because they are!

I use online translators, too. But those are to put sort of symbolic Spanish into the text so it “reads right” to my eye. I sure wouldn’t dare want to send the manuscript to my actual editor until a real person fixed it up!

My favorite paragraph from this post:

“Likewise, I don’t translate the Spanish words I choose to use, especially not in dialog. We only use that sort of repetition when we’re consciously trying to accommodate for language differences, as when we’re teaching a child a new language. I am trying to depict, authentically, my characters. I’m not teaching Spanish. When I was growing up, I read plenty of books with French, Latin, and Greek sprinkled throughout the text, with the unwritten understanding that an educated person would know multiple languages or be able to figure it out.”

I used to love and admire untranslated snippets in other books. I do translate some of my Spanish, but lots of it I don’t. I’m going to remember that I’m not teaching Spanish phrase in case someone asks me why not.

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