My biggest problem as a writer? I don't speak French. Or Icelandic. Or Italian. Or Old Norse. Or Greek (ancient or modern). Or even Latin, for all I spent how many years taking it in college.
Why is it a problem? My characters are too often anything but American. Even when they speak English, sometimes they're British, which still means they need to sound like they're speaking The Queen's English, as opposed to American English. And when they're French (oh, you Frenchmen! Who thought that was a good idea?) they have to sound French, even though I'm writing their dialogue in English. And if I want them to use a little French along the way -- hoo boy. I always regret it. But! The point of this post, is to share a few resources. Kind of a "Here's what works for me" tutorial.*
1) Ask around. Everyone you know. Twitter is great for crowdsourcing, but you might have a friend who has a friend who speaks the language fluently, and why would you not want to take advantage of that? My Uncle is completely fluent in Spanish and German (and I am pretty sure he speaks a few more languages than that too), and if I were ever blessed with a story idea that took place in EITHER of those countries,** you can bet that I'd be going to him first. But because my family is aware of my constant search for friends with fluency, my sister also helped me get in touch with one of her co-workers, whose family is from Iceland. He checks most of my Icelandic translations for me, because even after studying it off and on for however long now, I can pretty much only say a handful of things with any kind of confidence.*** I also have a most excellent friend from college (Say Hello, Sarah!) who is my Latin resource (and you would not believe the trouble Latin was giving me earlier. Ugh.)
My point is -- you never know who knows someone and if you spread the word that you're looking for someone who speaks x, you might find a lot of fruit!
2) For modern languages, this is, I think, the absolute best resource on the web: http://www.wordreference.com/ . I use it as my first translator for French (then run it by more fluent eyes, who hopefully catch my contextual errors). It has forums and gives context and shades of meaning and example sentences and thank you, Universe, for providing me with this tool!
3) Phrasebooks and Dictionaries. Guys. I am not kidding you. Pick up a phrasebook at the store, or a learn to speak x book, and go through the example conversations and MINE THEM for the phrases and expressions you need. That's my number one stop for Icelandic, because as you might imagine, it is kind of a rarer language. As for Dictionaries, I have one for Old Icelandic (Zoega's) and it ALSO has words used in a sentence as examples, but the downside for that one, is that I have to know what word I'm looking for before I can look it up -- it's all Old Icelandic to English, with no English to Icelandic half. Which is why I use This PDF, which allows me to search English first, in a limited capacity.
4) Whatever you do, don't rely on google translate. Ever. EVER. Just don't do it. I am begging you. The only time it is acceptable to use is if you need to find a word to look up in a better resource that doesn't have an English search function, and even then... Just. Absolute Last Resort, friends.
So that's what I got. Those of you who are not writers -- I hope I didn't bore you! Those of you who ARE writers. I refer you again to point number 4. Ease of use makes it a temptress, but you will only regret it later!
*Look, I'm revising! All my blog posts can't be awesome all the time!
**Come on, Brain. Why can't you ever make it easy on me?
***My love, Exactly, Hello and Good Night, I love you, Do You Understand? That's about it, really. Unless I need to shout at someone "You cannot sing here!" in which case, I think I have that covered too. Oh, sample dialogue.
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