The Colloquialism of Character

I have written a few posts about characters, and character development, and it is a truly fascinating area of writing. One that cannot be underestimated in its importance.

The thing that struck me today is in reference to language and dialogue. Living in a non-english speaking country, I have had my fair share of bad translations and mis-understood word pronunciations before, which have landed me in a number of different situations. There are a number of words which in Dutch are very normal words, but when heard by a foreign ear, could easily mean something completely different. For Example:


Kant, means side, or rather, when used in the majority of instances, the other side or the other hand. . However it is pronounced as cunt,

Kok, is a chef, but well… I don’t think you need the translation.

Cock also happens to be name out here. Along with Coen (the oe is pronounced as oo in English terminology).


Two names, and just four small examples of how language and the use of it between characters could easily lead of an interesting situation within a novel. Yet, more often than not, when writing a foreign character, or placed in a foreign setting, these opportunities are skipped. Sure, there is no need for them, but when used, they could add an extra level of detail to a scene and help develop a character in a new way.

Colloquialisms are present in every language, and we all, no matter how well to do we think ourselves, use them with some frequency. Yet these are never the same from country to country. They may come close in some instances, especially when spoken in that native langauge, however, will lose something again when translated into English. This is another interesting opportunity to add extra layers to a character and make your story and setting all the more realistic.

´To see something through the fingers´ in Holland, means to turn a blind eye. All to often, when reading books with a foreign character, or the main character in a foreign setting, the people they meet either speak perfect english, or we are simply told that they have an accent. This is fine, in its own right, but once again, throwing in some real translated colloquialisms will never go amiss, and only serve to strengthen your writing.


One thought on “The Colloquialism of Character

  1. I agree with you Alex, and I enjoy reading dialogue that does what it says it is going to do – i.e. sound slightly foreign. Unfortunately the trend these days is for all dialogue to sound as if it came straight from CNN, or the soap opera of your choice.

    We are told that writing standard dialogue is important for the immersion factor. Of course ‘they’ never say who’s standard is the gold standard.

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