Who speaks Czech?
One of the occasional difficulties encountered in writing stories is that the characters will do things that make life harder on the writer. As the writer I’m supposed to be in charge, right? But if this difficult thing the character does actually makes the story better, well, who am I to stop that?
So a character in the book Coyote decided to give readers a bit of a peek into her origins by speaking the occasional phrase in Czech. She had been raised in the United States of America since about the age of seven, but was born in the Czech Republic. So Czech was her first language, and it occasionally still slips out. (Yes, this is a real thing. It’s called “code-switching” and is totally fascinating. See example #1 here: Five Reasons People Code Switch)
Then the character kept doing it, and it became one of the many interesting layers that I think add up to a god story. So I had to let her keep on speaking Czech once in a while. My problem with this? It’s not what you think. I wasn’t particularly worried that the reader wouldn’t understand what she was saying. I actually though that made for a kind of twisted fun. My issue had a much more selfish flavor: I don’t speak Czech.
So here’s this character I’m writing about, she turns to say something in her native language to another character, and I type… skwownns sns. Gobbledygook. Later on, my gobbledygook got replaced by the helpful offerings of Google Translate. But I know there will be the occasional reader out there who does speak Czech, or whose grandma speaks Czech, or who is just better at using Google Translate than I. And that person is going ot be let down.
Enter my first foray into the world of professional translation. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, what with the interconnectedness of everything these days) there are lots of fast, affordable places to get a set of phrases translated from English to Czech. Who knew? (You did? Huh. Well I didn’t.) So I typed all the things my character wanted to say into a table, and sent that table off to some company I’d never heard of, hoping that some nicely translated Czech phrases would come back to me sometime.
And it worked! Amazing what you can get done with a little trust, a little hope, and a little internet. So a mere $50 later my character is speaking real Czech, which I still don’t understand, but which I at least feel so much better about. Yeah, I don’t understand it, and neither will most of my readers, but it’s good to know that all those things in my story that I don’t understand are at least correct.