Good morning, Writers! Yes, it’s a new week and a new writing tip!

Do you follow us on facebook? If you do, you may have noticed a recent question from Caitlin. She asks,If a character speaks another language, is it OK to use some words in their language then refer to what it means?” That’s an excellent question and it occurred to me that this might be something you may have been wondering about, too, so I have made it the subject of our writing tip for this week.

love in different languages

When and when not to use foreign language in your story:

NO – if you are showing off your language ability

NO – if it will confuse your readers

NO – if it slows down your story

YES – if it adds atmosphere to your setting or plot

YES – if it helps readers get to know your characters

YES – because it helps create understanding in your readers about children from other cultures.

I suggest keeping foreign language phrases short and sweet. If you’re not sure, try with and without, leave for a day or two and read again. Which do you prefer?

Here are a couple of excerpts from I Want to Be an Airline Pilot, by Mary Weeks Millard, with a few words of Kinyarwandan, which I think add something extra to the story:

(Quick bit of context: Shema, an eight-year-old Rwandan goatherd from a child-led family, wanted to go to church to pray for a jumper for his brother, but his sister reminded him that he couldn’t, because goats needed someone to take care of them on Sundays, too! But he was given a jumper . . .)

Airline Pilot bookHe forgot how thirsty he had been, he was now so excited that he just wanted to go home and see Maji’s face when he gave him the sweater!  . . . He no longer felt fed up about not being able to go to church, he felt very happy and began to sing to the goats! He sang them a song which the children sang in the school, which he had learnt as he listened to them:

Imana ni nzaa, Imana ni nzaa, Imana ni nzaa, Ni nzaa chane!”

“God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me!”


Here’s another example, from a bit later in the story:


The pastor had grown fond of these cheerful little orphans who faced life so bravely. One day he had a visitor call at his house.

“Hodi!” (Can I come in?) came a man’s voice.

Karibu!” (You’re welcome!) the pastor answered.


(Just to let you know, the visiting man was the project manager for the Village of Hope, built for child-led families . . . I Want to Be an Airline Pilot is an inspiring story, you can get your copy here.)

Back to the writing tip: see how a little bit of local language can add a bit of extra something to your novel? In fact, one of the best-selling novelists of all time, Agatha Christie, often had Hercule Poirot saying a word or two in his native French. If it worked for her . . . 🙂

So thank you, Caitlin, for the question – I hope it will help others with the same dilemma.

What do you think? Do you like a bit of authentic language in a novel? Have you added any to yours? Leave your comments below or over on our facebook page – we’d love to hear from you!

Have a great week,


P.S. Don’t forget your copy of I Want to Be an Airline Pilot for the children on your heart or for research purposes! There are actually  three books in the Rwanda series which you can order from the Dernier Publishing website, or from your local Christian bookshop. :-Rwanda books)

Is It All Foreign to You?
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