Once upon a time, I went on a little wonder about the use of non-English phrases in books written for English speakers. Well, I find myself returned to that thought again lately.
In some recently invented spare time, I've been watching the TV show Firefly. This is for two reasons. 1) I'd been told I'd like it. 2) I'd also been told that if I don't watch it, I need to turn in my Nerd Card, and I like that Card.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, characters will randomly break out into Chinese. I don't just mean a quick hello at the start of meetings. No, they'll transition languages mid-sentence. For those of us less than fluent in Chinese (still me), sometimes you just end up sitting there thinking "what was that?" Or, if you know a tad of Chinese, you're thinking "I don't know if that means what you seem to think it means," or even, "Umm... you know you could just have said that in English, right, and let the audience understand? You know that wasn't a cuss, right?" Heck, I've been informed that you can be fluent in Chinese and sometimes you're still thinking "Ahem? What's happening?"
This begs the question, is there a benefit to using non-English words in books written for English speakers. (Or, to expand, any words not in your target language?)
This question might actually become relevant to me because back in NaNo, for the first time, I wrote a book containing non-English dialogue. My MC and her best friend, Amada, occasionally jump into Spanish. For the most part, I try to compensate in dialogue tags for the non-Spanish speakers (like myself), but I know I'm going to have to ask my betas if it works.
I must admit, I'm somewhat torn about the use of non-English language, especially outside of words people likely know. I know from experience that it can be challenging to read books where there's a lot of words you don't know because they're in a language you don't speak. It can leave you feeling like you're missing something important, and you might be, if the author doesn't compensate well in the rest of the text to catch you up.
On the other hand, if something that's non-English is authentic to certain characters, should an author fight it? After all, growing up I knew a lot of people who spoke a different language at home than at school, and when they ran into other people who spoke that language, they could transition into it pretty darn fast. So, it strikes me as something a character might do as well. Also, it lends a certain flavor to a character and a scene, and that might be a flavor that needs to be there. ¿Estás de acuerdo?
How do you feel about it? Do you ever use non-English in your writing? How do you work around it for non-speakers? How do you feel about it as a reader?