I have to write an assignment in which there's an English character talking with a English as a Second Language (ESL) character. It is turning out really, really badly. I have a general idea of what the characters need to say to each other to advance the plot, but I can't get the characters to sound realistic. Well... the English one does, but the ESL character doesn't. He just sounds like an English speaker who doesn't really speak English well. He's supposed to be good enough to get by, but not fluent in English. I'm interested in psychology, and I thought I would be able to use that to help me better create this character, but that hasn't seemed to work either.
The ESL character is of Asian descent (but I haven't picked from where the character originates, so I'm not really able to ask for specifics or anything) and in order to gain an understanding of what people from Asian countries who learn English are like, I talked to a friend who is Japanese (and a psychology minor, she's the one who gave me some psychology paperwork to look into on the subject of language affecting thoughts and speech).
She pointed me to some studies (they're books and I can't find great references on Google but basically things like this) where language is brought up as something that influences thought. The example I gave talks about time, but there are other papers that could probably be more sufficient. The idea was that if I could find studies on how language affected thought in whatever language I chose for this guy's native language, I could use the studies to make general changes to his dialogue to make him seem more realistic (instead of my character saying "X broke the vase", he would say "The vase broke" since English speakers tend to assign blame more than Asian speakers do, for example).
I also talked to my friend to learn about her experience in learning English, but she's fluent in English now (so I can't pick up on how she speaks for my character) and says it's hard to remember the kinds of mistakes she made-- she said she remembers just being wrong all the time and now looking back it's hard to pinpoint any one time that taught her anything important. Other people I've talked to have less problems remembering mistakes, but I just can't get my character to sound right even with their help. He sounds too fluent.
Thus far, this is what I've gleaned from research:
- Few contractions, if any.
- Little slang. Difficulty using slang words that are often used like "gonna" or "dunno" if particularly weak at English
- Tag questions. Most of them are affirmation types, asking for corrections and so forth.
- Incorrect tenses, but it depends on how far along in English the character is. Irregular verbs are more difficult, but also past progressive tenses and things like that aren't bound to be completely understood.
- If puns/idioms are used, often they should be directly translated from the native language.
- Simple, short sentences
- Professional sounding English, since they aren't taught colloquial English
I don't know what else to do. If anyone has advice on how to make an ESL character sound realistic, I would appreciate it.