In a story I use the Japanese words konnichiwa and kawaii:

"Konnichiwa!" greeted a voice.

"Wanna cuddle with a cutie for a couple of minutes?" She beamed a kittenish kawaii smile.

I thought most people would understand these, so I didn't add a translation. Instead, I added verbs and adjectives that hint to their meaning a bit.

Is this a right approach? If not, what's a better alternative?


1 Answer 1


Well, whatever you do, don't convolute the the sentences around those words. Voices don't greet. People greet. "Konnichiwa!" greeted a voice. is grating and unnatural.

There are at least four things you can do that will not sound artificial and grating:

  1. Just use the word. People can deduce the meaning from context or look it up if they don't get it. "Konnichiwa!" a voice said.

  2. Translate the word and tell us what the original language was: "Hello" a voice said in Japanese.

  3. Establish the use of formatting, such as italics, as an indication of the use of Japanese. Then use the English word in italics for all Japanese conversation from then one: "Hello!" a voice said in Japanese.

  4. Use the Japanese word and provide the translation: "Konnichiwa!" a voice said. Konnichiwa is hello in Japanese. You are telling a story and there is absolutely nothing wrong with explaining things like this to the reader occasionally. Obviously this does not work for extended conversations in the foreign languages. Only option 3 really works for that.

  • 1
    Although I upvoted your answer because I agree with most of what you say, I think voices can greet e.g. the voice that greeted him was frosty. Nov 29, 2016 at 18:14
  • 1
    I disagree with Mark Baker. I don't know what Konnichiwa means, and I need an explanation for that word to make sense to me. Replacing "said" with "greeted" is an elegant, unobtrusive way to explain the meaning of the direct speech.I disagree. I don't know what Konnichiwa means, and I need an explanation. It is completely normal
    – user5645
    Nov 30, 2016 at 10:08
  • 1
    This is the difficult thing about writing. You can be right and wrong at the same time.
    – alex
    Dec 2, 2016 at 1:37

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