A character speaks two languages throughout the whole plot. How to insert the translation of the other language without ruining the layout of the story or text?

For example:

"Guten tag, Herr X," they said.

How do I insert a translation without ruining the whole paragraph or sentence? I can always have one of the characters ask for a translation, but what if they spoke to someone who understands them, or if I only want readers to understand but not the other characters? I have also thought of explaining it through indirect ways like the character speaking to themselves, but these scenes are not always in their point of view.

Is it useless to try and add it into the text? I've seen people put a translation between braces () or adding it under the sentence or directly next to it in italics. Or should I just improvise through it?

2 Answers 2


In addition to this answer here: What's the best way to show a foreign language in a manuscript?

If you have a lot of swapping back and forth between two specific languages, and the characters are always speaking the same given language in any scene (both French, both German, etc.), then you can just tell us that in the tags:

"Guten tag," he said. "Do you have your ticket?"

"Yes I do," I answered in German, and handed it to him. "How long until we reach Berlin?"

"At least an hour."

"The countryside is rather different," Marcel observed to me in French after the conductor left.

"Well, the trees are," I agreed.


Think of writing fiction as a translation of a novel from the place where your story is set into English.

Following Lauren Ipsum's answer, simply noting that the conversation was occurring in two different languages is sufficient. There are techniques used however, such as in Saving Private Ryan where a Czech soldier speaks German. You don't need to understand what is being said in German, however if you do understand what is said - it adds more flavour and context to the story.

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