I have this story I want to write where there's different species that each speak their own different language, but none of them can understand each other at all. Then the main character comes and starts gradually learning to understand each different language. I have no idea how to go about it

  • Questions thar are narrowly focused on writing a specific story tend to get closed since any answers wouldn't likely be useful to others. Consider focusing your question on aspects of pre-writing or story development that are currently giving you difficulty. Or whatever specific aspect of the art of storytelling you are struggling with.
    – EDL
    Commented Jan 19 at 3:31
  • Does the reader understand all these different languages, so you need to distinguish them in the text? Or does the reader have the POV of the main character, so learns the languages along with that character? Commented Jan 26 at 23:59
  • Watch the scf-fi movie Enemy Mine ;) Commented Feb 7 at 21:45

3 Answers 3


You write about lack of understanding the same way you write about everything else: you give examples of it and explain it:

"Can I have another piece of cake?"
"Here's an apple."
Heather felt her mother never understood what she said.

As for how to write the acquisition of a foreign language specifically, this has been asked and answered multiple times on this site, for example in How do I write a character learning a foreign language? A good example for how this can be done effectively in a novel, is Shogun by James Clavell. Maybe read the beginning of it, where the protagonist learns Japanese.


Starting off here, I'm not a professional writer. I do love the concept of characters who don't understand each other! They could definitely communicate through gestures, pointing and miming and the like. It would be realistic for some of the characters to know some basic words from each other's languages, like how a lot of people know a little bit of Spanish, but don't speak it.

As for the main character picking up bits of the languages, you could just write it as "character one said something that character two recognised as meaning: hi."

again, I'm not a professional writer, just trying to give some tips.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE! You don't need to be a professional writer to contribute here, so no need to worry about that!
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jan 23 at 19:17

I would advise to analyze scenes from books or movies that deal with a similar problem. From the top of my head, I think of the old Stargate movie from the 90s. The protagonist meets a new, strange culture on an alien planet and tries to establish a form of communication with them. He meets this girl and they start to establish a common vocabulary, word by word - chicken, fire, house, their names. The more time they spend together the more intimate they become. It’s pretty much how you would learn a foreign language the hard way (without books, teachers, translators, internet).

Try to start from there and let your characters interact with each other. Maybe some of them are not willing to be a teacher or have no patience with slow learners. What kind of teacher would you be? What kind of student?

  • One famous example is the Star Trek: TNG episode Darmok.
    – gidds
    Commented Jan 29 at 0:14

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