Margaret from London is writing a novel set abroad. She asks: What is the best way to show my characters are not native English speakers? Should I put dialogue in a foreign language and then give a translation?
If used in moderation, foreign words in dialogue can give a flavour of the character’s origins, but don’t overdo it. When using foreign words, make sure that the meaning is made clear from the text without the reader needing to resort to a foreign/English dictionary – and don’t give translations, as that will take the reader out of the story (although you could have one character asking another to translate, but that might get tedious for the reader after a while).
Do not be tempted to insert foreign phrases into every aspect of dialogue. Choose one or two phrases or exclamations and use them sparingly. Often changing the word order gives a better sense of someone exotic, and not comfortable in English, than littering the page with foreign words.
Any foreign words you use should be written in italics and have the necessary accents in the correct place. Words in common use in English (such as rendezvous, pronto, macho) should not be italicised.