Gratuitous Foreign Language

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Synonyms: fanboy Japanese, fangirl Japanese, gratuitous Japanese/Russian/Italian/Spanish/etc.
See also:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Gratuitous Foreign Language is a more often than not critical term for fanfictions written in English that has non-English words sprinkled into the story, usually in dialogues of characters of color (or perceived to be as such), speaking words or phrases in another language.

This tendency is generally more common/frequent done in sex scenes, where ESL (English as a second language) characters "slip" into their native tongue in the heat of the moment.

The most common critique of this trend is that it is unrealistic, since most multilingual people speak different languages with the people who understand them. Additionally, unknowingly slipping into one's mother tongue, especially in the heat of the moment, doesn't usually occur in real life, so its appearance in fanfiction may be perceived as fetishistic. However, certain indicators in foreign language can be useful to signify a switch in relationship/tone (e.g. honorifics, Japanese dialects.)

Generally speaking, the use of foreign language in English-written fanfiction is not inherently racist, fetishistic, or bad. Its usage can be commendable if it helps convey setting, or if a character does say something in another language that another character does not understand. It is usually advisable for English-speaking writers to be careful of using foreign languages in their writing, though, at the risk of sounding show-offy, excessive, or just embarrassingly wrong if they are not a native or learned speaker of the language they are using.

Use outside of the English-speaking Fandom

In Brazilian Portuguese fanfics, the use of terms in other languages ​​has also been criticized by readers, questioning the real need for use, especially when sexual scenes occur, where characters speak on the spur of the moment in their native language. The idiomatic slip also tends to occur in characters of foreign (non-Brazilian) origin, mainly Americans, Asians or Europeans. Those of Latin American origin too, but because they are from neighboring countries and speak Spanish, criticism is often less.


Gratuitous Foreign Language often or has appeared in the following fandoms:

  • Anime/Manga: Honorifics such as -chan, -san, -senpai, -sama, and -kun. May be useful if characters have special nicknames for each other (e.g. Nozomi from Love Live! calling Eli "Elicchi")
  • Kpop: Many writers like to use "oppa" ("older brother," female speaker), "dongsaeng" ("junior"), "maknae" ("youngest"), "noona" ("older sister", male speaker), "unnie" ("older sister", female speaker), and "hyung" ("older brother," male speaker.) Some may also use "annyeonghaseyo", which just means "hello."
  • Phantom of the Opera: Fic writers often add words and sentences in French (for example, "mon ange") in characters' speech even when characters are supposed to talk in French anyway.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: Lance is Cuban, and often depicted speaking Spanish, even though he has not spoken or shown to know any Spanish in canon.
  • The Old Guard: Since all characters are originally from different cultures/eras and speak different languages, including in the canon, fics are very likely to feature non-English phrases. Arabic, Italian or Italian dialects and French are the most common.

Further Reading/Meta