D&D 5E How to make Languages fun?

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
私は英語を話します。
मैं अंग्रेजी बोलता हूं।
Я говорю по-английски.
أنا أتحدث الإنجليزية.
나는 영어로 말한다.
Μιλαω αγγλικα.
איך רעד ענגליש.
Je parle anglais.
Ich spreche Englisch.
Yo hablo inglés.

Each of these statements is "I speak English". I doubt most of us speak half the languages I put into Google Translate to get these specific versions of the phrase. But the majority of us, by -looking- at the text itself, can recognize what language it is most likely written in. You don't have to speak Russian to recognize that backwards R. Or Japanese to recognize the particular way the kanji look. Might not even -know- they're called Kanji.

But they're recognizable symbols. And with each of them has -weight-.

You look at the Arabic statement and it carries connotations of inflections and sounds. The unique tones and pronunciations. Same thing even when the letters are in the modern alphabet. While the French, German, and Spanish spellings all say the same thing in the same alphabet we can conceive of the different pronunciations and inflections of each of those languages because we have this concept of their differences locked in by having heard them, before.

This context also allows us to recognize nonsense sounds and separate them from actual languages. Which is why people can recognize spoken Klingon but if someone just starts spouting out random vowels and consonants and pretends they're words you can pick up right away that they're not actually speaking a structured language.

Carry this into your games.

If you intend to have different languages matter, give them writing systems. Give them specific accents. Give them structured language. That doesn't mean you need to go all Tolkien and develop Sindarin and teach it to your players so they can speak elven. But make sure that Elven sounds the same every time. Make sure it's so identifiable that if you're speaking "Elvish" while the players are eavesdropping they recognize that you're talking in Elvish... then hand a pre-written note of what's being said to the players whose characters speak the elf language and let them play translator as you go.

Pick a font. There's dozens of them, out there, where people have developed their own languages and writing systems. Just grab the ones you think fit your setting and when you need something written in Orcish just take the letters or syllables from the font and put them on your handout to make it feel appropriate...

And then stick with it. If you're gonna have an Elven Accent keep it up, even when you waver. Even when you make a mistake and do an inflection wrong, keep it going. And when someone asks, explain that it's probably just the part of the world that character is from. If you're using a French Accent to be Elven and you slip in a touch of German accent it means the NPC is probably influenced by Orcish or Dwarven or whatever other language you're using your German accent to represent.

But the most important thing, no matter what: Make sure the whole party speaks at least one joint language. I don't care if you've got a massively diverse party and decided to cut "Common" as a language, make sure they've got a lingua franca to communicate in.
 
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SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
私は英語を話します。
मैं अंग्रेजी बोलता हूं।
Я говорю по-английски.
أنا أتحدث الإنجليزية.
나는 영어로 말한다.
Μιλαω αγγλικα.
איך רעד ענגליש.
Je parle anglais.
Ich spreche Englisch.
Yo hablo inglés.

Each of these statements is "I speak English". I doubt most of us speak half the languages I put into Google Translate to get these specific versions of the phrase. But the majority of us, by -looking- at the text itself, can recognize what language it is most likely written in. You don't have to speak Russian to recognize that backwards R. Or Japanese to recognize the particular way the kanji look. Might not even -know- they're called Kanji.

But they're recognizable symbols. And with each of them has -weight-.

You look at the Arabic statement and it carries connotations of inflections and sounds. The unique tones and pronunciations. Same thing even when the letters are in the modern alphabet. While the French, German, and Spanish spellings all say the same thing in the same alphabet we can conceive of the different pronunciations and inflections of each of those languages because we have this concept of their differences locked in by having heard them, before.

This context also allows us to recognize nonsense sounds and separate them from actual languages. Which is why people can recognize spoken Klingon but if someone just starts spouting out random vowels and consonants and pretends they're words you can pick up right away that they're not actually speaking a structured language.

Carry this into your games.

If you intend to have different languages matter, give them writing systems. Give them specific accents. Give them structured language. That doesn't mean you need to go all Tolkien and develop Sindarin and teach it to your players so they can speak elven. But make sure that Elven sounds the same every time. Make sure it's so identifiable that if you're speaking "Elvish" while the players are eavesdropping they recognize that you're talking in Elvish... then hand a pre-written note of what's being said to the players whose characters speak the elf language and let them play translator as you go.

Pick a font. There's dozens of them, out there, where people have developed their own languages and writing systems. Just grab the ones you think fit your setting and when you need something written in Orcish just take the letters or syllables from the font and put them on your handout to make it feel appropriate...

And then stick with it. If you're gonna have an Elven Accent keep it up, even when you waver. Even when you make a mistake and do an inflection wrong, keep it going. And when someone asks, explain that it's probably just the part of the world that character is from. If you're using a French Accent to be Elven and you slip in a touch of German accent it means the NPC is probably influenced by Orcish or Dwarven or whatever other language you're using your German accent to represent.

But the most important thing, no matter what: Make sure the whole party speaks at least one joint language. I don't care if you've got a massively diverse party and decided to cut "Common" as a language, make sure they've got a lingua franca to communicate in.
I use french for elvish also! What a small world.
 

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