One of the novels I am currently editing, Faerlocher, has several foreign characters, ranging from British to Japanese. And, I'm finding that there is a very fine line in writing their dialogue to reflect their background.
One character, a dragon named Loch, is British. His is probably the easiest for me to write, as I read and watch many British movies and TV shows. The most important thing for me there is to drop in some English sayings, then I just mention that his accent is British. Because everyone knows what a British accent sounds like!
But, on the other hand, I have two characters who are Japanese, named Cheri and Faerlo. For them, I can't just say something along the lines of, "They spoke in Japanese accents". Why? Because very few people in the US know what a Japanese accent sounds like! And if they do, it is doubtful they have such a grasp of it that they'd be able to hear it in a book. Also, since it is a different language entirely, there is the whole sentence structure thing to deal with.
What I don't want to do, is make it painful to read their dialogue. I remember times I have read books that completely spelled out a person's accent in their dialogue. I remember both liking, and disliking it, as it tended to confuse me. So in my novel, I don't want to have Faerlo say something like, "Milk-u refrigerator-o inside-i is-i." That sentence structure is taken exactly from how the Japanese would structure it ("Miruku wa reizoko no naka desu."), and Japanese do tend to stick some vowels after syllables/words that don't end in a vowel. But to read a sentence like that in a book? It'd look a bit weird, and probably be confusing to read.
Along those lines, I also have a German faerie named "Sage". I could write her dialogue, "Da meelk ees een da reefreegahrator." or somesuch. But again, that looks like it'd be a pain in the neck to read. Not to mention, there is a lot more pressure if I wrote it like that. A lot more room for error.
So how to balance it out? How to get across that the character has an accent, without simply stating that they have an accent once, when they first meet the main character, while not making things confusing to read? Honestly, I'm still finding that out. Any pointers in that area would be welcome! And once I get it figured out, perhaps I shall make another blog post about it.
Until next time!