You’ve experienced learning a new language before, even if you don’t think you have. When you were a baby, you couldn’t speak your mother tongue until the people around you taught it to you. And how did you do that?
You started with words. ‘Mama’, ‘Papa’, ‘Hello’, ‘Cat’, ‘Dog’. It’s the same when you learn another language when you’re older. You might know a few words, but you can’t - initially - put them into a sentence that makes sense.
I used to learn French but I didn’t go beyond a very basic speaking level. If I were to try and speak or understand it now, I’d have the same level of understanding as a toddler does when they’re learning to talk. They hear certain words, they can hear tone, but they can’t engage in a high-level conversation with those around them, simply because they don’t understand what they’re hearing. However, every so often, something clicks and their short words/phrases extend into a longer, more complex thought.
The Learning Process
Let’s pretend I’m like your character. I’m in this place and I can’t communicate very well, but one day we’re all sat out in the yard and across the street, I see someone from school walking their dog.
'Dog. Dog. Dog.'
I only know how to say ‘dog’ in this language and nothing else, so all I can do is repeat it to get my point across. I’ve seen a dog, everyone else can now see the dog, but…
Not much longer after that, I’ve learnt to expand on the point a little bit.
'I like dog.'
A better sentence, but everyone just assumes I mean ‘I like dogs’, so I have to expand my vocabulary further.
'I like that dog. Sarah dog. Cute dog. Funny.'
A simple, easy to understand set of phrases. It’s not just any dog I like, it’s a particular one; a cute and funny one, like Sarah’s. Still sounds like I’m talking like a baby though.
'I like Sarah's dog, it's cute and funny. I want that kind of dog, too.'
An ability to put more into the sentence, to make it even easier to understand. I’m no longer just pointing at the dog like some lunatic, there’s an actual reason why I wanted everybody to hear about it. I like dogs, yes, but I want a dog and not just any kind: one that’s like Sarah’s.
So the language develops from one key point like that. You start with single words, then go into phrases, then into more complex sentences.
This is an example of pretty much every day in the life of a child as they learn to speak.
Until your character becomes a little more fluent, they’re going to sound just like that. Their sentences will be broken, they may be frustrated when they’re trying to communicate but nobody understands what it is they want to say and it can cause a lot of embarrassment/hilarity when they misuse or misunderstand certain words and phrases.
Although unlike a child, the key is that their vocabulary is lacking, not their ability to understand their higher emotions/feelings. So they’re not going to regress into toddlerhood just because they can’t express themselves correctly, ha ha! It will include a more complex set of feelings for them as an adult/older individual.
I hope this helps a little bit… Followers & Admins are free to add in their own thoughts too…!