Talents and Skills Entry: A Knack for Languages

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

Description: Some people have an ear for languages. They naturally pick up on patterns and nuances, quickly learn to understand other languages, and are able to speak them fluently in record time. A knack for languages can also enable people to cue in on the cultural cues, idioms, and humor of a culture, which can be difficult for outsiders to grasp.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: recognizing patterns, having a basic understanding of languages and linguistics, having good hearing

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: being observant, passionate, focused, persistent

Required Resources and Training: Languages can be learned in isolation, but experts agree that one of the best ways to become fluent in a foreign language is to immerse oneself in the culture. To this end, traveling and being surrounded by certain cultures and languages can be the quickest and most effective way to learn other languages.

Experts also say that people who learn multiple languages as children are more likely to pick up other languages when they’re older. If you want to add credibility to your character’s gift with languages, maybe having him be bilingual as a child is a way to start.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • as a translator
  • in a hostile takeover situation where one needs to be able to understand/speak the enemy’s language
  • being thrust into a foreign culture and needing to assimilate quickly
  • when one is stuck in a foreign country
  • when one must flee one’s own country
  • when living in a melting pot culture where many languages are spoken

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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13 Responses to Talents and Skills Entry: A Knack for Languages

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  4. I think my character might be the one learning the language! But this is a great way to force me to go back to studying Italian, and the research would be so much fun…planning a vacation, learning a language and writing!

  5. Daniela Barragán says:

    I love it when characters speak other languages, specially if it is to tell the heroine how beautiful she is or how much they love her but… and here comes the big “BUT” a lot of Authors seem to think that their readers won’t understand the other language anyway and just use google to translate whatever theire character has to say, saddly I’m one of these readers who understands more than 1 language and when your yummi/warrior heroe begins to speak like a 3 year old boy (or sometimes worse) it just doesn’t work.
    It shouldn’t be too much work to check the few sentences they use with someone who knows the language.

    • This is very good advice. Writers should definitely double check to make sure they have written any foreign bits in correctly, and Google translate is not the tool to do that. With all of us being so connected on social media, there really is no excuse for not reaching out to a few native speakers of a specific language and asking them if it’s been done correctly for the context.

  6. C. Lee McKenzie says:

    I love it when the traits are essential to the character and integral to the story. Your lists are so helpful. They make it easy to focus on traits and choose while developing ideas for stories.

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  8. I’ve know people with a gift like this. And I’ve known others who were tone deaf for other languages. lol

  9. My daughter has this skill. It is really valuable! Maybe I will make her a character in one of my books.

  10. My cousin has this gift. He speaks 3 foreign languages, and native speakers say that he does it without an accent. Pretty cool.

  11. Julie Musil says:

    Sheesh, I wish I was one of these people! I can barely master English. My husband’s side of the family is Mexican, and you’d think I’d know a few Spanish words after going to family gatherings for 30 years. Nope. Thanks for the great entry!

  12. I wish I had a knack for this.

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