Book recommendations with code switching

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Feb 11, 2019
Hi Colony,

A problem I commonly face in my stories with international and otherworldly settings, is the issue of my characters code-switching.

For example: I have a character who is billingual. This story is set in contemporary Morocco. He speaks to his American mother and narrates most of the story in English. But when he speaks to his father and brothers and other Moroccan characters, he speaks in Moroccan dialect. My problem is that when translated, Moroccan dialect sounds a bit strange and clunky. In the dialogue below I try to subtly show that these characters are speaking in Arabic:

Amine hung back in the doorway watching as Zacaria embraced the boys and kissed Omar’s cheeks in his easy way. Amine’s envy was salt in his eyes. His guts churned with famine. If he spent a lifetime in this place, he could never be as sure of himself as Zacaria.
“Hey, Amine!” Zacaria called when he saw him. “What’s up, brother?”
La-bas,” Amine said with bravado, as Zacaria grasped his elbow and kissed his cheeks.
“You got bigger.” Zacaria ruffled his hair and hung an arm around Amine’s warm neck as he turned back to the group.
Omar and Tayeb were already arm in arm heading into the house, probably in deep discussion about Omar’s newest obsession: the cost of the latest olive press centrifuge.
“Kids,” Zacaria said to the boys still standing in the driveway. He pulled Amine in closer. “We are going to pass this summer well.”

I feel like the above bit works ok. But a little farther into the scene:

Amine gasped. “What happened?”
“We were playing a game,” Mustafa said, wincing as Amine tested the knot with his finger. “Leave it!”
“We were throwing rocks.” Rachid added.
Hassan said, “One hit Mustafa on the head and he fell.” His voice still echoed the amazement of the sight. “He went straight to sleep.”
Amine struggled to mask his reaction, so they would tell him the rest of it. The boys said that to avoid punishment and because they didn’t know what else to do, they had dragged Mustafa’s unconscious body into the shade and continued playing until he woke up some time later.
“Allah, help me,” Amine swore at them, “Why didn’t you come tell us?”
“He was still breathing,” Rachid said, “We knew he wasn’t dead.”
“You idiots! He could have been brain-damaged!” Amine’s heart pounded at the thought.
He was startled by the sound of Zacaria laughing behind him. “To get brain damage, you have to have brains to start with!”

When I experiment with this, writing the dialogue using speech that sounds more like how contemporary pre-teen boys would speak in English, the dialogue becomes very inauthentic. So I've merely tweaked the translation, it isn't a direct translation of what the words would mean but it's more of an interpretation. I'm generally satisfied with the result but sometimes I worry that this is not going to work for readers.

I would like to read a lot of books to see how other authors deal with this issue. Especially fantasy books (I've put the above story aside for the moment and I've started working on something new that is fantasy). I'd love to read fantasy books with a lot of code switching. Especially where the reader is aware the characters might be speaking various different languages to each other and switching from one language to another. I must have read many many books where this is happening but I never noticed it (kudos to the writers) and I'm struggling to think of where to start. I know GRR Martin must have done it in ASOIAF series and I intend to go back and take a closer look. But I think it would be even better if I read some stuff that very fresh to me.

Any suggestions?
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Amusement Words that first appeared in your birth year

Amusement Howling at this HOWL from a literary agent