The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #19 January / February 2016
Mixing Languages and Relationships
by Erik Zidowecki
January / February 2016 | 

Relationships are tricky. There is so much give and take constantly going on between two people, and these become greatly pronounced in a serious loving exchange, whether it is just dating or marriage.

Probably the most vital part of making this work is communication, and that is where languages come in. It can be difficult to keep everything running smoothly even when two people speak the same language, but introducing any kind of language barrier has the potential of making things even harder.

But they need not be. Sometimes, a difference in languages between the two people can be a binding agent, not just between the couple but also with those around them.

The relationship can also have an effect on learning a language, if it is being used as a motivator. I want to look at some of the ups and downs of multilingual relationships, of which I have had some of my own experiences.

Dating Sites

Before there can be a relationship, a person has to find a possible partner. When you are a language lover, there is an extra dimension to your search. Not only would you like to find someone who enjoys them as much as you do, but you may even want to find someone who speaks a language you want to learn.

This can be very positive thing for you. You have a reason to study more because you have the extra bonus of entering into a caring and supportive exchange. I have seen some people actively using websites like InterPals to find people who speak another language with the intention of learning from them.

There is also a fair amount of relationships blooming when people are getting involved in language exchange programs, in which they are talking with another person for the purpose of learning each other’s languages, but find they are attracted to each other.

What it boils down to is that people want to find a love who connects with them on their most important levels, and for some, language is perhaps the most important of them.

Communicating with Loved One

So, once you find that special someone, speaking their language is important in many ways. If you found this person through the process of working with them in learning a language, then you are already ahead in this area.

However, if you found them through more normal channels, like while visiting another country (or them visiting yours), meeting them through something non-language related online (these things do exist, trust me), or perhaps just in your own neighbourhood, then you will have to work a bit harder.

The first thing this does it help bond the two of you closer together. Your partner will know you are truly serious and devoted to them when you are endeavouring to speak with them in their language. There is a quote, attributed to Nelson Mandela that speaks to this at a more general level:

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

So too does your speaking your partner’s language affect their heart. This can also help avoid misunderstandings caused by language differences later in the relationship. As long as you a making the effort, the person is more likely to be forgiving.

Fit in with Friends

The friends of your partner will also view you more favourably when you are speaking their language. You will no longer be regarded as the outsider trying to steal someone from them, but rather, one who cares enough to want to be a part of the group.

It is similar to trying to find the same interests as your partner's friends. If you are dating a woman and all her male friends are into playing music, then you had better at least know about their favourite music if you can't outright learn an instrument yourself. The language connection is just a much deeper connection.

Endear You to Parents

Even more important than winning over the friends will be getting your partner's parents on your side. If they don't approve of you, your relationship will be much harder (unless, of course, your partner and his or her parents don't get along, then you don't have to worry).

Don't be the evil foreigner trying to steal their child away from them. Even more importantly, although your partner might be able to already speak your language (you must be communicating already at some level), the parents may not, so if you can speak to them in theirs, they might just adopt you on the spot.

There is also the advantage that you will be able to understand what they are saying when they discuss you with your partner. That may not sound that important, but just because they smile and are polite to you, they might be trying to talk your partner out of it. Be prepared!

Show Commitment

As has been mentioned already, by learning your partners's language, you are proving not only to them but also their parents and friends that you are serious about the relationship. You aren't just doing this temporarily with plans to move on at a later time.

Do not underestimate how important this is! We are all looking for someone willing to take that extra step to be with us and prove they love us. What could do that more completely then being able to say "I do" in their language?

Don't Need Partner as Interpreter

This one pertains particularly to if you are in a relationship with someone in another country. If you are visiting or living there, then relying on your partner to handle all conversations is likely to put a strain on things. When you are able to handle yourself, you will prove that you are capable and willing to adapt, as well as showing that you aren't helpless. It will also boost your own self-esteem incredibly.

Now the Negatives

What I have said so far is ways in which learning your partner's language can be a good thing, for yourself, for them, and for those around you. However, keep in mind that people also have a way of seeing things in a bad way as well, and your efforts may be misinterpreted and even twisted in the eyes of others.

Friends Think You Are Being Controlled

Let's start with your friends, and let's say you have met this wonderful Italian woman. While she speaks English to a very conversational level, you wish to learn Italian to speak to her in her language.

Unless your friends already know you to be a language learner (and even then, that might not matter), they could view you doing this not because you wish to, but because she is expecting you to. When they see you working extra hard to please her, they might think you are being used or controlled, rather than actually in love.

And they could be correct. Sometimes, a partner will be testing you to see if you really love them, and this could be one of the factors they look at. Love can cause a lot of doubts and fears, and those can become manifest through scrutiny and power struggles. If you are trying so hard to please your partner, they could use that as a way of holding power over you.

Parents Worry You Will Leave

While we talked about the effects on your partner's parents, we also need to look at how your parents feel about it. Many parents fear losing their child to adulthood and marriage, and seeing the commitment you are showing to another is likely to trigger that.

If that Italian woman you have fallen for lives in Italy while you live in the United States, then one of you will have to move eventually if you plan to be married. To a parent, that means you might be moving thousands of miles away. This happens in regular relationships, of course, but when languages are involved, moving to other countries becomes a much greater possibility then, say, moving just a short distance away.

Learning Language Causes Resentment

Just as one of you learning the language of the other can be a bonding factor, it can also be a destroyer. When couples fight, they can bring up comparisons of who is trying harder in a relationship. It might start with complaints about how one person doesn't help enough with house chores and lead to who is giving up more for the other.

If it comes to the latter, than "having" to learn another language could quickly become a weapon. If your Italian girlfriend starts questioning whether you love her or not, you could remind her you learned Italian for her. That instantly turns it into a burden that you had to endure, rather than something you did for love, and you do not want to be adding guilt into an argument if you wish it resolved anytime soon.

Even after the argument, whenever you speak Italian again, she will be reminded of what you said, and that will eat away at her.

Breaking Up and Hating the Language

If, despite your best efforts, the affair finally ends poorly, with you both angry at each other, then all the work you put into the learning could be destroyed. You may find yourself not only hating your partner but also their culture, country and language.

That is perhaps the greatest loss in the break up. You might actually feel relieved about no longer being with the person if it really was a poor matching, but if it turns you against the language, you are losing a major part that was good. It could take you years to be able to look at that language in a positive light again, if ever.

When your Italian girlfriend gets involved with another man and you end the relationship, you will probably want to close off everything related to her. You not only get rid of everything associated with her physically, like presents she gave you or pictures of you together, but you also want to turn away from Italy, Italian culture and food, and most definitely the language. How can you ever even think "ti amo" ever again without bitterness?

I can tell you that it is a mistake to do that. A single person is not a culture or language, and even if you linked the two for the purpose of making the relationship stronger, it is a one-way link: your partner is part of the country, but that country is not your partner, and should not be held accountable.

Forgive the country and language.

Take the Step

I will not tell you not to mix languages and relationships, for there are many positive things that can come out of it, and the rewards are far greater than the risks. You can find the love of your life to match the love of your language life and live happily ever after.

You might even fall in love with someone who has no interest in languages and speaks the same languages as you. Stranger things have happened.

Mixing Languages and Relationships
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
Petey: Couple at sunset (title); Couple hugging; Friends around table; Sisters; Airplane loading; Sad couple;

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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