Don't Let Language Be a Barrier to L'Amour
Couples who don't speak the same language rely on Google Translate, body language and a lot of eye contact. Even though a language barrier can come with frustrations, as the old saying goes, love always finds a way. A 2016 study indicated couples in binational relationships actually have a higher satisfaction rate than couples of the same nationality.
How is it possible to have such a meaningful relationship if you don't speak the same language? Language barriers aside, how can you manage the challenges of dating someone from a different culture?
According to relationship coaches and language experts, if you're patient and willing to learn, these types of relationships can be very rewarding and long-lasting.
"You have to approach each other with compassion and patience—endless reserves of patience," said Lily Allen-Duenas, the founder of the Wild Yoga Tribe who met her partner in Cambodia on a small island resort. When they first met and fell for each other, her now-husband spoke French and she spoke English.
"It can be frustrating to have to explain things over and over and over again, but it also gives you such a sense of gratitude and accomplishment when you're able to get your message across successfully," she added.
With the help of creative body language and patience, they made it work.
Communicating via Google Translate and body language
With technology such as the real-time voice feature on Google Translate, people should be able to translate their thoughts and get feedback on the spot. The problem? It doesn't always work accurately.
"Google Translate can be excellent for spot-checking specific words or even sentences," explained Ed O'Neill, academic director of UK Language Project. "But it can interrupt the flow too much to be relied on solely."
So while you and your partner can somewhat rely on Google Translate, you'll need to compensate in additional ways.
"Body language saves the day," Allen-Duenas said. "Being able to gesture, mime and mimic things will save you over and over again."
Learning your partner's language
For the relationship to be long-lasting, you're going to need to communicate complex information, which means one or both of you will need to learn the other's language or use a third common language. Without a way to communicate complicated topics, the relationship runs the risk of being shallow. While tools such as body language and translator apps can come in handy, they can't substitute for full and complex discussions.
Attempting to learn your partner's language also adds value to the relationship, shows commitment and helps you get to know them on a deeper level.
"If things get serious, there's a good chance that your partner's family won't speak the same language as you, so you'll need to learn it if you want to have a serious, long-term relationship with your partner," Allen-Duenas pointed out.
When deciding who will learn the other's language, O'Neill noted the process usually happens naturally.
"One person generally speaks slightly better than the other and this imbalance tends to start to expand as you rely on the person who speaks the other's language best," O'Neill explained.
Facing cultural barriers
Even when a couple has overcome the challenge of not being able to communicate verbally, they'll still experience cultural differences. Most people presume the way things are done in their culture is the way things are done everywhere and can be surprised at what their new partner considers normal.
Small everyday agendas such as when to eat, sleep and socialize will need to be discussed, and compromises will need to be reached.
"It's not all about jokes or colloquialisms," Allen-Duenas said. "Your relationship with your new families, your feelings on inviting friends over, social needs, expectations for mealtimes—the list goes on and on and on. It takes a great deal of respect, patience and understanding to work through these differences, but it's worth it in the end."
Once you've put in so much effort to make the relationship work, it becomes a lot more valuable in your eyes.
"There are definitely times when you won't get the cultural references, the idioms or the details of how the person interacts," O'Neill explained. "That said, there are far more benefits. Rich and meaningful relationships can be developed, possibly even richer than if both people spoke the same language as you both need to make that extra effort to make it work."
You might feel left out when your partner is speaking their native language with their friends and you don't understand, and it may get tiring if you're making the effort to speak their language all the time. However, the growing number of international couples indicates the challenges are worth it.
Are you willing to take the leap?