A language barrier can be a revealing experience adding a sense of mystery in the primary dating stages. After all, the language of love is said to be universal and holds no bounds.
However when things start to progress, there is a limit to how many “I love you’s” can be exchanged back and forth before you start questioning the emotional validity of the relationship. Have you ended up caught in a hubbub of mutual physical attraction, with only a string of stilted slushy compliments to keep the concept of your ‘relationship’ alight?
You see, relationships with language barriers are not always hunky-dorky, even if at first not a lot of communication of the verbal kind is taking place. After the honeymoon period of snog infested dates, bouts of mini heart attacks upon receiving a WhatsApp and being given heart shaped lollies as big your face, cracks can start appearing and the novelty of having a foreign partner can fade away.
Here are the top 3 hurdles that I faced from the experience of being in a relationship with a language barrier in Spain:
1. NOT TAKING YOU SERIOUSLY ON THINGS THAT MATTER
You may not get into a major tiff over the fact he forgot his mid-week call to you (providing you can even carry out an intelligible conversation on the blower) but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, the really important things that matter to your relationship, communication is crucial.
Sometimes things go wrong between couples. And you can be fuming, livid. But what’s the best way to handle the situation, if you cannot express exactly what you want to say? Your outburst may be dabbled with swear words to make yourself sound more convincing but coupled with a strong accent you may sound more like a foreign chav ranting on The Jeremy Kyle Show than a genuine partner trying to vent your frustration.
And then there is always the male population’s version of verbal torture, also known as the dreaded “where do we stand” talk. After being with someone for a substantial amount of time, you deserve to know your place but going about it is not easy. A few memorised text-book phrases in English (common ones include “you’re my baby” and “you’re my lover”) are popular get-out clauses by foreign folk.
My attempt in proposing the all-too famous question was doomed due to my sheer stupidity of translating literally “Where do I stand” in Spanish and was met with a baffled facial expression and a “err… baby you are standing opposite me” type reply. Thus it’s important to play it smooth but stay firm in order to get a solid answer, showing you mean business and to make sure you are not being used solely as a novelty.
2. DECIPHERING HIS WAY WITH WORDS.
When communicating with your partner, you will start to realise that in other languages there are several ways to express the same concept and subtle nuances can be extracted from different tones and sentence structures. Spanish, a colourful language filled to the brim with metaphors, turn of phrases and subtext is a perfect example to demonstrate this. Unlike English, there are a variety of options in Spanish to convey that you love someone, ranging from the cutesy “me encantas” to the full-fledged “te amo” reminiscent of melodramatic proclamations of love featured in classic Mexican telenovelas.
So how much does he really love you? Is he dying to see you (muriendo de ganas) or does he just want to (teniendo ganas)? When, what time and why? Why does he send you a text saying un beso (equivalent of xx) instead of un besote fuerte (equivalent of xxxxxxxxxx) when saying goodbye? And of course watch out for the medley of slang infused within daily dialogue, creating a new level of gibberish for us to decipher, accompanied by regional variations to make it that bit harder. Of course, it’s easy to read too much into what your partner says or may be implying but having to do even minor detective work in order to settle your language woes can frankly end up being a real headache. After all, the last thing you want to be doing is keep pondering over his subliminal Twitter status’s, wondering what they mean, or if they’re even about you.
3. NOT KNOWING WHAT HE’S REALLY LIKE.
This is a hurdle that can make or break a relationship. Your partner may seem sweet and genuine in one language but a completely different kettle of fish in his native tongue. Without possessing a high linguistic competency in the mutual language you communicate in, it is hard to detect what type of character he really is. Moreover, if there’s a language barrier between your respective friends, you may have lost any solid basis to deeply judge his character. They do say the best way to judge someone is by their friends.
As well as being blissfully unaware of his rough accent resembling someone off a bad soap opera (my partner’s accent was apparently Spain’s answer to Phil Mitchell), you more importantly may not be fully aware of his background, long term goals and beliefs. Cultural differences can also initiate mixed signals, as a Brit inviting you for dinner at 11.30pm may seem more like a booty call than an opportunity to sample gastronomic delights together but for a Spaniard this is a common time to wine and dine.
Trust is one of the biggest issues associated with language barriers as transparency between yourselves cannot be fully ingrained into the relationship. You need to ask yourself if you can be in a relationship where the language barrier could also serve as a hurdle to the trust between you. When it comes down it, communication is the key to trust.
If both parties are willing to put in the effort, your relationship CAN pull through and be extremely rewarding. In my case I was able to effectively jump over the hurdles, achieving fluency in our mutual language (Spanish). However my happy ending wasn’t so rosy, as a bad egg is a bad egg regardless of what language they speak!