Communication in marriage is hard enough when you come from similar backgrounds. But what if both of you have different native languages? That’s a whole other ballgame. While you may share one common language—either another language separate from your two native languages, or the shared language is one of the native languages—there will be some definite obstacles to overcome.
When you aren’t a native speaker of a particular language, no matter how well you grasp that language later, there will be things you miss. Details here and there. Nuances. Cultural references. Stuff that only someone growing up speaking that language will know and appreciate. Since communication in marriage is so vital to really understanding and connecting with each other, how can you make it all work?
How do people who have grown up with different mother tongues cope during marriage? Here are some ways to overcome obstacles that will inevitably come your way.
- 1. Talk about Expectations
What language will you mostly speak together? What about when you are in different situations, like with your family or your spouse’s family? Remember that your spouse will always feel more comfortable speaking their own mother tongue; they will know all the intricacies, humor, slang, etc., that comes along with intimately knowing a language. And the same goes for you with your mother tongue. Just try to be conscious of what the other person may be feeling about it. If you talk about it and plan ahead, you’ll be better prepared as different things arise.
- 2. Vow to Never Leave the Other Out of the Loop
You never want your spouse to feel left out. So vow now to never leave each other out of the loop. When you are at your family’s house, for example, no doubt you’ll be speaking your native tongue. Whether or not your spouse knows how to speak it, there may be some things that your spouse doesn’t understand. That could be due to not growing up with that language, or it could also be your own family’s little quirks and inside stories. As a couple, you must have each other’s backs. Always watch your spouse to make sure they feel part of what is going on, and check in periodically to make sure they caught all the details. Explain in their native language what they may have missed. Never make them feel dumb for not remembering a word or being able to follow a story.
- 3. Learn Each Other’s Native Language
You may know at least one common language, but it’s important to show your spouse you really care about them. That’s why learning their mother tongue is of vital importance. Plus, consider yourself lucky! You live with a native speaker and can practice speaking with them; that’s one of the best ways to learn another language.
Talk to your spouse about how to do this. Will you only speak their language at certain times or in certain places to force you to stick with it and practice effectively? Or maybe you could read aloud from a book in your spouse’s native tongue each night, and your spouse could help you with pronunciation. Also, you could take a class and then practice speaking with your spouse. The point is to put in the effort. Daily effort is best to ensure you are constantly learning. Plus, you and your spouse will be able to form a strong bond as you work on this together.
- 4. Pick Up on Nonverbal Communication
A glance. A wince. Relaxed or tense. Looking away. Looking interested. Over time you will get to know your spouse in many ways—perhaps one of the most important is their nonverbal cues. These are especially important in a partnership where you each have different mother tongues. Nonverbal communication can tell volumes, especially when there is a language barrier and words can’t capture what is going on. So just be watchful of your spouse’s nonverbal communication.
When you are out with friends, for example, and everyone is mostly speaking using your own mother tongue, you should always gauge how your spouse is feeling by watching them. Is their smile real or forced? Are they acting hurried, so they can leave the event early? Pay attention and either help ease your spouse’s tension or agree on a time to go. Talk about how your spouse felt and what could be done differently next time to make it go better. Maybe even come up with a signal so you and your spouse know when the other needs a little help.
- 5. Embrace Each Other’s Cultures
A big part of who your spouse is has a lot to do with not just their mother tongue, but the culture that goes along with it. Do they have big family get-togethers? Who cares for the elderly? What sorts of cultural dress do they wear and when? You can’t fully embrace another person unless you fully embrace where they came from. This means learning as much as you can about your spouse’s culture. Pay attention to what parts of their culture are the most important to them. How do they celebrate different events and holidays? How does their culture influence how your spouse feels about religion and family and other parts of life? Do your best to bring both of your cultures together and celebrate them equally.
- 6. Make a Pilgrimage
Depending on where you met and live now, you may not have been to your mate’s native land with them by your side. Make it a big priority to go at least once—maybe even every year or so. It will mean so much to your spouse, and you’ll get a first-hand glimpse into who they are. Where they came from had a big influence on them, and it’ll be fun to experience it with your spouse. Perhaps you’ll be able to meet extended family, try some local dishes, and see parts of the world you have never seen before.
Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy, happy marriages. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+ and Pinterest.