A multilingual marriage

One of the things that distinguishes the marriage of Gus and me from others is that we speak different languages. My mother tongue is German, Gus’ mother tongue is Spanish. During the first couple of months of our relationship, Gus and me communicated in English. This was the time when I had just started to learn Spanish and my Spanish was rather ‘bumpy’ at the time. Luckily, Gus speaks well English which definitely doesn’t apply to most Mexicans. After about 4 months of knowing eachother, we changed to Spanish at some point. At first, it was a bit weird. I don’t know if you have ever noticed this, but when you meet somebody new and start communicating with him or her in one language, it is weird to switch the language and you will most likely feel a bit uncomfortable at first. However, if you speak several languages with one person from the beginning of your relationship, it doesn’t feel weird at all to switch between two or more languages with this person. Anyways, this was just a brief moment of weirdness and it was definitely the right decision to switch to Spanish at that point. Communicating in Spanish for us means, that Gus speaks his mother tongue and I always have a slight disadvantage. Of course, this disadvantage was bigger before when I was just learning Spanish and got smaller over time, but it will still always be there. This is nothing bad, it’s just the way it is. On the other hand, I understand (almost) everything Gus says, he however, doesn’t have a clue what I am talking about when I talk in German. To be honest, I don’t know how it feels for him to not be able to understand me in certain situations.

Having a multilingual relationship has a lot of advantages because you have a huge motivation to learn a new language or to get better at a language you already speak in order to improve communication. If both spouses speak several languages, you can switch depending on the people you’re with and either switch to their language or switch to another one if you don’t want them to understand you 😉 It means, understanding your partner in different ‘versions’ and having a connection independent from language. You realize, that communication doesn’t depend on language, because every language has different forms of saying and describing something and these can be pretty different. Depending on the language you talk in, one partner has an advantage and can help the other one in communication. It’s also interesting to see, how body language, tone of voice etc. changes depending on the language you talk in at that moment. Gus’ voice is lower in Spanish than in English, my body language is more expressive in German than in Spanish.

Of course, for Gus the different languages in our relationship can also mean great fun, when he makes a joke that he knows I will have trouble understanding and sees me trying to figure it out (see spanish article ‘Deslices linguisticos’). Or when he makes me say something funny or naughty and I don’t have any idea what it means.

However, sometimes there are also small problems because of the lack of understanding due to different languages. Gus can get impatient when I don’t get him or we simply talk at cross-purposes and get angry. I guess, this happens in every relationship but it can be pretty demotivating or even depressing, when it’s because of the lack of knowledge of another language that you think you speak well. Sometimes I just don’t get why we aren’t on the same page when I think I make myself perfectly clear and don’t see why Gus doesn’t understand me.

Another disadvantage is that there are certain linguistic borders. In German, I would probably make use of a saying that fits the situation perfectly. Then I try to translate the meaning of the saying to him in Spanish and I just see his face with a big interrogation mark and I see that he doesn’t have a clue what I am talking about. So I just leave it at that and think, one day he’ll understand when he can speak German.




2 thoughts on “A multilingual marriage”

  1. Haha, I have never thought about it this way that you can ‘win’ or ‘loose’ an argument depending on the ‘power’ of language! But yes, of course – I guess the linguistic advantage of one spouse and the disadvantage of the other one is best represented in the heat of an argument. It would be interesting to have the exact same argument in the two different languages and see how it goes in each case 😉


  2. Ohh dear! Tell me about it! Every single time we have an argument he always win! Hahaha I find quite difficult sometimes to express myself in English that I do in Spanish. Obviously is my fist lengua!, I told him “if we have this argument in Spanish I will win” and well about the jokes everybody knows British humor is difficult to understand. Lol


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