How couples who don’t speak the same language can make their relationship work

How couples who don’t speak the same language can make their relationship work

by Leona Quigley

Updated January 27, 2023

Couples who don’t speak the same first language face many unique challenges that partners from a common background don’t face. These issues can create strains on the relationship but they also have a wonderful potential to enrich and deepen the bond between two people who really care about each other. With a bit of work and compromise dating across a language barrier can be amazing fun and bring about personal growth and learning for both partners. Here’s our quick guide to the trials and tribulations of dating someone who speaks a different language, with advice on how to make it work in your multilingual relationship.

Learn languages at your pace

The challenges of a language barrier in a relationship

1. Trouble connecting

It is for good reason that people will often tell you that communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship. So naturally, a language barrier can make it challenging to create the kind of deep connection with another person that you need for a good relationship. As a native English speaker, dating someone who doesn’t speak English well can be difficult (and vice versa). . 

Misunderstandings can be a source of frustration and tension in a relationship, which is why it is important to remind yourself to approach these challenges with a sense of compassion and patience.

2. Misunderstandings based cultural differences

You should also remember that those who come from different language backgrounds have learned to communicate, express themselves and express affection in different ways. They may be more or less direct in how they communicate and that will come across in their new language. For example, while a native German speaker may be very blunt in bringing across a disagreement,  they might also find native English speakers frustrating if they beat around the bush.r. It’s only fair that you try to understand these cultural differences and learn to avoid unnecessary hurt feelings.

The benefits of dating someone who speaks a different language

1. Getting to know a new culture

Dating someone from a different background to you can really open you up to new experiences and new ways of looking at the world. Remember that when someone comes from a different culture than you they will have a very different perspective on the world. This can be a really enlightening process, which may help you to see value in things you might have overlooked before and perhaps to identify some of your own unchallenged biases.

Learn languages at your pace

2. Traveling together and being a tourist at home

There’s no better way to come to learn to understand your partner and their culture than to visit their home country with them. It’s a great reason to travel and will give you insight into how your partner came to be the person they are today. Traveling with your partner can also be a fun way to strengthen your relationship and get to know how they handle the small stresses and difficulties of traveling internationally.

You can also have a lot of fun introducing them to your home. Showing your partner where you come from and introducing them to the sights and attractions of your native country can be a great way of bonding and seeing what excites them about seeing a new place. Not only that but acting as a tour guide for your partner can make you see your own home in a new light and come to appreciate the richness and history of your own culture.

3. Bonding over helping them to learn your language

While it isn’t always easy to help someone learn your language, if you can approach it with patience and love, and learn to take joy in their accomplishments as a language learner, it can be really rewarding experience for both parties. If you can help them with their language learning process and guide them through the nuances of your culture, they will undoubtedly appreciate your help and this can be a wonderful bonding opportunity for a couple.

Should I learn my boyfriend/girlfriend’s language?

While there are plenty of couples who thrive despite one partner not having a good understanding of the other’s native language, making the effort to learn your partner’s language is a display of dedication that they are sure to appreciate. If you see yourself staying with this person for the long haul, it is important to at least try to master the basics of their language.

While the prospect of learning a new language as an adult might be intimidating, regular practice exposure to a language and even immersion is a great way to springboard the process. While you shouldn’t expect your partner to be a full-time language tutor, hearing them speak their language and having simple conversations with them can really give your language progress a boost. Not to mention that learning to speak with your partner in their native tongue, and therefore getting to know a new side of them, can provide a strong motivation to keep you going when find yourself in a language learning slump.

Love languages

Despite some challenges, we hope you can see now how dating someone who was raised speaking a different language and perhaps doesn’t speak English well can be fun and enriching in so many ways. You can even find the humor in the small hiccups that miscommunication can cause and bond over these experiences. Working through communication problems can also help to work on your non-verbal communication because small gestures of affirmation and physical affection can speak as strongly as anything. With a little care, patience and mutual understanding, overcoming the challenges of a language barrier can help to build the foundation of a strong and loving relationship.

Learn languages at your pace

Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.

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