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How to make a multilingual relationship work: 6 tips

We all know there’s a ‘language of love’ – but what happens when love is spoken in different languages? Or, more precisely, what happens when two people speaking different languages communicate in a third language – English? Well, the relationship gets more interesting for sure, but it can also get more challenging. We talked to a bunch of people at the EF office who live in multilingual relationships and asked them how they made it work – these six tips are what they highlighted.

1. Communicate

Yes, really. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true – communication is important, and especially in relationships where English is not the first language. After all, misunderstandings can arise quickly (see point 2), and being able to discuss them openly is crucial. The language barrier can also mean that grievances are left undiscussed, since arguing in a foreign language can just be too tiring. Make the extra effort and openly discuss any problems you may have, so things don’t get too complicated down the line.

2. Laugh

Whether you’re both learning English or both have a good grasp of the language, misunderstandings can happen. And mix-ups can happen quickly – just think of words like embarazada in Spanishand embarrassed in English. These two words look and sound the same, and probably mean the same thing, right? Wrong. These two words mean wildly different things – one means ‘embarrassed’, but the second one means ‘pregnant’. And the mix-up is pretty common (really)! The trick is to accept that misunderstandings will happen, and to be able to laugh about them.

3. Be genuinely curious

The more you understand your partner’s culture, the easier it will be to look past misunderstandings. So whether your significant other invites you to attend an, ehm, unusual Christmas tradition (just Google Krampus) or discover a new artist, saying yes will familiarize you with your partner’s culture, and ease any potential frictions.

4. Be flexible and understanding

Despite the fact that you both speak the same language, you may have different communication styles, which may take some getting used to. In some cultures, indirect communication is the norm – winding, elaborate speech that asks for some ‘reading between the lines’. In other places, communication is all about efficiency, and being honest is key. These different communication styles can also affect relationships, and a comment that comes off as ‘blunt’ to you may just be considered ‘honest’ by your partner. The key here is to remain open-minded and flexible!

5. Be patient

Accept the few stumbling blocks that might come your way. Whether you have different conversation styles or just haven’t figured out yet how to argue in English, be patient with yourself – and your partner. It takes some time to adjust to speaking a third language and understand where your partner is coming from. (A bonus point one of our in-house relationship gurus mentioned: when you’re arguing in a language neither of you speak perfectly, you actually end up arguing less because it’s too exhausting and too difficult!)

6. Have fun

At the end of the day, multilingual relationships are extremely enriching and fulfilling. Not only will you get to understand your own culture better, and get to know a new one through your partner, but you will also learn a new language or greatly strengthen an existing skill – it’s an absolute win-win, right?

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