The question of which language to use in an intercultural relationship usually solves itself naturally. In our case we exclusively communicate in Mandarin Chinese.
When I met my husband a few years ago my Chinese was already fairly good, and his English was non-existent to be exact. So naturally our language choice to communicate was Chinese. I remember a post by Jocelyn from Speaking of China about the relationship between language and falling in love. It seems the language you fall in love with someone stays with you throughout the relationship.
I have never really given it a second thought. We communicate in Chinese effortless, and even though Chinese is his native language, he doesn’t have the upper hand. On the contrary, my husband is a quiet person and not very expressive. In an argument he has no chance to win, native language or not. I feel very comfortable talking in Chinese. Of course, the main reason could be because we live in China and we are surrounded by a Chinese speaking world.
But there is a downside to this effortless comfort in our language choice. My husband really wants to improve his English. Over the past years he has learned quite a few words from friends, students, the TV, and even books. But I haven’t taught him a single word.
Why? No, I am not mean or lazy or unwilling. I would love to teach him, but I can’t. It’s not because I am not a teacher (which I am obviously not). It’s not because I don’t have time. It’s also not because he doesn’t want me to. It’s because I feel so awkward to speak in English with him.
Just writing it down makes me realize how incredibly crazy it sounds. I have no problem to turn around and talk in English to my colleagues or in German to my German speaking friends, but every time I try to talk in English to my husband, the words just get stuck in my throat. I feel incredibly silly.
One of his New Year’s resolutions is to study English, and we thought it would be a great idea to just have an English speaking day. For 24 hours I would simply speak in English to him, no matter if he understands or not. In theory the idea seemed brilliant and simple at the same time.
In practice, however… We haven’t managed to have one single English speaking day, and it’s already March! I just feel ridiculous to speak in English to him. It feels as if I am acting and I am not myself. How is it that a whole relationship is founded with a single language?
It’s a dilemma. Maybe things would change if we would be living in an English speaking country where the natural surroundings would force us both to speak English. But maybe even then we would go back to talking in Chinese at home. After all that is the language we fell in love with.
What do you think? Is there a language you fall in love with (something like a ‘relationship language’)? And how can someone overcome the barrier of speaking in another language to their loved ones?
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