Japan-aholic

A blog about culture and love in Japan

4 Reasons Why Dating In Your Second Language Is Possible

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There’s so many aspects of cross-cultural relationships that I want to talk about, so I had to start somewhere. When someone finds out that my boyfriend Hitomi (pronounced Hee-to-mee) is Japanese, the questions “Do you speak Japanese? Does he speaks English and/or French?” are somewhere in the Top 5 of the most asked questions. Therefore, I think it’s important to talk about that issue, when your significant other does not share the same native language as you.

Obviously, I think that in any relationship, communication is one of the most important thing. But what do you do when you don’t speak the same language as your partner? Is it really possible to maintain a healthy relationship in that case?

Based on my story, I would say that yes, it’s possible. Here’s four reasons why.

1. Body language is more useful than you think it is

Before I went to Japan, I never understood how much the body language is an important element in our communication with others. This is when I realized that we don’t always talk with our mouth; we also talk with our attitudes, reactions and movements. Sometimes we can’t really see it and we can’t control it consciously, but it’s there and our brain deciphers these movements. That’s how we know if we like someone or not even before they opened their mouth to speak. That’s also partly why we’re attracted to a certain person more than to another. What I’m trying to say is, the language that we speak is not 100% of the communication. It’s an important thing, but it’s not everything.

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We like to take weird pictures…

At first, it’s my boyfriend’s movements and attitude that made me feel safe and attracted to him. It was also very helpful when we didn’t understand each other — we could point at objects or use mimics. We could also express our sense of humour while making impersonations. So even with his broken English and my even more bad Japanese, we were able to have basic conversations that anybody can have when they just met.

But I must admit, even today I don’t understand how we did it. Everytime somebody asks me “How did you two were able to flirt and start dating together?!”, really, I don’t know how to answer. It just happened. We were feeling good together; that’s everything you need when it begins. Of course you can’t make your relationship survives based only on body language, but it’s a good start. And anyway, we didn’t started dating right away; we used something else quite a lot (and still do), which is…

2. Modern technologies

And THIS is how we really got to know each other. God bless technology — I don’t know what I would do without that.

After a couple of days of talking with Hitomi in person, we added each other on Facebook – and that’s where the fun starts. Although tools like “Google Translate” aren’t really perfect — some of those translations make my eyes pop out — it’s still very practical. With Facebook messages, Hitomi and I had a lot more time to think of what we wanted to say and search for the words we didn’t know or didn’t understand. At the same time, I had to go to my second host family in Kyoto, so I was leaving town. We naturally continued to write messages to each other during that time.

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Skype is obviously one of our most loved application

You have the chance of having all kind of technologies at your fingertips; use it. Translation sites, real-time face-to-face applications, instant messages, games, and all this for free. Even the languages aren’t a barrier for cross-cultural conversations anymore. Don’t be afraid of that.

3. You can learn each other’s first language

You should take advantage of the fact you can practice another language everyday with a native (aka your significant other). I can’t express how much this step is important, even though it’s probably obvious. I just love learning his native language, because every days that pass I can understand better where he comes from, his culture, his sense of humour. It’s as if I am rediscovering him each time I get better in Japanese.

See, I have this theory; I believe it’s normal to develop what I like to call “parallel personalities” when you can speak more than one language. I don’t have the exact same reactions, attitudes and sense of humour in English, French or Japanese. In English, I’m more cold and sarcastic; in French, I’m more stubborn and noisy; in Japanese, well — I’m not good enough yet, but I can feel I’ll be a lot more quiet and polite. Maybe it has something to do with the way a language is made and the ability of each person to adapt to a new culture. I feel like using sarcasm is a lot more funny in English than it is in French; in Japan, it’s not common to use it.

That being said, I don’t want to “know” my boyfriend only in English, I also want to “know” him in Japanese. I think the same goes for him — though I suspect his number one goal is being able to talk with my parents (they can barely speak English).

4. You can connect in another language

While you’re trying to become fluent in the native language of your significant other, I believe it is essential to speak together in another language, one that is easy for both of you and in which you already knew the basics before you two met.

When I went in Japan for the first time, I could barely speak Japanese and I only knew hiragana and katana. As for Hitomi, he could speak a few words in English, but he had a huge accent (which I must admit, is really cute). Just like in Canada (Québec), Hitomi had a couple of English classes at his school. But once he graduated, he never really had the occasion to use it again. As a result, he had almost forgotten everything about that language. But when we forget a language, it’s not definitive. It’s just sleeping somewhere in a corner of our brain. By being in touch with this “lost” language, we can learn a lot faster than the first time we did.

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The infamous “Engrish” in Japan, which is always quite funny

Everytime he would make mistakes in English, I would correct him and he corrects my mistakes in Japanese too. Because I talk a lot — he always says I’m a “talker” and he’s a “listener”, and I must admit he is right about that — his English level rised very quickly. In only six months, he became a lot more better in English than me in Japanese, even if I almost study everyday. He still makes some mistakes and doesn’t understand everything I say when I talk quickly (on Skype), but in general, communication is not a problem. Now that he’s good in English, it’s my turn to become better in Japanese. Both parties in a relationship should try to put the same amount of effort in it. Sadly, it hasn’t been the case for us — he made a lot more efforts than I did regarding to speaking languages. He never complained about it though (he almost never complain about anything), but I’ll change that by trying to speak a little bit more in Japanese from time to time.

I believe my English is not too bad. I have an accent and I make mistakes too, but it was more than enough for our relationship. Without English, it would have been  much more difficult to communicate with him (for those who don’t know, my first language is French).

But…

Of course, I would be lying if I said everything’s perfect when a couple don’t share the same native language. There’s days when it’s more difficult and frustration is going up when I — or he — won’t understand a part of the conversation. It’s rare, but it happens. When it does, I usually say “Alright, I will write about it later by messages/Please write about it later” before there’s too much tension. It’s not that we are irritated by each other, it’s more that we are irritated by our own inability to express what we want to say in that moment. There’s also pression on our shoulders: if we want to live together someday (Canada or Japan or anywhere, nothing is decided yet), we’ll have to speak the language of the country we’ll choose. Also, most of his friends and family don’t speak English, so I can’t really talk with them unless I become fluent in Japanese. This is very important for me, so I’m trying to make it possible. We’re doing it step by step, but sometimes I would like to be in the Matrix and just plug a Japanese language software in my brain so I could speak it right away.

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I don’t speak deer-language, but see, they loved me anyway… when I had food in my hands.

Right in the beginning, we both knew that part of our relationship wouldn’t be easy, but we made our choice. The days where I’m feeling depressed about it, I tell myself I’m doing better than yesterday.

Conclusion: dating in your second language, yes, it can be hard sometimes. But it’s not impossible to have a beautiful relationship anyway. It’s fun to teach to each other our own language! And it would be ridiculous to refuse being together with the person we love because we don’t speak the same language. It’s something that obviously can and will get better, and it’s worth it.

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Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is a 20-something years old French-Canadian student and part-time blogger who loves traveling, drawing, listening to (all kind of) music and eating (everything). To achieve one of her biggest dream, she went in Japan for two months and a half as a tourist in 2013. She was an exchange student at Daito Bunka University in Saitama (near Tokyo) during the year 2014 - 2015. She is now studying to eventually become a nurse back in Canada, so she lacks time to write about Japan. You can still read all her posts on her blog, since she'll let them there for you to enjoy :)

12 thoughts on “4 Reasons Why Dating In Your Second Language Is Possible

  1. Wow, it is such a nice change to read a blog of AMWF where English is the second language for both. 🙂
    I think it makes some things even more difficult, but it also equals out the “language unfairness” a bit, as both have to “work” with their communication. Still, in order to experience the “natural” side of a person, I think learning the other’s language is really important (and rewarding). Good luck.

    Another interesting thing on AMWF with a none-American woman is the clash with the common view American culture = Western culture (- VERY wrong)

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  2. I am absolutely thrilled I found your blog. This is something that has been on my mind for quite some time. I have only lived in Japan a year and seven months. My (new as of a week ago) boyfriend Toshiki and I have just begun to get serious now that he has given his “love confession” to me. We will have our first official date once he is on summer vacation from school in a week or so.

    But when he asked me out I was constantly worrying about whether or not the communication between us would work. I have been taking Japanese classes on and off for four years. While my reading comprehension is fairly decent, my listening is ATROCIOUS . But we had our second phone chat last night after reading your blog I took some tips and were on the phone for THREE hours!

    Switching back and forth between broken English and Japanese. While he doesn’t know much English he makes the effort to speak it when he can. And is even willing to learn more for me he says. And 90% of our conversations are in Japanese and he is very patient with me and even corrects me when I say something wrong.

    I am very happy that there are other couples like us out there not letting the language barrier or even cultural differences stop us from finding happiness. Good luck to you and Hitomi and I hope maybe we can all meet someday! ^0^

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    • Hey, another Jasmine like me? 😀

      I’m sooo happy my blog could help you at least a little!
      Don’t worry about the difference of languages. Of course, it sucks, I can’t lie to you. But it’s something that can only get better with time, and also after a couple of months together you really get to know your partner, and even if the language is broken you really understand each other on a deeper level. That’s what I noticed with my boyfriend; sometimes he says only a word and I answer with two, and we get each other, because we know each other’s communication style so well. When he visited my family for the first time, I thought “I wonder if they will understand his English…” because I, of course, can understand it, but I know other people might not be able to. You just get used to your significant other’s way of talking. And you mix two or more languages in a conversation sometimes. I like it; it’s like a special language code for both of you.

      Also, I’m glad your boyfriend is willing to learn more English for you. That’ sa VERY important trait I think. Effort is all that counts in my opinion. It really proves that he wants this relationship to go well.

      Good luck to you too, and let’s meet someday 😀

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      • Omg I just realized your name was Jasmine, too! Lmao! It’s a lucky name apparently! 😀

        Yes! I am also very happy that he is willing to at the very least attempt English especially since he wants to become a Physical Therapist. Still I will agree with you though the accent is the cutest and there are Japanglish words he and I use that I think only we understand.

        If you guys are ever in Nagoya or Gifu (we hang out at this stations a lot) let me know! I love to play tour guide! ^o^

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  3. Pingback: How My Fear Of Long Distance Almost Ruined Everything - Texan in Tokyo

  4. At first, getting frustrated made the other person upset because it was like, “Why are you mad?” but now that we know that it’s natural to have some inward frustration because we can’t express ourselves in the other language, it’s a lot better. It just takes time to understand how the other person works. Both should put in the effort! Your posts are so awesome! Keep it up!

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    • Us too! We would have misunderstanding from time to time (still do sometimes!), but overall it’s all right! Also, it can be a bit tiring to try to express ourselves in another language (my head would hurt sometimes haha!).

      Thank you for reading!

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  5. I completely agree. I understand how difficult it is for my husband to communicate with me sometimes (since we mostly use English) – and I go through phases of just not being able to speak Japanese for a day…

    But there is a lot more to making a relationship work than simply the words that come out of your mouth

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    • Yeah you’re right. I guess we speak the “language of love” anyway! Haha

      Was it difficult to communicate with your husband when you first met him? Or was he already good enough in English (and you in Japanese)?

      Like

  6. yes this is so true!!! 🙂 i enjoyed reading your post.

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