When people ask why you’re learning a foreign language, what do you say? Perhaps you’re planning to land a lucrative job abroad or expand your business into a new market? Maybe you’re hoping to be accepted to a prestigious university on the other side of the world? You might just love learning and the joy that mastering a foreign language brings.
These are all widely accepted benefits of language-learning and explain the motivations behind the majority of people taking lessons. But it’s easy to overlook one particular perk: the opportunity for a bilingual romance. Whether it’s a holiday fling which turns into something more serious or a local you meet while working abroad, bilingual relationships can be an unexpected bonus of starting your language learning journey.
Of course, finding love with a partner who hails from another country can be difficult. If you’re not too confident with the language, even asking someone out on a first date can be a business fraught with pitfalls and opportunities for humiliation. In fact, my first forays into a romance in a foreign country were full of language disasters. These included describing myself as a “farmer,” when I mixed up the word with “foreigner,” and telling one date “I was pregnant.” I had meant to say embarrassed.
However, the advantages more than outweigh the occasional confused looks that may greet your attempts to communicate. Below, I’ve compiled what I think are the very best reasons for entering into a bilingual relationship. Any more that you can think of? Add them to the bottom of this article.
Benefit #1: Never look for another study partner again
Finding a reliable study partner to practice with can be hard work. And trying to fit Skype practice sessions into both of your work schedules can be even more difficult. However, a bilingual relationship solves those problems immediately. Lying in bed and confused about how to conjugate a verb? No problem. Eating out at a restaurant and can’t remember the word for “salt shaker”? Your partner’s got it covered.
Benefit #2: Discover a whole new world of culture
Want to watch movies, listen to music and read novels in your target language, but don’t know where to start? Well, your partner is the one to ask. They’ll introduce you to the best films, TV shows, singers and books from their country and be on-hand to help you out with deciphering particularly tricky language when it comes up. Before long, you’ll be hooked on the latest TV dramas and downloading everything you can find by that hot new artist.
Benefit #3: Get a taste for a new cuisine
You may have mastered the culinary treats of your own country, but perhaps you’re a bit bored with the same old meals night-after-night? Well, a bilingual relationship is pretty much guaranteed to serve up a few changes to your tired old diet. Swapping recipes, learning the words for unusual ingredients and picking up a taste for new flavours are all benefits that come with finding love in a different culture.
Benefit #4: Pick up a local accent
It’s unavoidable that after spending so long with a native speaker you start to adopt their linguistic idiosyncrasies. Before long, you’ll be unconsciously copying their intonation, rhythm and particular pronunciation quirks. After a few months of this, don’t be surprised if you get mistaken for a local; a proud moment indeed for any language-learner.
Benefit #5: Find yourself talking about the strangest things
It’s easy to get stuck talking about the same old topics when learning a language: family, hobbies, work and study (yawn!). But as soon as you’re in a bilingual relationship, the conversations can really take a strange turn. The peculiar haircut of that TV presenter? The best way of washing a dog? Which Kardashian you’d eat first if you were stranded on a desert island? Yup, you’re going to pick up new vocabulary from the strangest conversations.
Benefit #6: Learn how their language is really used
So, you’ve been up all night learning a particularly frustrating grammatical structure and you think you’ve finally nailed it. Later, you steer the conversation towards a specific topic so you can show-off your new-found knowledge and bask in the glory of your accomplishment. Your partner listens and replies “Oh, we don’t really say that in my language.” Well, at least now you know.
Benefit #7: Learn the words your language teacher doesn’t want to teach you
Every language has its “bad words” (the ones you really shouldn’t say in front of polite company) and, unsurprisingly, these aren’t usually a first priority when you’re learning a language. However, after a few months in a bilingual relationship, you’ll be familiar with almost all of them. Your partner has just stubbed their toe? Yup, that’s a new word. The referee has just given a red card to the striker of their favourite team? There’s another.
Benefit #8: Learn how to argue (and make up) in a foreign language
Another thing which is lacking in many English courses is what to say when you finally lose your cool. Shouting, complaining and generally throwing a tantrum is made even worse if you can’t actually communicate what you want to say. Yet in a bilingual relationship (or any relationship), these things sometimes arise. But don’t worry, you’ll soon pick up the handy vocabulary you’ll need. And after learning how to argue, there’s only one thing left: learning how to make up!
Benefit #9: Be forced to use your language skills
Expressing your ideas can be one of the hardest things to do in a foreign language. Sometimes you find yourself pointing and smiling instead of trying to muster the language required for a complicated interaction. Well, that just won’t cut it when you’re in a relationship. The upside of this, however, is that by being forced to communicate you gradually become better and better at it. Each difficult conversation you have becomes a little easier as your brain gets used to piecing together the language needed to get your point across. And that’s learning a language in a nutshell!
Benefit #10: Make bilingual babies
Remember how hard you found it to learn your target language? Now think about how you learnt your mother-tongue. That’s right, if you end up having children with your partner, those children are going to grow up in a bilingual household. And that means they start their lives with not one, but two languages. So the only thing to do then is to book them some sessions on italki and get them started on a third!
Hero Image by Tristan Schmurr (CC BY 2.0)