5 Things That Happen When You Have a Bilingual Relationship

I’m a travel, language and culture junkie, and that extends to my personal relationships. Dating someone with a different nationality and history from you means living a different culture in more ways than one.

Native English speakers are usually the lucky ones in this deal because learning English is standard in a lot of countries. Sometimes I feel bad that Ondra had to go the distance to communicate with me, but he doesn’t feel bad at all. When we met, his English was good, but within a year of being together, it was astronomically better – a side effect of dating one with a major mother tongue.

When I moved to CZ, I knew I would learn Czech – I would learn the language of any country I live in long-term. But of course a big part of my motivation in the language is that most of his family is not English-speaking, and I wanted to repay the huge linguistic debt I felt I owed him by attempting to meet him in the middle of our language abilities. Thankfully, I’ve made a lot of progress in Czech.

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Not only can I use a lot of the slang and idioms I’d use with a native speaker, we’ve developed our own bilingual language and jokes. When we were in the States, we could talk in Czech while negotiating whether to buy something and could assume the shopkeeper couldn’t understand us (yes, I found it really fun to pretend I was not from there). We make endless comparisons and contrasts about our cultures’ ways of communicating. We teach each other about the humor of each other’s languages. We make Czech-merican puns. He translates for me when my attempts to make jokes in Czech don’t work (often enough to be embarrassing) and teaches me how I could have been funnier. And that in itself is ridiculous enough to be funny.

In short, speaking both Czech and English provides a never-ending way to laugh together and explore our connection.

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When you’re in a bilingual relationship…

5. You spend a lot of time fake-arguing about whose language is better – or stupider – as the case may be.

I will never fully understand Czech cases. Specifically, why when sometimes a group of people is five or more, they take on the “neuter” gender and become “it.” I could go on, but Czechs don’t care – at the end of the day, it is what it is.

Neither of us understands why each of our respective languages uses the least logical and stupidest imaginable prepositions (on, at, in, to) in every conceivable situation. Why, why in Czech do you go “towards” the doctor and go “on” a concert? Why, why in English do you ride “in” a car but “on” a bus? Why, in Czech, are you showing me what’s “on” a picture and claiming a restaurant is the best “on” the world, not “in”? Why does English have unbearably weird prefixes, and why can’t I say that someone is “unpatient” or “infriendly”?! Why, in Czech, do I have “brown hairs” and my toes are actually feet fingers? Why, in English, is it the same whether there’s one or fifty sheep, fish, or deer, but mouse –> mice and goose –> geese but moose ≠ meese?

Your language is the stupidest. No, yours is.

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Here we both look the stupidest.

4. Every conversation tends towards a mini grammar lesson.

If you can’t already tell, we have some communication problems. Not on the important things, but all conversations about what we’ll eat for dinner usually turn into discussions about how clauses are defined totally differently between English and Czech, or on why the phrase “for example” should have a semicolon before and a comma after, and why you should never. ever. put a comma before “that” if you want to keep the Grammar Gods (aka me) happy.

Czech, to my great dismay, puts commas before “that” – that and which are kinda the same.

3. Conversations can’t happen without many one-word interruptions to correct the other person’s word choice, grammar or pronunciation.

“…blah blah blah. She’s really sympatic.”

“Likeable.”

“Thanks. So as I was saying…”

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2. While speaking in one language, you use words from the other language freely in your sentences (also called code-switching)

We were having a conversation this morning, and Ondra was saying, “There are many types of jízdní dokláds…” (transit passes)

Code switching on our level goes especially for the words we feel more attached to, or think make more sense, in one or the other language. Or the ones that are just funny. The ones I can think of off the top of my head that I especially love are: zmrzlina (ice cream), stěrka (rubber spatula), myčka (dishwasher), čaj (tea), kafíčko (cup of coffee), selfíčko (selfie) and esemeska (SMS/text message).

If Czech can adopt English words into it, I can adopt them right back into English. 😀

Czech adopts a lot of other English words, like “mainstream,” “smoothie,” “monitor,” and also very common now is “easy” and “finish” – adapted into the verb finišovat.

1. You expand your mind and your relationship.

Honestly, I really love having a partner who speaks another language. I can always ask him to read me bedtime stories in Czech, when I enjoy listening the phonetics of Czech and Ondra’s pacing. We have read books together, like The Phantom Tollbooth and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We watch TV and movies together in both languages. I try to teach him the meaning of English-language poetry.

There’s also the realization that there will always be a part of his mind that I don’t know, a world of memories and education that took place in his mother tongue, and that’s intriguing to me. Between us, there will always more to explore and discover.

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VERONIKA GREGUŠOVÁ

Copywriter & Interviewer

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