In an intercultural relationship, one or both partners often speak a language that is not their mother tongue, their native language. Sometimes one of the partners can speak their mother tongue, for example English, while the one for whom English is a second language has to put significantly more effort and time into communicating with their partner. Not only does this cause some strain, it can also be the source of numerous misunderstandings every day. All the little signs and signals, that are so natural to native speakers of a language, are missed, or misinterpreted, by someone who learned English only at school.
In other relationships, for example when a Finn dates a German-speaking Austrian, both partners are often speaking a foreign language (English) when they talk to one another. While this puts equal strain on both parties, it often happens that the communication lacks some depth. Most often, both partners speaking English works well for the first few weeks or months of dating, but as a relationship becomes more serious, one or the other partner may begin to feel that they cannot fully express themselves to their partner.
Communication is absolutely vital to any relationship being sustained and developing further and more deeply. If both partners are keen on working on their communication, and they are both willing to put a lot of extra effort into communicating in their intercultural relationship, the relationship has a good chance of blossoming. On the other hand, if one or both partners are unwilling or unable to spend substantial time and effort on communicating with each other, the relationship will, most likely, eventually fail.
Of course, the actual information that partners share with each other is important, but there is also the level of communication that makes people feel connected with one another. Intimate relationships are about forging connections with another person, and as human beings, talking is one of the biggest ways that we can connect with one another. This is why communication of a high quality is so important in a relationship, especially as it develops from casual dating into a more serious relationship.
Here are some tips to develop communication in an (intercultural) relationship:
Listen carefully, not critically
When your partner is speaking a non-native language, their sentences will take longer to come together and longer to come out. Be patient, listen carefully, and by all means, don’t cringe at every grammar or pronunciation error.
Pause before finishing another’s sentence: sentences taking longer to come together sometimes results in one partner trying to finish the other’s sentences. While this is sometimes helpful and sometimes necessary, don’t let it become a habit, and when you do do it, make sure that the person has had a chance to find the words at their own pace—don’t jump in while (s)he is still thinking.
Don’t ever laugh at errors
While it’s sometimes difficult not to laugh, many people are very sensitive when speaking a second language. Support your partner’s efforts by keeping that laughter internal.
There are many instances when correcting (politely and in a supporting way) is not only constructive, but can help build your relationship. Finding a way to approach the subject in a neutral way gives you both a good opportunity to connect with one another, and a good opportunity to improve each other’s language skills, to save you from making the same mistake in the future, in front of a less supportive audience.
Take turns in struggling
If you’ve just begun dating someone, you might not each speak the other’s language, but as your relationship develops, many couples become fluent in each other’s languages. When this is the case, it’s always a good idea to reduce the linguistic burden by swapping languages so that sometimes, one partner is struggling in their second language and other times, the other partner is struggling in their second language. Not only is this fair, it gives both partners the experience of being the one speaking the second language. This experience of being the struggler is how we learn how to be supportive when it’s our partner doing the struggling.
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