did someone muck with the backend here

Re: Language barriers

1

Tarzan/Jane, John Smith/Pocahontas -- in fiction at least the required level of communication is pretty low.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:03 AM
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Depends on how good you are at hand gestures and meaningful glances.

Seriously, though, more power to them but I have never understood how you would overcome language differences of that kind in a marriage, and I kinda like foreign languages and am OK at them.

Even in dating -- I have a friendquaintance, white non-native Chinese speaker who moved to China and got OK at Chinese. Then he dated a Japanese girl he met in China who was (I think) just barely OK in Chinese and had no real English at all. I met them for dinner here and he would for real type into her English/Japanese translation machine (this was pre-IPhone) and they would smile and nod. They dated for I think like 3 years. How is this possible? It is true that this guy was probably more tolerable the less you understood what he was saying.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:12 AM
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bad writing clarification - friendquaintance did not have any Japanese


Posted by: RH | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:13 AM
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My brother met his wife not that long after she came to the U.S from Japan, and she wasn't exactly fluent in English at first.

The story that went around the family was that my brother (as he is still known to do) was saying this or that was "bullshit!". Then he wondered if she know what bullshit meant. He asked her, and she replied, "Yes. It is the sheet of a bull.". It was love.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:19 AM
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5

YOU'D THINK.


Posted by: OPINIONATED PASIPHAË; | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:26 AM
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6

5 is great.

An acquaintance has written about this here:

As my mother rather pointedly asked when I first met Toru, "You have a PhD in English Literature, for god's sake. How are you going to marry a man who speaks Japanese?" What she meant, of course, was, how could I, a writer and college teacher of English & American literature, find contentment with someone who struggles to communicate in the language I'd built my life and career around? Which I had to admit was a fair question.
But being with Toru has taught me that there are surprising benefits to lacking a shared fluency in a romantic relationship. For one, when you are forced to keep communication to a simpler level, sometimes the bond becomes more pure, less complicated. Especially for someone like me, for whom, analyzing everything sometimes gets me into trouble. With my past boyfriends - all native speakers - when they didn't "get" me, I took it as some kind of profound sign of incompatibility, some kind of harbinger of doom.
But really, two people fail to "get" each other a lot, regardless of their language. And because Toru didn't speak much English when I met him (and still isn't perfectly fluent), and I spoke no Japanese (and still don't speak much now), I found those gaps in understanding much less threatening, and I continue to do so most of the time.

Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:31 AM
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There's this line from Whit Stillman's Barcelona that I've always liked, though I haven't put the philosophy into practice:

You see, that's one of the great things about getting involved with someone from a foreign country. You can't take it personally. What's really terrific is that when we act in ways which might objectively seem asshole-ish, or incredibly annoying, they don't get upset at all. They don't take it personally. They just assume it's some national characteristic

Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:41 AM
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7: That makes so much sense, but I remember that I hated that aspect of being an American in Israel - I hated all my odd quirks were explained by my being American.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 12:13 PM
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8: I left out a "that" after "hated" in the 2nd sentence.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 12:14 PM
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10

I love the excerpt in 6.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 12:15 PM
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11

Peep isn't an asshole just because he was born that way, he's an asshole by conscious choice. Like a Baptist.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 12:16 PM
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12

I'm intensely curious about the lower bounds of communication within couples.

Me too.


Posted by: Opinionated Melania Trump | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 2:02 PM
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13

My inlaws never learned even 10 words of English, and, especially in the early years, my German was nothing to write home about. (It's still not very good.) This was good for both sides, because we had to rely on text rather than subtext, and pretty simple text at that.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 5:31 PM
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14

Every German I know speaks near-perfect English.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 6:06 PM
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15

Everyone I know in the greater Pittsburgh area has a college degree.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 7:48 PM
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7 is just a great thing about being an expat in general. I've done any number of deeply stupid things that Chinese people have found unsurprising. They seem to regard foreigners' ability to dress ourselves as a minor miracle.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 7:49 PM
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7, 16 Same. I can get away with a lot just on account of being an American, and especially a New Yorker.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 7:56 PM
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18

15: Same here. Excepting children.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:07 PM
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19

I've been in bilingual relationships, and it always felt hard to me because of the power differential. I've been speaking Spanish for more than half my life, but I still struggle to have any kind of deeply emotional or meaningful conversation. And when I'm angry, I lose a lot of my vocabulary, which I think is not unusual for people in their second/third languages.

So it never felt quite fair to have arguments with a significant other in English, knowing it was his third language. The power differential was so great.

Now I'm back in the dating world again after eight years, and hoo boy are language differences about 800th on my list of things to worry about.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:20 PM
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20

First worry, can you steal a kidney on the first date.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:29 PM
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21

Do you know something about my kidney function that I don't??


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:34 PM
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22

A spare is handy.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:44 PM
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19: I'm sorry to hear that, I think I remember when you first got into thiat relationship. Are you in a good place these days?


Posted by: heebie | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:49 PM
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24

Emotionally or creatinine?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:53 PM
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No, they need a kidney. Try to keep up.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 8:53 PM
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Oof. Good luck, Witt. You're a good'un and deserve like. (I recommend "Did you know that in Japan they use blood types to gauge romantic potential?" as an ice breaker for determining kidney harvest potential.)


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 9:10 PM
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Thanks. I'm over the heartbreak now (it was two years ago) but I didn't want to date again until about six weeks ago, so I'm wading in slowly.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 9:17 PM
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I have an uncle who speaks a different Chinese dialect than his wife (both are Chinese native speakers) and I've wondered if there are times when they've resorted to writing. I don't think either developed fluency in the other's dialect and they came to the US in the 1960s and both kind of speak English. My uncle writes pretty well in English, probably more comfortably than he speaks English. Their kids were born in the US and speak English fluently, but not really much Chinese of any dialect. It's a linguistically complex household.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:16 PM
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And when I'm angry, I lose a lot of my vocabulary, which I think is not unusual for people in their second/third languages

Absolutely. I used to lapse into English with the ex when I got really mad with him. Since we split up I stopped writing to him in Japanese at all (these days we only communicate by email). He can make the effort to understand my language for once.

It is strange how difficult it is to switch languages in any relationship, though, not just a romantic one. I have friends in Japan whom I met early in my time there, with whom I still speak English despite my Japanese having long since outstripped their English ability. Changing the language changes the valence of the relationship completely; it feels as if I'm talking to someone I don't know after all.


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 08- 1-18 11:42 PM
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The passage quoted in 6 is very good and accords with my own (second-hand) experience; over-analysing and over-communicating are the death of many relationships involving intelligent people, and if you don't have an L1 in common and/or come from very different cultural backgrounds then it makes it much easier to accept that from time to time your beloved is going to perpetrate some weird inexplicable shit that you are just going to have to put up with. If you have an L1 in common and come from the same cultural background, your beloved is still going to perpetrate weird inexplicable shit from time to time because that's just part of the human condition, but you will be fooled into thinking that you can understand it, and that way sadness lies.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 1:32 AM
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31

Zug zug!


Posted by: Opinionated Atouk | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 1:50 AM
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32

I'm pretty sure Atouk just said "And how!"


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 2:36 AM
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33

He clearly said "We want pre-nup!"


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 2:52 AM
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34

He must not be a chump.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 3:25 AM
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35

Also, I had exactly two drinks at dinner, and so I've been awake since 2 am, and it's currently 4:30 am, because I'm broken about drinking anymore. At least I had dumb stuff from students that I had to read and could be productive.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 3:27 AM
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36

It's like CrossFit. You need to push yourself until you vomit sometimes.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 4:04 AM
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I don't know, shared language and cultural background is huge for me. At least part of my current massive crush on somebody is that there is an enormous shared frame of reference, even more so than might be expected of somebody of similar age education level and shared hobby. No "two cultures" divide, either.
Still don't know whether there is any interest on the other side or not but I will be spending a few hours tonight on a small boat in moderately close proximity to him (and 3 other people) so I can indulge in some yearning.


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 4:09 AM
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38

I switched languages in the course of my first marriage partly because there was no one else but Anitha who spoke English with any competence for about 20 miles in any direction. So after a year or two we did the whole thing in Swedish more or less and I mostly was a father in Swedish too. But I changed personalities, too, over that period and pretty much grew up. So I was a different and better person while there and would revert to being someone else and I suspect less fun, though completely manic, when we were in England.

I don't think we came unglued because of language, though culture had something to do with it. I had one couple. later, who were very close friends. Both had been married to Swedes and then glommed onto each other in that country. They had both been to Oxford, I think. And the three of us had this macaronic dialect, impenetrable to others, in which we could simply grab for the right phrase in either language and use it with complete confidence we would be understood. While I could in theory have talked like that with my then wife, it would have been different because there would have been some emotional subtext to the choice of language, a distancing or a closeness, which was not present with my friends.


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 4:22 AM
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39

And the three of us had this macaronic dialect, impenetrable to others, in which we could simply grab for the right phrase in either language and use it with complete confidence we would be understood

Yes! I've experienced this with interpreter friends, and hear it when my kids get together with other half-Japanese bilinguals. In Japanese they call it champon, after a noodle dish with lots of mixed ingredients.


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 4:27 AM
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40

Anyway, dating is stressful if you think of it as searching for a partner. That stress can make it harder to find somebody. But if you think of it as a way to steal organs, you can avoid the stress until you find somebody who is more than the sum of their parts.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 4:40 AM
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41

Wins the thread.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 4:47 AM
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42

My aunt met my uncle while he was teaching English in Japan. I assume his Japanese was good enough to get by (but not great), and she was in his English class, so basically a beginner. She moved to the US with him (about 40 years ago), and he translated literally everything for her (still does in some circumstances, or adds context she might not have). She works in a medical field, and her comprehension is fine, although she is shy and self-conscious about her minimal accent. They will speak English for visitors and their adult children, but speak only Japanese to each other. I suspect that my uncle's Japanese continued to expand until they could have any discussion they wanted fairly quickly. I would also guess that the lower bound for communication is pretty low for the first year of a relationship since I figure that's before you need to have any serious discussions where vocabulary or language might actually be limiting since you're busy being smitten.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 5:03 AM
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43

I feel like I'm being disrupted.


Posted by: Shakespeare | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 6:08 AM
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44

The trouble with 40 is that you have to examine all the parts before you can work out what their sum should be, and then there is the messy business of attempted reassembly.


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 8:30 AM
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45

39: you mean like nagasaki champon in that nice restaurant in Museum Street?


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 8:33 AM
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46

I'm over the heartbreak now (it was two years ago) but I didn't want to date again until about six weeks ago, so I'm wading in slowly.

Witt, sorry to hear about that. Good luck on your ventures in dating, and there are friends here if you feel like sharing any of it.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 8:33 AM
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47

45: Yes, that's the one.
40: Obviously you want them to lose their heart to you.


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 8:39 AM
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My best friend is married to a Russian who's lived in the US for ages - she was near fluent when they first got together, long fluent now. He says that even apart from language, the lack of shared cultural reference is a constant hurdle - not being able to refer back to aspects of being a US kid in the eighties or adolescent/young adult in the nineties that natives all rely on unthinkingly. They worked around it, and of course it gets easier as they've been together longer and have more shared reference points. Also, he got to introduce her to the Muppets, which has apparently become her favorite thing in the world.


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 9:23 AM
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I - native English speaker - met a native French speaker in a German language school 6 years ago. We spoke exclusively German badly for the first 6 months of our relationship and then transferred over to English when we moved to America. Speaking badly in German, we developed a small but effective overlapping vocabulary. It was more awkward at first in America, because suddenly neither of us could express what we wanted to say. However, we found lots of ways to enjoy other parts of life - hiking, photography, food (especially food!). A few months ago, we moved to Switzerland where I expected to work on my French at home and work in German. But we split since the move and I might end up using mostly French for work.


Posted by: Nickobrats | Link to this comment | 08- 2-18 12:07 PM
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When J and I met, her English was decent but not outstanding. Certainly capable of pretty advanced conversation, but missing a fair amount of the nuances and insider sophistication that come from being a native speaker. I don't really ever recall it being a problem. I guess there was a fair bit of englishsplaining from me at some points.

The lack of cultural shared references is definitely a thing, but more because she finds me explaining them deeply boring, rather than because they are any kind of barrier. She's been in the UK for 18+ years, so any remotely recent cultural references are shared, and many historic references have leaked in via the general cultural environment.

I think there's almost at least as much of a barrier, tbh, between different parts of the UK. People, esp. from the SE, get confused about just how culturally heterogeneous the UK really is.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 5-18 1:27 PM
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I'll second the comments about cultural barriers within the UK. They are absolutely huge, and involve linguistic taboos as much as anything else. I was brought up to feel that the word "toilet", like the fixture to which it refers, was something you should never put into your mouth.


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 08- 6-18 2:01 AM
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At school, the nuns told us to ask if we could go see a man about a horse.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 6-18 4:04 AM
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My grandfather used to say "see a man about a dog," and when I was very young, I asked "Can I see the dog, too?" So he had to explain, quite embarrassed.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 08- 6-18 4:42 AM
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51: Is this a normal Old World thing? There's accent snobbery in German and the famous "most French people list French as their 2nd language" c.1870.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08- 6-18 4:59 AM
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