I spoke very little to no Spanish when I first met my husband.
We were working at the same restaurant.
Even if he could hear me over the chefs yelling and music blasting, he would never respond.
I wanted to figure out why.
His First Words To Me: “No hablo inglés…”
One night after my shift I walked up to him and asked for his name. I watched him punch some words into his phone before he handed it to me.
Google Translate was on the screen blaring the following text:
Hi my name is Javier and I’m from Mexico. Sorry I don’t speak English.
“Oh, have you been to the Mall of America yet?” I asked. Javier smiled awkwardly. Right, he doesn’t understand me. I fumbled with his phone’s keypad to get my message across. The voice on Google Translate reached his ears. He started nodding.
Recalling the very little Spanish I knew, I asked, “Vamos?”
Javier nodded again but then typed, “When are you free?” into Google Translate.
...And I Didn’t Know Much Español
Uh-oh. I didn’t know my days of the week in Spanish. I had to rely on his phone to make sure we could set up a date.
On our first date, we went back and forth with Google translate on our phones in our clumsy attempt to communicate with each other. It was a lot of work. A lot of gesturing and laughing and saying, “huh?”
There were miscommunications. He’d ask me if I was angry (¿estás molesta?) and you can imagine my confusion at hearing a word sound so close to “molest” in English.
One time he asked me what an “asshole” was (he pronounced it ah-shool-lee) and Pandora’s box for groseras opened. Swear words really are easy to pick up!
I Learned Spanish Out of Love
I was finishing up my degree in the Japanese language, so picking up Spanish sounded stressful at first. But I actually loved studying two languages at once.
Years of textbooks and exams drove me to want a better language learning experience. One that was pure immersion. No books, just words.
I was finally able to experience that thanks to the language barrier in my budding romance with Javier.
It wasn’t my love for languages that helped me persist on days when I felt that I would never understand Javier.
It was my love for Javier.
Two years, a wedding, and a baby boy later, we’re still learning how to love each other despite the language barrier and the cultural barrier.
Google Translate occasionally helps out but is thankfully no longer the third wheel.
I hope that our story inspires other families!
If you’re thinking about multilingual parenting, be sure to check out my ebook, Melanintro to Languages.
Do you believe that love can help you learn a language?