What it’s like to love someone in a second language

So, do you speak to each other in English or Spanish?” is up there as one of the questions I’m most frequently asked about my bilingual relationship — typically by curious strangers, although sometimes by friends who clearly haven’t been paying that much attention. While slightly bizarre, I can understand the curiosity factor about romance in a second language. (And hey, it’s a better, less problematic question than “So, which one of you needs a visa?” Spoiler alert: neither of us.)

I guess it’s to be expected when you’re a Spanish-speaking British woman and your boyfriend is an English-speaking Mexican man.

Long story short, I’m happy to answer the question: We mainly speak to each other in Spanish.

As a native English speaker, this can come with some unexpected frustrations. Primarily speaking in a second language can often leave me feeling confused and angry — especially in the heat of an argument, like when I throw the word estúpido around, thinking it has the same easy breezy meaning as “stupid” in conversational English. (It does not.) And don’t even get me started on innocuous but minor mistranslations —like when I think embarazada means “embarrassed” (it means “pregnant”) — that can blow things way out of proportion and show that appropriate tone can be very tricky to master.

On the flip side, there’s nothing that leaves me feeling more badass and invincible than arguing effectively in a second language. I dare you to defy that bold claim after winning your first argument in a language that is not native to you. Do tread lightly though. Yes, getting mad in another language is one of the most satisfying, bet-you-weren’t-expecting-that moments that any language learner can experience, but it will get you in hot water when you’re doing it with someone you love — just like any lover’s quarrel in your native tongue.

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