Develop a relationship with non-English speaking woman?
December 18, 2014 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I am a US citizen who has met a Cuban woman through a dating website. She lives in the same US city I do. She knows some English, very little. The attraction to me is almost completely physical. She's beautiful, happy, and good spirited. I have seen her sense of humor. We have watched a movie at the theater together and a Spanish language movie at my house. She really enjoyed the Spanish movie, as did I, it being one of my favorite movies of all time. We have been doing most of our communication through texts, using translators. Our next date will be dinner at my home. I am a little nervous because we will probably be trying more conversation this time. So does anyone have any experience or advice for my situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Learn some Spanish. I found watching Novelas on Univision really helpful. The acting is over the top and there are enough cognates so that you can pick it up from context. You might both want to go to ESL classes to help her get her English in shape, and she can help you with Spanish.

You can bond over learning languages.

I would also recommend going to Latin dancing classes. The music is so great and it's a fun thing to do that brings you closer together.

But you really do need to communicate to understand if you can be in a long term relationship. Chemistry is great, but you really do need to be on the same page regarding money and family and religion, etc.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:24 PM on December 18, 2014

Another tip specific to language learning (especially if this turns into a longer term thing): you could both sign up for Duolingo to learn each others' language. Both the website and the app let you see the number of points your friends have earned from doing short bits of practice in the foreign language, which could be a fun little bit of competition.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:09 PM on December 18, 2014

You say your attraction is completely physical at this point, but your title suggests that you hope it will develop into something more substantial.

Whatever your desires, I hope you are making a more than a good faith effort to communicate your intentions to this woman. It's important that you are both on the same page about what you want out of this relationship both in the short term and the long term. Not being 150% clear about this is really not fair (or nice) to this woman.
posted by brookeb at 4:20 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Our next date will be dinner at my home. I am a little nervous because we will probably be trying more conversation this time. So does anyone have any experience or advice for my situation?

I spent some time in the company of an older man who had taken English in high school many years earlier. With a good reason to practice his English (me!), his English improved rather markedly in a very short period of time. I was quite surprised at how much his English improved (I did not speak his native language at all).

Also, if the attraction is mostly physical (as you said) and you are both okay with sex happening, that aspect of my relationship to this particular man went quite well. You don't necessarily need words to communicate in bed.

FWIW, when my parents met, my mother spoke no English and my father's German was so bad, she asked someone at the party where they met what language he was speaking. When they had their first child, she often translated. My mother used to read his love letters while sitting on the toilet because he wrote them in English and then translated them word for word, which isn't a great method for translating, so she would laugh until she peed her pants if she wasn't on the toilet. He would try to write something adoring like "I can't wait to hold you in my arms again" and it would come out angrily like "You just wait 'til I get my hands on you!"

They had three kids together and stayed together until death did them part. My father died last year, after ...about 5.5 decades or so with my mother.

As for advice, I will say that my oldest son had some language learning difficulties and talked late. He was an excellent mime. You can communicate a lot with gestures, voice tone and so on.

I have also been in a other social situations with significant language barriers and had it go pretty well. If you know a little Spanish and she knows a little English and you both really like each other and want to make things work, you can make things work.

For more than the next date, perhaps consider getting a tablet so you can have translation help pretty much any time, anywhere?

Also, I will add that my relationships with men who spoke English as a second language (or third of fourth) were generally more amiable than my relationship to my very articulate American ex husband. Any time we got into an argument, I generally took the sincere position that "I have no idea where you are getting that. I didn't say that. I didn't think that. I think this is a terrible misunderstanding. I am hurting. You are hurting. Can we please not do this?" They were usually happy to let it drop.

My parents had lots of funny stories of their early miscommunications when neither was yet fluent in the other's language. Those fights seemed to be pretty easily forgiven and I took a cue from that when trying to hash things out with foreign men that I spent time with during my divorce.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:49 PM on December 18, 2014 [16 favorites]

One of you has to have basic competency in the others' language. I met my future wife when I barely spoke Japanese, but she spoke basic conversational English. I had tried dating other Japanese women before then who did not speak English, and it didn't work out. Over time I picked up Japanese, so much so that it's our preferred method of communication, and it's what our sons speak at home.
posted by Nevin at 5:50 PM on December 18, 2014

From dating across a language barrier, my advice is that you focus your language learning on the vocab that will be most helpful. This is probably looking a bit far down the line, but once you figure out that you have fun hanging out together, the language barrier isn't a super huge deal until things start to get the tiniest bit serious. The most frustrating part was trying to say "I was disappointed that you didn't show up when you said you would" and only being able to say "I was... not happy today."

A lot of language programs teach you basic verbs but also a lot of vocab that you might not need. So skip the chapter with all the tourist attractions (hotel, museum, airport, train station) and learn how to express feelings (happy, excited, hopeful, sad, worried, embarrassed, upset, lonely, energized), show appreciation (I really appreciate that you, excellent!, thank you), avoid or resolve conflicts (it was hard for me when you, I'm sorry, let's find a compromise), support them (that sounds frustrating / stressful / hard / exciting / like a relief, i know you'll do a good job), and so on.
posted by salvia at 5:55 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Use Skype Translate!
posted by miyabo at 6:12 PM on December 18, 2014

Aside from using electronic translators, another thing that can help is if you have some physical objects to "talk" about. You could show her photographs of people and places that are important to you, and tell very simple stories about what they mean to you, or ask very simple questions about what corresponding people/places she has in her life. The two of you could look through Netflix or your bookshelves and "discuss" the films/books that you like. And if she's coming over for dinner, how about the two of you cook together? Have fun!
posted by feets at 9:14 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know a woman who learned sign to be with her man. They are happy and in love :)
posted by tanktop at 1:26 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am learning Spanish, my partner is Peruvian. His English is pretty good, his accent is strong. He asks me to always correct his mispronunciations, and thanks me when I do.

He teaches me words and phrases, I use Duolingo, we watch Peruvian TV on youtube. I'm planning on a formal class in January in conversational Spanish.

It's a beautiful language and surprisingly easy to pick up -- except for some of the verbs and tenses. That's where I trip up!

His family is visiting soon and speaks no English -- that will be a challenge.

Have fun teaching one another English/Spanish (English will be more difficult to learn, be patient).

And, yes, there is always dancing to beautiful Latino music!
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 7:35 PM on December 19, 2014

Sounds like a great opportunity for you to study/practice Spanish and for her to study/practice English.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:16 AM on December 20, 2014

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