What We Speak

I’m American. My boyfriend is Spanish. The first question nearly anyone asks, given that information, is “What language do you speak?

The short answer- Spanish.

When we started dating I had been in Spain for a year, meaning my Spanish was leagues ahead of his English, which he had only studied in high school. So naturally, we spoke in Spanish. The beginning wasn’t exactly a river of communication. Although I had some experience under my belt, I had a long way to go, and he has always been a saint with my imperfect language skills.


March 2012, hiking in Málaga, much better communicated than five months before

During our first months together there was definitely a lot of repeating, rephrasing, and creativity involved in our conversations. And a whole lot of patience from both sides. He jokes that he always had a “second opportunity,” as he called it, to correct something stupid he had said, because most likely I didn’t understand the first time. But now he most definitely does not have that luxury.

I remember that spending entire weekends in Granada with him and his family and friends, speaking nothing but Spanish for three days straight, was mentally tiring! Now I go days at a time without speaking English without even realizing it.

All right, so we speak Spanish. The next question we always hear. “But he wants to learn English, right?

Of course he does, and he is, just not as fast as I did with Spanish. He is working and studying full-time right now, so he definitely doesn’t have much free time to dedicate to studying English. But merely being around me he’s learning. He remembers more grammar and vocabulary from school than he gives himself credit for. Combine that with time spent with my English-speaking friends here and  listening to my Skype conversations with friends and family, and he is acquiring the language little by little.

Smiles work in all languages

Smiles work in all languages

I can hear the next question coming: Why don’t you speak in English together?

We try. Sometimes. We really should work harder at this. My problem is that I’ve gotten so comfortable speaking Spanish with him that it doesn’t feel natural to do so in English. When there is something I want to say to him, the words come out of my mouth in Spanish faster than I can think of how I would phrase them in English. I never thought it would take a conscious effort to use my native tongue, but I’ve found this to be true with him and many other situations here.

I’m confident that with time more and more English will slip into our conversations. He’s incredibly diligent and when he has the time to dedicate to it, he will learn quickly.

The next stepping stone in the process comes in ten very short days- spending two weeks in California with my family for Christmas, who speaks very little Spanish! That will no doubt be the biggest learning experience he’ll have had to date!

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11 Responses to What We Speak

  1. Ashley King says:

    Amy, I am so happy for you! You two look like you compliment each other well. I’d love to see you when you’re here (if you have time, of course!)

  2. Tomi says:

    Amy, I love ready your blog posts! You guys are ADORABLE!! I hope this year is going great!! Glad you get to be home for the holidays and bring the boyfriend! How exciting! Missing Spain, so send my love!

  3. Kaley says:

    In some ways, you’re lucky. He’s not. I mean, Mario’s English is TOO damn good sometimes! Too easy to speak in English. 🙂 But he’s trying to speak in Spanish now

    • Amy says:

      I do consider myself pretty lucky to have found him! I’m doing the same as Mario now, trying to speak English.

    • Hi Kaley & Amy, in my opinion it’s not about luck, it’s just how it is. I got so tired of people asking me back in the States why my wife and I didn’t speak Spanish together, as if she were my personal Instituto Cervantes. Multilingual relationships happen naturally, not because of some language acquisition imperative. (And by and large, they follow what a friend of mine calls the “first language syndrome,” the couple speaks the language they first met in.)

      It’s great if you can change it up and take turns “practicing” languages with each other, but it’s more important that your relationship not feel forced and awkward. It is hard to explain to others how weird it is for me to try and speak Spanish with my wife one-on-one, after years and years of our relationship evolving in English, or, conversely, how natural it is to do so if we’re in the company of other non-English speakers. (One trick my wife came up with, was that it was easier for us to speak Spanish together while watching a Spanish movie, as if there were a third person, Spanish speaker in the room with us.)

      Besides, I get more than enough language practice with the in-laws and wife’s friends, as I’m sure you both do and will with your partners’ friends and family, and visa versa.

      • Amy says:

        I completely agree. The reason I’m more comfortable speaking in Spanish with him is that it was our first language. I consider myself lucky to be with him because he’s my media naranja, not because he’s my personal Spanish dictionary (that’s just an added bonus). I would like to help him learn English, but it’s not an immediate necessity. It will come with time, and will possibly be more from my family and friends than from me.

  4. Me ha alegrado mucho leer tu historia , Amy. Es toda una demostración de lo que el amor puede hacer cuando el idioma es una barrera.


  5. It sounds like you’ve done really well picking up Spanish! And you’re right, if all else fails, a smile goes a long way. 🙂

  6. Me encanta esta publicacion! I met the man I’m dating a year ago in Spain, he’s from Italy so his first language is Italian, but as he has been living and working in Spain for the past 9 years his second language is Spanish. His English is quite decent, too. When we first met I spoke to him in Spanish as I assumed he knew no English. Now we speak all three to one another (except I only understand the Italian and respond in Spanish or English), people can never follow our conversations lol. People always say language barriers ruin relationships but if you truly work to overcome them, they only further build the love and connection established.

    (by the way now following you! can’t wait to read future posts!)

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