An exchange program allowed me to move to his city for a semester and we agreed that it would be best for me to live with him – not only would we save money, of which I have very little, but we’ve already basically lived together during our visits (with his school and work schedules he can sometimes come and visit me for a month or more). I have been moved in for a month, and though I still love waking up to my boyfriend every morning, I am starting to regret this decision for one big reason: the language barrier.
My boyfriend is from a country where only 5 million people in the world speak his language, so nearly everyone under the age of thirty here speaks English (he is fluent). Though I will take language classes to learn his native tongue (the classes start next week), I am unable to say little more than “thank you” and “good-bye” as there are no classes or tutors for this slightly obscure language in my city in the States. Right now I can only speak to others in English. Yet, when his friends are around, they refuse to speak in English.
They claim, according to my boyfriend, that they cannot sufficiently express themselves in English to carry on a conversation about complicated matters. If I believed this were the case, then I would let it go; however, discussing actors, the movie that my boyfriend and I went to see last night, or the festival going on down the street is not the same as discussing the finer points of current stock market fluctuation. I know that, with a little effort, his friends can talk about casual topics in English, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask them to exert a little in order to include me in those parts of the conversation.
When I begin university in a few days, I’ll begin to form my own circle of friends, pursue my own studies, and, in effect, begin creating my own life here. In spite of this upcoming change, this past month has opened my eyes to how the future could possibly play out and I don’t want to dismiss these feelings. If my boyfriend is content to keep his life as it was when I lived across the Atlantic, meaning to treat me as though I don’t exist when I’m in a room with him and a friend or two, then what will the future hold?
My relationship with my boyfriend is very important to me, and I want to give it more time before calling it quits just because I am incapable of interacting with any of his friends. I am trying to come up with a solution to this problem, and have thought of two. The first is to speak in English when I think I know what’s being talked about and have something to say. The other solution would be moving out on my own. In this way, I can find myself in this new place on my own terms and he can have friends over without causing me to silently question whether I want to stay committed to a relationship where I feel like an accessory at best and invisible at worst while in company. I am hesitant to do this partly because of the money issue and mostly because I feel that I am merely delaying the inevitable and that at some point we will only have to deal with this issue again.
Basically, the already complicated matter of merging our lives after a long distance relationship is further complicated by language. Do I need time to adjust? Do I need to stand up for myself more? Do I need to take action? I’m at a loss as to what to do. — Lost in a Language Barrier
So, let me get this straight: you moved to a foreign country — a move, I’m guessing, you probably planned for at least a few months and to a place where you boyfriend of two years is from — and you only bothered to learn two words of the local language before you got there and yet it’s your boyfriend’s friends who aren’t exerting enough effort to make you feel included?? This is exactly why Americans have an international reputation for being so self-centered and entitled! It’s not the job of your boyfriend’s friends to speak your language in their country. It’s your job to learn theirs (and your excuse about no classes in the States is lame. With the amount of language books and computer programs, not to mention the best resource — your boyfriend — there’s no excuse for you to not have learned more than two words by now). Did you ever think that while you were silently fuming at everyone for not including you in their conversations about movie stars, they were appalled by your complete and utter lack of even the tiniest effort to learn their language? While you’ve been judging them for excluding you, don’t think they haven’t been judging you for your behavior. It’s your responsibility to assimilate. And while your boyfriend should certainly be helping you in that transition — starting with the obvious: teaching you a few words of his language, my god! — and switching to English in group conversations to include you more (or translating for you), the brunt of the responsibility really falls on your shoulders.
The good news here is that you’re beginning language classes next week and you have at least a semester to continue feeling things out. As tempting as it may be to cocoon yourself in a clique of other American/English-speaking exchange students, resist that urge. Don’t move out on your own, but instead, take the next few months to truly immerse yourself in the culture of your boyfriend’s home country. Learn to cook some of the dishes, acquaint yourself with the traditions and customs, learn how to get around by yourself, and speak the language as much as you can — even if it’s just ordering lunch in a deli or asking for directions. So often, foreigners who speak English fluently are much more willing to do so when they see that others are making an effort to speak their language (especially when those people are actually visiting/living in their home country!). It’s a respect thing. Show respect for the culture — including the language — of the country you’re in, and the locals will show you the same respect. Expect everyone to bow down to you because you’re an American or because you’re a native English-speaker, and don’t be shocked when you get the silent treatment in return.
In a nutshell: the more you can learn about the place your boyfriend is from and how well you fit in it, the better prepared you’ll be to make a decision about your long-term future together. Make an effort and it will pay off. Expect everyone else to make the effort instead, and you’ll be screwed.
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