I met a girl in a cafe at an English speaking club while spending a summer in Ukraine. I talked to her enough to get her number but quickly realized that her English level was very basic. I had been studying Russian for about 2 months and my skills in her language weren’t much better. Still, we managed to use what knowledge we had to set up a date for the following weekend.
At first, the idea of going on a date with a pretty Russian speaking girl who knew only a little English seemed exciting, but as the week went by I started to worry and ask myself “She doesn’t speak much English. What on earth are we going to talk about for an entire date?!”.
To make a long story short the date went very well. We were able to meet in the middle of our burgeoning language abilities and not only communicate, but also have a lot of fun. Of course there were mistakes, misunderstandings, awkward silences, and the occasional appeal to Google Translate; but in the end, it all made for great language practice and an enjoyable evening.
It made me realize that dating in a foreign language, even though it can seem scary, is a great way to practice and learn a language. In fact, it might be one of the funnest and most enjoyable ways to increase your language skills.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons of dating in a foreign language, and I’ll give some practical tips for how to combine language learning and dating.
Complete Guide to Dating Someone From Another Country
It provides motivation
Motivation is often a struggle for language learners. In the beginning, a new language is exciting as you progress quickly through the basics. After a while however you hit your first plateau. The language that once seemed so alluring now seems at best tedious or at worst insanely difficult. When you’re dating someone you’re much less likely to give into discouragement during these moments.
This is for two reasons. First, you won’t be alone. Your partner will be there to help you and learn along side you (if he/she is learning your native language). Second, the affection and care you have for your partner will carry over into the language you use to communicate with them. When someone you care about is on the other side of the language you’re learning, it makes a world of difference in your motivation.
The difficulties you encounter in a foreign language won’t seem nearly as bitter when you know that you get to practice it with someone you really like.
It’s practical experience
Dating at its core is a conversation exchange. You’ll be hard pressed to find a situation that uses more practical language than a first date. In the course of an evening, you’ll likely to cover everything from personal introductions, likes and dislikes, to ideas and future plans.
If you learn to date comfortably in a foreign language you will have come far on the road to fluency, and you’ll be able to talk about a range of topics that relate to your personal life.
On the relational side if your partner is learning your native language as you learn his or hers it can really spice your dating activities. Even the most run of the mill dating conversation questions will be exciting for both of you if they are spoken in your respective target languages.
It can be demotivating if it doesn’t work out
If a new romantic relationship can be a boon to your motivation, then the absence of one can also hinder it. If your language learning is invested in your partner and the relationship goes south then there’s a possibility your skills and practice could tank for a little while. Using the language might even hurt for a time as it will remind you of someone you loved and lost.
Communication can be difficult
While dating in a foreign language will feel exciting in the initial phases of dating, as the relationship progresses the language barrier can add extra strain. Ideally, your language skills should grow alongside your closeness with your partner, but this isn’t always the case. You could find yourself wanting to express deeper and more nuanced feelings than you are able to with your language level.
There is also the danger of miscommunication. Communication can be a challenge in any relationship. Misunderstandings and miscommunications happen even when partners share the same native language. When you throw a foreign language in the mix it can add another layer of difficulty and increase the potential for misinterpretations. What’s worse is that should a problem of communication come up, you and your partner may not have the linguistic skills needed to solve it.
How to combine language learning and dating a foreign person
Learn basic phrases
First date questions are usually pretty predictable. Use this to your advantage. Find a list of common dating questions and translate them into your target language. Depending on your language you may also be able to find a list of romantic or dating phrases already translated. Before my date, I was able to find some dating phrases in Russian and it really helped me out.
If you’re able to find some phrases write them out and practice them before the date, either on your own or with a native speaker. You won’t be able to predict exactly how the evening will go, but knowing a handful of useful stock phrases will go a long way in helping you keep the conversation going.
Make a game out of it
Take the basic dating questions and put a slight spin on them. This is something I adapted from teaching basic ESL classes and it works great with dating. Make a few categories of dating questions. If you and your partner’s language levels are basic then keep them simple. On my first date with the Ukrainian girl I used these three: 1) Either/or, 2) What is your favorite?, And do you like? I then made a list of words under each category (like in the picture below).
For the first hour of the date, we took turns picking from the categories and asking each other questions in our native languages. The questions were all personal and interesting so we got to learn more about each other, but they were also basic enough that we were also getting a lot of language practice. It ended up being a lot of fun and time flew by.
If you or your partner’s language level is a bit higher you can change out the question categories for something a bit more interesting. For more advanced levels you can use categories like “Describe the perfect..” (vacation, date, job, etc) or “What was the…?” (most fun day of your life, best meal you’ve ever had, the smartest thing you’ve ever done, etc). If you really want to make things interesting and push your language skills then you could also look up a list of would you rather questions. If you can pull this off in your target language these questions are a lot of fun.
Final thoughts: dating someone from another country
Dating in a foreign language isn’t easy. Not sharing a common language can put some extra bumps in the road for your relationship. That being said, if you find the right person dating in your target language can be a rewarding and truly satisfying experience. Be mindful of the difficulties, but don’t let them scare you away. Most of all relax and have fun practicing your new language with someone special!
Here’s a visual graphic for how to flirt in Spanish!