The Couple That Wordplays Together, Stays Together?

A shot of traditional Chinese characters
(photo by am y)

You might call it “lust in translation.” This Chinese-English online quiz, one I agreed to do complete well before I met John, turned into a perfect excuse to visit John a little more often at work. I translated the English words into Chinese, and then brought my work over to him for proofreading. Sure, in between our “how do you say”s and “zenme shuo”s, we flirted a little. But we also learned something too, more than just the right way to say rainjacket or maozi. We made a pretty awesome translation team.

Nearly eight years later, we still help one another with language and translations. John’s my go-to guy for Chinese when I’m stuck on translating a word, and I’m the one he calls on to give his English writing a final check. One week, he tells me about a new Chinese idiom; the next, I’m explaining a new saying in English. You might say we’ve re-written that old cliche — now, the couple that wordplays together, stays together.

I thought about our linguistic give-and-take the other day. We’ve kept this up for so long, and it’s such an egalitarian process that deepens and strengthens who we are and our own relationship. You might say we lean on each other to become better people, and better at what we do. But I also wondered, do bilingual cross-cultural relationships like mine make it easier for couples to become equal partners? Does bringing a different native language to the table encourage lovers and spouses to work together in a beautiful way?

Maybe John and I just lucked out. We both love languages, and we love each other enough to support each other. We also established a bilingual relationship from the start, with equal helpings of English and Chinese, and depend on languages for our work.

I can’t say for sure. But I’ll bet a little flirtation over translation (like, say, a quiz) wouldn’t hurt any fledgling foreign relationship. 😉

What do you think?

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17 thoughts on “The Couple That Wordplays Together, Stays Together?

  • April 9, 2012 at 5:52 am

    I am not in a cross-cultural relationship but I can see where you are going and I can agree with you. Couples in a cross-cultural relationship can use their love or at least interest in the other’s language to bond better by learning from each other. Couples that wordplay together stay together – ha ha, great saying! – and why not! !

  • April 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Sounds like a sweet story. When I dated my Korean ex, although I don’t think I’ve became proficient in Korean tongue, but he told me a lot of stories and we talked a lot, thus helping me understand the Korean culture and where he came from. I’d like to think that the experience I had with him helped prepare me for the future, either story like or unlikely as it seems, future boyfriends.

  • April 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I’d have to agree with you that language can bring a couple closer. When I met Ozcan I had no Turkish at all and while he did teach me a few phrases it didn’t really take. I proofread his thesis though!
    After moving to Turkey it was a real test of our trust as he spoke and listened for me. As my Turkish improved he was the guinea pig before I had the courage to speak out for myself. It is great we can use whichever language is most appropriate. I still proofread his English and he checks my Turkish.

  • April 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    My gf want to learn 中文. I keep discouraging her. I guess I am wrong. Thanks Jocelyn.

  • April 9, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    As a child of parents who speak different languages, I totally agree. Even after 30+ years of marriage, I can sit and listen to my parents discuss (in English) language together, and it’s fascinating. This is what first started my love of learning and later my love of languages. I can currently speak 3.5 languages fluently (haha yes, it is possible to speak half of a language fluently) and am on the lookout for another to begin learning. I’d love to learn Mandarin, but judging from the giggles in my last conversation with a Chinese friend, my pronunciation so far definitely needs work 🙂

  • April 11, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    My husband is better than me at just about everything–except English. That said, he speaks better English than any Chinese person I’ve ever heard. Still, as a native speaker, I have a one-up on him. So, when he asks me questions about English idioms, grammar, etc., I really feel good that I can help him with something. And of course he doesn’t mind me asking him questions about Chinese, although he refuses to speak to me in Chinese even though I speak it fluently, and absolutely cringes at the idea of me wanting to learn his dialect, but, oh well.

  • April 12, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Chinese is not a “difficult” language in term of complexity: rather, it’s the “alien-ness” from an Eurocentric POV, that makes it so hard to master. Most European languages share much of their vocularies due to the Latino-Christian influence, making the learning process relatively easy. In term of difficulty, mastering a single non-Euro language would earn you FAR more bragging right than learning 5-6 Euro languages. Of course, most people don’t seem to realize this.

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  • May 13, 2012 at 3:00 am

    I think the trick for you and John was that you both knew each others languages when you first met.

  • August 24, 2012 at 9:30 am

    @Henry Yeh: Spot on Henry, good comment.

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