Guest Post: 7 of the Best Things about being married to a Non-Native English Speaker

I’m so thrilled to share this fantastic guest post from Grace Mineta of Texan in Tokyo, one of my favorite AMWF blogs. If you haven’t discovered her blog, you’re missing out on one of the best reads in the blogosphere. Thanks so much to Grace for this outstanding submission!

Want to be like Grace and have your voice featured on Speaking of China? Visit my submit a post page for details.


The fact that my husband is a native Japanese speaker is part of the reason we get along so well.

I have a small confession to make – my partner and I look nothing alike. For one, he’s a man and I’m not. So his hair is closely shaved, while my is long and flowing; his muscles, feet, and hands are larger than mine. But those aren’t the differences people usually notice. My husband is Asian (from Japan) and I am white (from Texas).


And like most Japanese people, he is not a native English Speaker. The first time he really took an English class was in cram-school, trying to get into college.

Fast forward six years and his English is advanced enough to quite literally charm my family into letting him marry me and whisk me off to Japan. And aside from not quite being able to understand what the characters from BBC’s Sherlock are saying without subtitles (mostly because he can’t understand British English), my husband Ryosuke doesn’t have any problems with English.

It’s totally not weird to walk in on him pouring over the Steve Job’s Biography (in English) while taking extensive notes (in Japanese) on how to become a “more awesome person, like Jobs.”

But he is not a native English speaker.

And I really, really love the fact that he is not a native English speaker because:

1. He never gets onto me for my atrocious spelling.

A large part of my income comes from my blog, “Texan in Tokyo.” I write about interracial marriage, living in Japan as a foreigner, and other “neat” things about Japan.

But, as commenters point out time and time again, I cannot spell to save my life. I also have problems with grammar.

I was hanging out with a friend yesterday and we were semi-talking about my blog. I brought up the spelling mistakes, and she was just like “Yeah, they’re everywhere, but at least you know you have horrible spelling and grammar. Some people have absolutely no idea.”

I understand it is somewhat shameful for a blogger to not be able to type up even a short, simple post without extensively relying on Microsoft Word Spell-Check… but hey. That’s me.

Even when typing the title for this section, I spelt atrocious like “attrocious.”

But Ryosuke never gets onto me for spelling or grammar.

And I used to think it was because his English wasn’t advanced enough to be able to point out mistakes in English, but it is. If he wanted to, he could do it. He just chooses not to. Or, more specifically, he chooses not to correct my grammar and my spelling.

He loves me. I love him. He doesn’t correct my spelling/grammatical mistakes and I don’t correct his various mistakes (unless it’s for a professional purpose, essay, or cover letter). It is glorious.

2. I could listen to his accent all day

Back in high school, I used to be all on board with “British and French accents are the sexiest things in the world.” Not anymore. Of course, British and French accents are still attractive (as are African accents, I’ve come to realize), but Ryosuke’s accent takes the cake.

Ryosuke’s classically Japanese accent is the most adorable and sexiest thing in the entire world. I could just listen to him talk all day. In fact, I would be able to listen to him talk all day if only I could learn to shut up every once and a while…

[For more, check out: Asian Man/White Woman Relationships- The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly]

3. It is very easy to condition my husband to say the things I like.

When you’re learning another language, you have a tendency to parrot the people around you. For instance, if you are learning English and your friend always says “awesome” to everything, you might start saying “awesome” to everything too.

I like certain words over other words. I think the way the words “fantastic,” “fabulous,” “futile,” “phenomenal,” and “thrilling” roll of the tongue. (Now that I’m writing them out, I realize I might have a fetish for words that begin with an “f”.)

Ryosuke’s vocabulary closely mirrors my own. He calls me fabulous, says my writing is fantastic, my attempts to get him to watch “New Girl” with him are futile, my eyes are phenomenal, and hanging out with me is thrillingly fantastic. He doesn’t have the same kind of attachment I have for English words. To him, anything works. And gradually, over time, his vocabulary has been filled with fantastically wonderful words that I like.

In a similar manner, my speech closely resembles his when I speak Japanese. It used to make my college professor so angry – she thought Ryosuke was “ruining my pretty Japanese.” He probably did.

But that’s what happens when you spend extensive amounts of time with someone. You begin to mirror their mannerisms – especially speech. Now, both Ryosuke and I sound like socially awkward (but somewhat sophisticated) adults when we speak English and like comedic 15 year old boys when we speak Japanese.

4. We get to make up our own words.

The benefit of always learning new words in a foreign language is that it is surprisingly easy to slip in some new, invented words, just for fun. Ryosuke and I often switch between Japanese and English when we talk – and so we’ve come up with a whole list of words that are a mix between the two languages, conveying something that is difficult or complicated to explain.

For example “Sappuri” means “Surprisingly Samui (cold).” We use it when it’s a lot colder outside than we expected. Or the wind is surprisingly cold.

5. We always have our own language to fall back on.

Between our made up words and the constant switching between English and Japanese, Ryouske and I have our very own language. And having your own language is an important tool that facilitates intimacy and closeness – even when you’ve spent the last three days in close proximity with family.

We don’t have to censor what we say around my family and his family – because if it’s a serious concern, awkward question, or inappropriate (or funny) comment, we can use our partner’s language.

6. Our “Spot the ‘Engrish’” Games have a whole other side to them.

One of my favorite things to do is go to the 100yen shops (like the Japanese equivalent of a $1.00 shop, but much cooler and much less sketchy than American dollar stores) and laugh at the misplaced “Engrish” on the products.

Ryosuke enjoys the game as well. We will drive around all afternoon chatting, finding funny English, and eating peach jelly.

However, Ryosuke is also good at explaining why certain things ended up the way they did. He adds a whole extra level to the game – because as a native Japanese speaker who learned English, he can understand why native Japanese speakers who do not understand English write the things they do.

7. When we argue, we don’t get caught up in exactly what the other person is saying.

Our arguments aren’t a “he said, she said” battle. Of course he says socially unacceptable things while we fight – and in the beginning, I used fly off the handle at some of the socially unacceptable things he said.

Now we’ve learned to focus more on what the other person is feeling, rather than what they say. Our arguments are a “safe space” where you don’t have to worry about the other person freaking out if you accidentally say the wrong thing.

[For more, check out: Fighting – Things My Japanese Husband and I Culturally Disagree About]

It’s not fair to Ryouske to fight with complicated words and hidden meanings. We have to be very clear. And oddly enough, that has helped us both be much more honest when it comes to disagreements. He doesn’t have to worry about accidentally saying the wrong thing and I don’t have to worry about loaded up my words with hidden meanings.

Being married to a non-native English speaker is incredibly fun and always interesting. This cross-cultural relationship has opened me up to a whole new way to look at “language,” itself – which is kind of fitting because I write so much.

But then again, I’m partial because I am terribly in love with my husband.

Grace Mineta is a blogger, freelance writer, and fashionista in Tokyo. Married to her college sweetheart, Ryosuke, she spends most of her time hiking, drawing comics, and trying to navigate life as the American wife to a Japanese businessman.


Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

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33 Replies to “Guest Post: 7 of the Best Things about being married to a Non-Native English Speaker”

  1. For us non of us is English native – I try my best to study Cantonese but everyday we talk in ‘English’. It gives us a lot of laugh because I often use English with Polish grammar and to make it more funny he sometimes uses English with Cantonese grammar so ‘You is’ can pop out! Another great thing is the laugh we get when suddenly we speak to each other in our own languages, then realize the other person has no clue what’s going on.
    I don’t even need to mention that I can use ‘it’s not what I meant’ when we argue and I say too much (my dirty little secret 😉 )

    1. Hahaha, how funny!!
      I have a couple other European friends who speak English as a second (or fifth) language – and their Japanese boyfriend/husband’s English is also a bit rusty…

      So they communicate basically in English, but neither really likes speaking English. I always think that kind of stuff is really impressive 🙂

  2. Grace, you’re so funny and smart, all at the same time. Most of all, you’re wise, using what could be a stumbling block in your marriage to bring you closer together and add fun to your lives.

    Your #7 is especially interesting. Couples who speak the same native language can still misunderstand each other. Language is not as precise as we would hope it to be, and people don’t always express themselves well. With your language differences, you and Ryosuke are careful to say things straight out without any hidden meanings. We should all do the same.

    1. Thank you so much. That means a lot, coming from someone who has much more experience than I do.

      I’ve found that some of my most productive arguments have been with Ryosuke because it’s not such a “word war.”I don’t know. I love it.
      (and it helps I have a little bit of an upper hand, since I can think faster in English than he can)

      Always worrying about hidden meanings is exhausting…

    2. Thanks Nicki! I agree, Grace has put together a fantastic post here! And her point on #7 is one I hadn’t even thought of (perhaps because I’ve been married for so long and take it for granted)!

  3. A great post, Grace! Language can be a barrier for a lot of couples, but as you pointed out, it can also be something that makes the marriage interesting!! My husband loves finding Chinglish and pointing it out – we always have a good laugh about it. And maybe I have lived in Taiwan too long because he has corrected my English on one or two occasions which made he feel like a super star!

    1. Thanks 🙂

      My husband also gets SUPER excited when/if he notices an English mistake from one of his American friends on Facebook. I think it’s pretty cool that his English has gotten good enough to recognize mistakes (because my Japanese still isn’t at that point).

      I am ALL for a more interesting marriage. It’s a lot of fun!

  4. I think when you and your partner don’t speak the same language you tend to speak more precisely, as Grace said. Also, if you communicate in a language that is not your mother tongue you don’t usually say that kind of things that you later regret… Well, at least that’s my case, or maybe it has nothing to do with the language, and more with lessons learnt from past relationships!
    I have to confess I don’t like my bf’s accent in English, haha. We always talk in Chinese so I feel weird talking to him in English.
    In Spanish he has a cute accent though, and most of the things he can say are funny… I almost only taught him bad words, hahah.

    1. Hahaha. Wow. That’s so cute. And rather impressive that y’all can speak 3 languages!

      Since my Japanese level isn’t quite native, I’ve found (like you said), it’s really difficult to fixate on something particular he said. I sort of forget the general wording – since it’s not English, it doesn’t stick in my head as much.
      So even if we say stuff we regret – the other person usually can’t remember it the next day 🙂

  5. That’s the beauty of having a partner whose language is different from yours. You can always mix things up and feel that things are not as bad as it would have been between a couple who speak the same language.

    1. Thanks ordinary malaysian! Yeah, it is fun mixing things up! My husband and I often love to speak both Chinese and English in the same sentence (and even his local dialect). It’s like our own private couple language!

  6. #7 is an excellent point. It can take many couples years to learn to focus on the feelings behind an argument, so you two are ahead of the game! 😉

  7. My Korean ex and I spoke in English, English being both of our second languages. If I should get upset about something, I’d start speaking in Russian, and he’s start replying in Korean. Kind of funny I think.

    1. Sometimes when my husband gets VERY mad, he switches to Japanese while he’s yelling. It’s funny – but I also can’t understand most of what he’s saying (and once he lets out steam, he’s usually fine…)

      Languages are such an interesting addition to a relationship.

  8. Grace,
    I thoroughly enjoyed your post. It was laced with humor and your love for each other was very prevalent in your words. It is pure love that unites couples. I literally traveled with you as you revealed the humorous side of your relationship.

  9. As someone who is on the other side of the fence, sometimes speaking English is a real hassle! I am not a native speaker and my bf hasn’t learned much of my mother tongue yet (despite he promised to do so..) so we pretty much communicate in English, which is his mother tongue.

    Don’t get me wrong, it was great for me to master a foreign language and to explore new linguistic tools to express my feelings, but sometimes it would just be so much easier to yell at him in Italian!

  10. It is quite interesting that a FOB Ryosuke was able to marry a nice white girl from the USA despite the fact that he wasn’t even a American Born Japanese. AMWF relationships are difficult enough for the American or Canadian born Asians and for Ryosuke to manage to pull that off, I would like to know how wealthy he is. There must be a significant socioeconomic gap between Ryosuke and his wife for him to overcome this hurdle. Was she from a low income family whereas Ryosuke was from a family of significant means?

  11. It is quite interesting that a FOB Ryosuke was able to marry a nice white girl from the USA despite the fact that he wasn’t even a American Born Japanese. AMWF relationships are difficult enough for the American or Canadian born Asians and for Ryosuke to manage to pull that off, I would like to know how wealthy he is. There must be a significant socioeconomic gap between Ryosuke and his wife for him to overcome this hurdle. Was she from a low income family whereas Ryosuke was from a family of significant means? This really stretches my sociological imagination as a sociology major.

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