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Essay

My bilingual marriage

By Kip A. Cates

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Life is full of conflicts. People want different things. It can be hard to find a compromise that satisfies everyone. Especially in an international marriage!

I'm from Canada. My wife is Japanese. When we got married, we had to negotiate different customs, values and ways of thinking. The biggest challenge that we faced, however, wasn't cultural differences. It was language.

My wife had studied in the United States and was eager to maintain her English. Having married a native speaker, she had dreams of speaking English every day until she became fluent.

I'd studied a year of textbook Japanese at college and was eager to improve my conversation skills. Since I'd just acquired a Japanese wife, I had dreams of speaking Japanese every day.

As a result of these competing agendas, we had a basic conflict to solve. What to do?

We finally settled on a simple solution: We decided to take turns! Our plan was to speak each language on alternate days. One day would be "English Day." The following day would be "Japanese Day." This would allow each person to use their language of choice exactly half the time.

We kicked off this new system on a Monday. By mutual agreement, our first day was English Day. This turned out to be very easy for me! The day started off with "Good morning!" and a breakfast chat in English. All day long, my wife and I spoke only English — my mother tongue — and everything went smoothly.

The second day was Japanese Day. This started off with "Ohayo gozaimasu!" Things got harder after that! My Japanese at that time was actually not very good. The problem was that I didn't have enough vocabulary.

As a result, our breakfast chat was slow and labored. It's hard to have a conversation when you don't know enough words! I was constantly using my Japanese-English dictionary. Even the simplest phrases proved a problem.

For example, I needed to ask my wife to "pass the salt." To do so, I had to look up the Japanese word for "pass," then look up the Japanese word for "salt," then try to put these together in a grammatical sentence. It took forever!

My wife was incredibly patient and smiled as she watched me struggle. I started to wonder if she was secretly enjoying the linguistic torture I was going through!

Although the first few months were a challenge, my spoken Japanese gradually improved. My wife as well was pleased at being able to maintain her English. Our system was a success!

When dealing with conflict, it's important to find a compromise that's fair and acceptable to both parties. Good luck finding solutions to the conflicts in your own life!

2言語間の結婚

筆者の妻は日本人。結婚当初、習慣や価値観などの違いに直面したが、最大の問題は言語だった。日本語を話したい筆者と英語を話したい妻。2人が考えた解決策とは?

The Japan Times ST: June 8, 2018

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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