Jane is an African from Kenya. She’s lived in the U.S more than a decade. She traveled for her Master’s degree, and she got a job. But that wasn’t all for her; she also met her prince charming while at the University. It’s been great between her and the boyfriend, Jimmy. Well, that was till recently when they traveled over to the fatherland of President Barack Obama and the native of Oscar’s winner Lupita Nyong’o. What happened shocked Jimmy. Now he is expressing doubts.
While in Kenya, in a small village called Ugenya, in Siaya, part of the greater Luo Community, Jimmy spent the night in a grass thatched hut, some distance away from Jane and their family’s bungalow he had helped build. “Why would they make me spend the night in the cold in a tiny shackle away from her and everyone else,” he wondered. Again, deep down he thought he was demeaned. So he sought answers from Jane, who mumbled something in Luo, “chik,” tradition.
“What the f*** is that?” he so wished he’d understand better, only that Jane who would explain had dashed off not to be seen by an elderly man who passed them by wielding a ‘walking stick.’ With him was a young man, Jane’s cousin Onyango, who struggled to translate his surroundings. But Jimmy’s attention was however drawn to a group of young girls sitting by another hut who at the time were looking at him rather strangely, chatting in a language obviously foreign to him.
From that moment on, a lot happened. And Jimmy is left nursing doubts whether he will actually put a ring on her while Jane is struggling to control the damage. Now, it happens this is not unique to these two. There are others in interracial relationships going through worse or having to endure miscommunication, misunderstanding, varying expectations among others as a result of language barrier and cultural difference between them and their spouses. Theirs is to learn a new language for love and family if perhaps that would help them understand their partners and in-laws better.
For the record, Jane and Jimmy’s situation can be attributed to several things but largely to two; cultural differences and language barrier. Learning a bit of Jane’s native language can help Jimmy understand certain aspects of their culture such ‘chik’ and thus understand that him spending the night in the hut outside the home wasn’t an act to demean him. And that Jane’s running off perhaps was because of a rather conservative cultural background (African) she hails.
There are several significant reasons of learning a new language in such a relationship. First is the aspect of communication itself and the satisfaction it brings being able to understand one another. The truth is, when your partner, in-laws, relatives or friends speak a different language other than yours, generally learning that language will help you to communicate well with them.
The other aspect is culture, and this is a huge concern. Different cultures have different degrees of direct or indirect communication and meanings. Also, there are varying ideologies of what is or not considered appropriate. Your partner might make a comment that sounds crude or hurtful when in fact that wasn’t the intention. In these situations, it would be better to seek clarification. Hopefully, couples will be able to anticipate which topics and or words are considered sensitive.
While cultural expectations have been mentioned, it is important to note that in any relationship, often, partners come with different expectations and that in intercultural or interracial romance, these differences tend to be extreme. Again the truth is that different regions of the world and by extension different cultures have different expectations about dating, marriage, the role of wife/ husband and the role as well as the space between a couple and their in-laws. Often we tend to assume that our version of these standards is the “normal” and forget that other cultures differ.
Learning your partner’s language also helps avoid feeling left out during family conversations. It’s a great way to bond and a very important concern for both partners. About this, you don’t need to understand 100% of the other language. Just getting the gist of it would be enormously helpful. The reason? It creates a more balanced level of communication, in which case both of you can speak your minds comfortably. Furthermore, when children get into the picture, it creates disproposition in the parenting roles if the children shared a language with only, just one parent.