The Trap of Having a Foreign Girlfriend and Learning a Foreign Language

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” - Ludwig Wittgenstein

Expanding Your Horizons

We all have different reasons to travel, some of us just want to get away to experience: new cultures, food, work, adventure, excitement, romance, or starting a new life. For many a big motivation is because they are either learning or want to learn a foreign language.

Even long term travelers or expats who did not plan on learning the language of their host country because they perceived it as an impossible task, may after a while feel more motivated to tackle it, once they have experienced having little errands turn into a huge thorn in their side. It becomes a necessity and any commensurate improvement in your language abilities translates to an improved quality of life.

When confronted with learning a language many take the traditional route by attending a language school, hiring a tutor, listening to tapes, etc. When you ask for additional advice many people will just say,”just get a girlfriend”. This to many people seems like the secret key to second language acquisition. Sounds great in theory, but challenging to implement in my experience.

The thought of having a sexy French girlfriend who will help me with my conjugation tables is the stuff dreams are made of. This thought alone will motive many. But reality sets in, how do I get a French girlfriend when I can’t speak any French? In most cases, you don’t. To have a decent relationship a certain level of comprehensible and meaningful communication is needed. It’s not impossible, but don’t bank on it. For many people just getting a boy friend or girlfriend is hard enough, and now with the extra variable of a language barrier it becomes that much harder.

Other people will have you think otherwise, you hear stories all the time,“DUDE! you’re gonna get so many girls bro because your American.” I’m not talking about hooking up with a stranger at a bar who is merely infatuated with the idea of trying something new. That’s easy and you usually end up meeting someone who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. I’m talking about a real meaningful relationship.

In my experience most people living abroad will end up dating the available pool of expats. This makes for some interesting couples because for many people they will need to be extra flexible in who they date.

So how do you get a foreign girlfriend? Usually, it’s because you find someone who can speak a decent enough level of your native tongue. When you find one who you actually click with, it’s like striking gold. You start thinking I’m gonna be fluent in no time. So what happens next? Well, you have to remember that your girlfriend may have also been motivated in being with you because she wants to enjoy her hard work of studying all these years. You may not practice as much as you thought.

Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

At the beginning stages of learning a language it’s like being a baby all over again. First you start by saying incomprehensible sounds, then you learn how to crawl by picking up some basic vocabulary, then you start to stand on your two legs by saying, “me tired…. me hungry”. Then hopefully after many times of falling and picking yourself up, you’re off and running saying basic sentences and understanding a little grammar. So if you plan on using your girlfriend to learn another language, shes going to be your mom all over again. Can she handle job? Does she even want to?

Most of my girlfriends were always happy to help me, but if all our time spent together was going to be a language class it would have definitely put a strain on the relationship. It can be very tiring and the other person may sense that you are just using them.

So what ends up happening before most people get passed the basics is that they end up relying on their partners for some of their needs. Going shopping, eating out, filling out paperwork, going to the bank, etc.

So if learning the language is really important to you, you need to communicate that with your partner and come up with a game plan that will benefit both people. Possibly working out some exclusive times throughout the week, where for one hour you help her practice her English, and the next hour you work on your second language. This is what me and my girlfriend do. I help her with her third language Spanish and she helps me with my Korean.

My girlfriend is great because she always encourages me to use Korean. When we hop into the taxi cab, she keeps her mouth shut, the taxi driver looks back at me, and after a few seconds of sometimes stumbling my way through, we’re off to our next destination. When the waiter comes to take our order my girlfriend doesn’t even make eye contact with the waiter and let’s me attempt it on my own, and chiming in to help only when needed.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it makes a huge difference in getting comfortable speaking. She’s constantly pushing me out of my comfort zone with my Korean ability. Do I say some ridiculous stuff sometimes? Yes, all the time…that’s the fun in it…I make her mom and sister laugh all the time. The good news is I’m getting a lot more ooohs and ahhhs lately with my steadily improving Korean.

So that’s my main advice when you have a girlfriend, don’t overly rely on her. It’s incredibly easy for both people to fall into this trap. Make it a point to communicate this with her. It needs to be constantly reaffirmed. Just like a mother helps her baby learn to walk, your girlfriend can play a big role by letting you get a few bumps and bruises.  Keep picking yourself up until you’re a big strong boy ready to take on the world.

If you don’t have a foreign girlfriend but would like one, I encourage you if at all possible to get to intermediate level first. Once you have a general working knowledge of the language, you learn just by hanging out and not it necessarily even being study time. Your time spent together is just an active learning experience, and what you learn often at this point will stick a lot more easily because of context.

Try to immediately use it and reinforce it. Also at this point, if you already bring a decent language level to the table your scale of sexiness shoots through the roof. Any public place serves as a way to meet your future girlfriend. The subway is great if you have a little ‘game’ and can speak a decent amount. You immediately make a nice impression. You can thank me later.

Dating someone foreign can be very challenging, but on the whole for me it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. You learn and experience so much more.

Yes, being a polyglot is very sexy. The more languages you speak the more fish in the sea for you to catch. Happy fishing and happy learning.

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6 Responses to The Trap of Having a Foreign Girlfriend and Learning a Foreign Language

  1. spot on ivan. my thai wife does all the talking for me. i’ve asked her to speak to me in thai first, then english, but it rarely happens. your wife or girlfriend might not really feel like being a language teacher. we can communicate quicker and easier thru our shared language – english. and i am so bad at remembering thai words, let alone catching the tones. i’m in mexico at the moment, and i’m not picking up even simple words. they go in one ear and out the other. but i’m enjoying the effort. and my experience getting around in south east asia is helping. i smile alot, draw a picture of what i want, try to repeat what i am hearing to myself.

  2. Hey Ivan thanks so much for the warning. I plan on moving to France next year for work and I really want to pick the language. I will keep this in mind.

  3. I just don’t want to handle every situation with the reason
    I’m living in my mother language country ..
    That’s men’s job not mine in korea ^^

    And my baby is some good at speaking korean with cute voice

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