Cross-Cultural Marital Communication: Sacrifice, Identity, Choice

Commenter 維特利 recently made this observation:

From reading different blogs I see that there are two kind of situations in mixed families in China:

  1. American husbands speak Chinese with their Chinese wives and therefore wives aren’t fluent in English.
  2. Chinese wives speak English with their American husbands and therefore American husbands aren’t fluent in Chinese.

It looks like that real bilingual families are not easy to find:-)

The comment rings true, and it’s something I always suspected was partly due to language-learning motivation of one of the parties. In my case, I preferred not to date Chinese girls that wanted to speak to me in English because I was in China to practice Chinese, and at least this way I could be sure I wasn’t being used. (I wasn’t just using, of course… I did fall in love.) Still, this explanation isn’t terribly compelling. Not every cross-cultural relationship is sparked by a burning desire to learn a language.

A study by Ingrid Piller called Language choice in bilingual, cross-cultural interpersonal communication examined the languages used by German- and English-speaking cross-cultural couples and made some interesting observations.

In the following excerpt from the study, Deborah speaks English and her husband speaks German:

Deborah: […] well, my husband and I decided to speak English together, and I guess mainly that has to do with the fact, that, when I first arrived here in Germany two years ago his English was considerably better then my German, and in order for us to communicate, even on a basic level, it was- it was necessary for us to speak English. And I think we’ve just kept that up, because it became a habit, and also I think it’s sort of a, … a way for him to offer some sort of sacrifice to ME. because I had to give up, all my things, my culture, my language, my family, and my friends, to move to Germany. and he had everything here around him. And I guess the only thing he COULD offer me was his language. […] it- it’s STRANGE for us when we speak German with each other. because we met in the States, he was teaching German at the university where I had studied. and I had already graduated but he was giving me private lessons. and that’s how we became friends, and we just spoke English together THEN. and we have always spoken English together, and it just seems strange that- that once I came here, that we should then speak German. […]

It’s interesting that Deborah sees her husband speaking English as a sacrifice, because I think both my wife and I see our communication in Chinese rather than English as an opportunity sacrifice for her which was necessary not just because I was enthusiastic about learning Chinese, but also because it’s more important for me to be fluent in Chinese in China than it is for her to be fluent in English in China.

The excerpt above was followed by this analysis (bold mine):

Deborah finds it strange to use the majority language with her husband because that is not what they did when they first met. The fact that couples find it difficult to change from the language of their first meeting to another one can probably be explained with the close relationship between language and identity. In a number of studies in the 1960s, Ervin(-Tripp) (1964; 1968) found that language choice is much more than only the choice to the medium. Rather, content is affected, too. In a number of experiments, that have unfortunately not been replicated since, she demonstrated that in Thematic Apperception Tests (TAT) the content of picture descriptions changed with the language (English or French) a person used. When she asked English-Japanese bilingual women to do a sentence completion test, she got the same dramatic results: the sentence completion changed from one language to the other. Her most famous example is probably that of a woman completing the stimulus “When my wishes conflict with my family…” with “It is a time of great unhappiness” in Japanese, and with “I do what I want” in English (Ervin-Tripp 1968: 203). Likewise, Koven (1998) shows in her study of the narratives of French-Portuguese bilinguals that the self is performed differently in these languages. She argues that these differing performances point to contrasting experiences and positional identities in the two linguistic communities. So, there is evidence that bilinguals say different things in different languages, which makes it quite obvious why intercultural couples stick to the language of their first meeting: they might lose the sense of knowing each other, the sense of connectedness and the rapport derived from knowing what the other will say in advance if they switched.

Very interesting (and a little scary).

Yet I’d still like my wife to know the English-speaking me better, and I would hope that someday not too distant the Chinese-speaking me can converse with a bit more sophistication. Meanwhile, the English-speaking her is shy, but shows a lot of promise.

People change. Identities evolve. Maybe it’s not the norm, but I imagine marital language relationships can develop too.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. On a practical level, just getting a marriage up and running in one language is a bit of a chore. Switching to another language is no small task…I’m sure not everyone thinks making such a switch would be ‘fun’ or even interesting, so basically I just don’t buy this “they might lose the sense of knowing each other…” argument.

    As the example of the Japanese lady shows, one would expect to learn more, not less, about one’s partner by exploring both languages. That’s certainly consistent with my experience….

  2. Very interesting…
    I am in a slightly different situation in that I am French and my wife is Taiwanese. We live in the UK and speak English to each other. This is sort of neutral.
    The problem is that we make very little progress in each other languages.


  3. scary. I’m a different person in a different language? 啊?

  4. In my experience, I met my Korean wife in China – and our primary language of communication was Chinese. We continued this way for most of our relationship, but when we decided to move back to the US, we made the effort to switch over to speaking English, so that it would be easier for my wife to find a job. We’re almost all english-speaking now, but we occasionally use Chinese at work. I’m trying to learn Korean but the motivation is not as strong for me.

  5. What about relationships where people speak two different languages? I guess this doesn’t usually happen between couples, but between parents and kids. I normal speak chinese to my parents, but on occasion when there are non-Chinese speaking guest over, I have to speak English. This is a very strange feeling in that I feel like I’m not really speaking to my parents anymore, like I’m just talking to some random people I know. Then there are significant number of Chinese kids here who speak to their parents in english and their parents reply in Chinese. I wonder how/what that is like, how the emotions behind that is like.

  6. Very interesting post. It could be that there are not so many American women who are married to Chinese men, but I cannot help but wonder if the same pattern is also true.

    My husband is Chinese and we met in the States. Although my Chinese is getting better, we generally communicate in English. The same is true of my Chinese friends (who are competent English speakers); we still speak in English with eachother, and, in fact, it seems quite uncomfortable to speak to them in Chinese.

    I have other friends who have met their husbands in China. One of them only speaks in Chinese to her husband because her husband does not speak much English.

    I think in most relationships, there is going to be a dominant language in which most of the communication takes place. I do wonder if when we move back to the States if we will speak more Chinese to eachother because we will miss being able to speak it.

  7. Cool post.

    I didn’t need no research to tell me that I say completely different stuff in Chinese and English. I guess the intense part of the experience, for a newbie, is when you hit the realization that this simply is DEFINITELY NOT about lacking ‘translation’ ability and taking an easy shortcut of saying something related but different. The nonsense taunting and frivolous stuff you say in one language, basically translatable or not, is just going to be too weird to be usable in another.

    For me I’ve got to deal with my own passive-aggressive issue of refusing to think in English when a girl wants to flip into English. Not to say I’m thinking in Chinese words, but pre-word thought patterns. Then I back translate these patterns into really awkward English to show my resentment, and the interlocutor, having far-from native English, has no idea anything is even wrong. But its kind of cool to read this because I think it does relate back to the identity issue. I’m used to expressing myself to her using the developed Chinese identity, and I resent being pressed by mere use of the English language to at the same time be pressed into activating the associated English identity, which, if a language were truly as surface-level as oft implied, would obviously be unnecessary.

  8. Interesting. I’d agree that both my wife and I have different personalities in the different languages, but I think the fundamentals are the same. My wife is hilarious in Chinese and in English, she just has to take different approaches to be funny in English. I’m talkative in both languages, though I’m certainly less sophisticated in Chinese.

    When we met, though, my wife already spoke English well (and had a solid foundation), and I was motivated to learn Chinese. My Chinese has improved faster than her English, but she started at such a higher point that we’re still pretty much linguistic equals four years later. We both have external, work-related reasons to learn each other’s languages, too, which helps keep both of us going.

    We’ve been conscious of the process throughout, as well. I think our relationship has evolved because we communicate better in both English and Chinese now than we did (though I don’t think there were any real communication difficulties even in the beginning, it just took more work), but in wonderful ways. We have inside jokes that require at least a working knowledge of two (and sometimes three) language to even explain — how cool is that?

    Or maybe we’re not an exception at all, and we got lucky and just like each other’s second-language alter egos as well. 🙂

  9. My girlfriend and I speak mostly in English as her English is far better than my Chinese, but our conversations are not at all limited to English. Lately, as my Chinese has gotten better, we’ve started using much more Chinese. There are a number of inside jokes as well, riffing on her or my own confusion over words plus the addition of Wu and Yue phrases into conversations just for kicks. It makes for pretty heavily encoded text messages in the end.

    Anyway I’d like to speak more Chinese in the relationship and I think she wouldn’t mind the break from dealing with my constant assault of English. The way things are going, I’d be surprised if it causes any major problems.

  10. I’d say pretty much the same thing as John B

    I’d agree that both my wife and I have different
    personalities in the different languages, but I
    think the fundamentals are the same.

    Jodi and I do alternating months of English and Chinese to be fair to each others’ language learning needs, but it’s also a chance to see different parts of our personalities brought out in relief by switching to the other language. I think that it’s enriching to our relationship to be able to know each other this way, and I don’t find it scary. Actually I would recommend that people switch as often as possible so that they can have the experience as well (with the caveat that it takes a lot of patience and understanding to do so well; maybe that’s the scary part?). Its true that Jodi and I have a dominant language, like Yu said, but like John noted that’s a function of the couple’s wishes and not something inevitable, I don’t think.

    To me the most curious cases are ones where both partners are speaking their second language to each other, like a lot of the Chinese-continental-European couples that I see here in Shanghai who speak to each other in English (like Arnaud, above). I’m not sure whether to pity them, or…

  11. I personally know (of) several Flemish-Chinese couples here in Belgium who speak Dutch to their children and outsiders but English – the language they started with – to each other. In more than one case very much to the detriment of the English of both. Basically they have developed a ‘matrimonylect’.
    In at least one case I know the husband can converse in Chinese easily with his parents in law but he absolutely refuses to speak Chinese to his wife. He claims she is insufferably intolerant of his mistakes. Maybe he is confabulating and he only likes her in Chinese 😉

  12. I agree the notion of who is “sacrificing” is far from clear. Giving up your native language can be a blessing if your partner’s ability is low enough to make communication slow or less expressive.

    A quote I like that aptly sums up much of the discussion here: “A second language is a second soul.” Anyone who is bi- or multi-lingual feels the truth of that.

  13. My fiance’s command of Chinese is roughly the equivalent of a high school to university student (but it also depends on the subject he is talking about). When he does speak Chinese, his personality is lighter and more bubbly too, as if he were a 20-year-old. That’s one of the greatest joys of inter-cultural relationships: you keep discovering new angles about each other.

  14. Fascinating post. Every couple is different. There really are a ton of different factors that influence which language the couple ends up speaking.

  15. Fascinating stuff, thanks for posting it. I’m just a Canuck married to an American, but we have friends in Tianjin doing the real cross-cultural marriage thing (American bride speaks Chinese with her Chinese husband, and a Chinese bride speaks English with her American husband).

    I’m curious about the “English-speaking me” and “Chinese-speaking me” experience (“second soul” as one commenter put it), and how relating in different languages causes us to express/understand ourselves differently and grow/develop differently than we would otherwise.

    I also wonder about the difference between a situation where each language merely causes different facets of a person to be expressed and developed, and compartmentalization, where person makes a greater distinction/separation between their English and Chinese selves and seems to operate with two more distinct characters/identities.

  16. Great thought provoking post…I’m still having trouble learning my wife’s native language of Japanese, but as being bilingual in English/Spanish I suppose I agree with the idea that connections made in one tend to remain so…remember feeling really strange speaking to my father in English, which supports that argument. I do think though that like everything else, a marriage can and will evolve (whether you try to speak a different language or not), so you might as well influence it by switching the lingua.

  17. Interesting idea. I do communicate with my wife mostly in English because my Chinese is not at a level to have any useful conversations. Also, my wife wants to improve her English to get a better job in the future. I’m stuck trying to learn Chinese on my own and making failed attempts at communicating with my mother-in-law.

    Maybe things will change when we move to the states and few people will understand us when we speak in Chinese.

  18. In my experience, a lot of couples living in China speak hybrid forms of the two languages, i.e. Chinese with English words liberally sprinkled in and vice versa. Typically, though, I’d say two people naturally retreat to the language in which the mutual communication level is greatest, particularly in relationships as intimate as marriage.

  19. Lisa in Toronto Says: February 25, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
    I have an aboriginal friend whose first language is Oji-Cree, and her husband is a francophone from Quebec. I believe they only ever use English with each other, over about a 30 year period, and that they never learned each other’s first languages. I always wondered how they managed, with a maximum of perhaps a Grade 10 or 12 level of English each. However they have made it work somehow!
    I am still a unilingual (I almost typed UNlingual) anglophone – so I guess I only have one relationship personality. Too bad I am missing out.

  20. I’ve been told by my friends (bi-lingual friends) that I’m a much, much different person when conversing in Chinese. My girlfriend doesn’t see it yet as her English is good, but not acute enough to notice the small feeling (identity?) changes.

    I have Chinese friends that can’t speak English and ones that can, it is strange to switch back and forth when talking to them(Some of them are trying to learn English).

    On another note, I get a little frustrated when speaking Chinese with people and having switch back to English just because it’s a good opportunity for them to study. It’s my ego I wont lie, but I can’t help feeling it’s a little insulting.

  21. Thanks to my wife my Chinese is getting better and better. Her English was already a level 7 on the IELTS exam when we met (which is pretty darn good). But I DEFINITELY agree that we are different when we switch languages. I tend to be curt and short with my wife in Chinese because I don’t know how to be patient and smooth in Chinese yet. I don’t want to be that way though!
    But now we’re debating about our 1 year old boy. We figure we should make sure he can speak both languages!!

  22. I’m a native English speaker living in Taiwan with my native Taiwanese & Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese girlfriend. Her English and my Mandarin are pretty much at the same upper-intermediate level, and when we communicate, I generally speak English with her & she generally speaks Mandarin with me, but both with ample amounts of code-switching. It happens really naturally, I don’t usually even think about what language I’m speaking or hearing.

    What I notice, though, is that when we’re both speaking together with a monolingual person (most often an English-speaker, but sometimes Mandarin-speakers as well), I get annoyed by not being able to code-switch between the two languages, and I feel restrained by only having the one language to use. It feels like my voice has been shackled. If I’m by myself speaking with a monolingual person, however, I don’t notice or care so much.

  23. John, you’re right – your livlihood is dependent on speaking Chinese while in China. Well, when you guys are in America, naturally, English will be spoken more. If not naturally, it’ll be by force, not by choice – the fastest if not best way to learn a non-native language.

    Tuur: trademark that term: “matrimonylect”

    Micah: “Jodi and I do alternating months of English and Chinese to be fair to each others’ language learning needs” — that reminds me of a couple I once knew, they would specifically set dates throughout each week for favors, and not of the linguist nature if you know what I mean. It was fair to each others needs as well.

  24. I met my chinese girlfriend here in the US. About 6 months later started casually taking chinese class. Long story short, I became obsessed with learning chinese (around the same time I quit taking classes – blech) and now two years later we are a truly bilingual couple- though this does lead to some strife. At the beginning of our relationship she was getting comments from her friends about how her english had improved. Now any english screw-up on her part is blamed on my failure to speak english all the time. Admittedly, I am probably the greedy one here. I try to speak chinese as much as possible and get annoyed when she speaks english, especially when recounting conversations she had with chinese friends, or things she read on chinese BBS. The most annoying thing for me is if she starts a sentence in chinese then finishes it in english for no apparent reason. Anyway, I do feel a bit selfish, but my Chinese level is still well below her english level, and I am actively studying chinese while she doesnt seem to have much interest in actively improving her (already good) english.

  25. Ive been married for a few years now to a Chinese woman – we talk exclusively in Chinese 24/7, not because we have to as she does speak high level English, but because we’re used to it. When we first started dating she wanted to talk in English, but she found it unnatural. I dont mind speaking in Chinese 24/7, but it really effects my English level over long periods of time, especially when I have to work from home and really dont have any oral communication with native English speakers.

  26. With my Chinese girlfriend, we are 100% lazy – she speaks Chinese to me, and I speak English to her. Most of the time we both can’t be bothered to force ourselves to speak the other language, so just use whatever’s natural to us.

    Only problem is, when other Chinese people speak to me now, I subconsciously assume they understand when I speak English, and she does the same when talking to other foreigners at work….rants on at them in Chinese, assuming that they get it!

  27. While not in a relationship with this characteristic, I was particularly struck by the sentence that you emphasized: “they might lose the sense of knowing each other, the sense of connectedness and the rapport derived from knowing what the other will say in advance if they switched.”

    Having had experience learning Chinese in China and learning Chinese and German (at different times) at a no-English immersion language learning program (Middlebury), I am always struck at how frustrating it is to get passed basic communication (being understood) and move to a point where one’s personality can come out. Those little words and phrases we say all the time are so vital to social communication and connecting with others.

    This also reminded me of one of the funniest moments of the Middlebury program: namely, the moment when everyone starts speaking English again after weeks of only speaking the target language, and suddenly a classmate sounds like a totally different person.

  28. Henning Says: March 3, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Highly interesting to read through the comments.

    My experience is similar to Jenny’s. My wife has a totally different personality when speaking Chinese – especially when she does not speak to the kids (kids definately need to be factored out of the equation here). Much unlike JohnB case.

    I always thought that a facilitator for this might be speed. When with friends in China, my wife speaks Chinese at a breathtaking pace – which in my opinion has a significant impact on content, mood, and character. The choice of German, however, slows her down significantly and adds a more thoughful, analytic, and sometimes even slightly detached note to her.

  29. They can certainly evolve. I had a rather strange experience to that end; while in China doing an intensive language study program I met a fellow American and we ended up dating. However, since the program required us to speak Chinese 24-7, and I met her only after we had begun that pledge, we were accustomed to speaking to each other in Chinese, and using each others’ Chinese names.

    After the program ended, we returned to the States and continued to date, but the language issue was constant for the first two months. Most strange was the names; having been introduced via Chinese names, it was very strange for us to refer to each other by our “real” names. Additionally, my girlfriend in particular felt that communication was different depending on which language we used, i.e., Chinese was more direct because we lacked the vocabulary and cultural knowledge for much subtlety. She preferred Chinese, actually, but in the end we switched to speaking mostly English simply because constant communication in Chinese made any kind of social situation involving a third party extremely awkward.

    So our relationship began as exclusively in Chinese, but eventually switched to (almost) exclusively English.

    I’m now dating a Chinese girl with English slightly better than my Chinese, and oddly, we haven’t really got a “default” language. Generally, whoever starts the conversation picks a language and it will continue in that language, whichever it may be, until someone switches. Occasionally, we carry on conversations in both languages at the same time (i.e. she speaks in Chinese but I reply in English, or vice versa)

    I don’t know how any of this fits in with the theories above, though.

  30. Me and my wife have gone from speaking slow mandarin mixed with english (Slow mandarin meaning that when she spoke to me she slowed down compared to when speaking with native mandarin speakers), to normal pace mandarin and now we are attempting to speak as much Swedish as possible, since I am Swedish and we live in Sweden. However I find that code switching for me is very hard. When she says something to me in chinese I find it natural to reply in chinese although I know that I should help her Swedish by replying in Swedish instead.

  31. Hi,

    My wife is Filipino and I’m Iranian and we are now living in Shanghai. We speak to each other in…. JAPANESE mixed with ENGLISH. She’s studying Chinese in the university while also tuning in to Chinesepod. But since I’m an expat from Japan, I still haven’t mastered Mandarin yet.


  32. Parsa,
    It makes me wonder: In case you plan for kids, which language would you use with them?

  33. Fascinating stuff. Although my Chinese level is intermediate, I must say I don’t yet notice any sort of ‘second soul’ in the sense of a ‘second personality’. I think my English self and Chinese self are essentially the same. And of my close Chinese friends, whose English is advanced, I would say the same. We often switch languages and converse in both, and I don’t notice any real personality changes with any of us when we switch languages.

    Also, while perhaps there is a bit of a dominant language, since my Chinese is high enough to converse on daily and basic topics comfortably, I honestly think we speak almost a 50-50 split of Chinese and English. Often sentences will be English with Chinese words thrown in and vice versa, although Chinese sentences with English words thrown in are more common. Actually I quite enjoy this blend of languages, and I think its quite entertaining to speak in a mix of languages, throwing both in even within a single sentence. Its much more fun to me than say alternating languages each month as has been mentioned above.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that since I’m in China, my Chinese is continually improving. So as this happens, in my conversations with Chinese friends who have good English, the frequency of speaking English is dropping while the frequency of speaking Chinese is increasing with my ability to speak and understand Chinese. It seems that my friends, although they have good English, if they find they can communicate with me in Chinese and I can understand, they much prefer to speak in Chinese – even to the point of stretching my knowledge where I don’t really understand. Often they will say something to me in Chinese, and if I don’t understand, they will begrudgingly switch to say it in English. So perhaps the language choice can evolve over time as one or both people increase their level of a given language.

    A dynamic that hasn’t been mentioned here, but which I find myself in quite often is with language selection in small groups, say 3 or 4 people. Often it is me (American) with a few other Chinese people. Now at the beginning when my Chinese level was extremely low, the group would, for the most part, ‘sacrifice’ and try to converse in English for my sake, although quickly switching to Chinese if there was something they didn’t want me to understand or couldn’t translate. However, as my Chinese level has increased, this ‘sacrifice’ becomes unnecessary so the conversation is now the opposite, mostly in Chinese unless I need a translation. I would assume that the above mentioned ‘rules’ would still apply in a group setting, i.e. a path tending toward ‘least resistance’, or highest efficiency. However, it would be interesting to see research on group dynamics where say there were multiple nationalities and language at play, or say even no common language. If anyone knows of such articles/research pass them along!

    I think what was mentioned above about each person speaking their native tongue but listening in their second language is quite true and natural. It is much easier to listen and understand in another language than speak it fluently. So I think, if both people have a passing knowledge of the other language, an easy default position to fall back to is each speaking their own language and listening in the other’s language.

    I’ve found this to be true. As I become more comfortable around Chinese friends, in the midst of a fully Chinese conversation I will occasionally find myself blurting out an enthusiastic “Yea I know!” without realizing I’m reverting to English. I think this is because when I feel comfortable around them, I revert to my natural linguistic patterns without realizing it, at least with impulsive outbursts.

    Also, about the names. I completely agree that calling someone by a name that is not in my native language is strange. As in its still strange for me to call anyone by a Chinese name, as it just sounds distant and impersonal. I imagine this would be more so in a marriage relationship. I almost exclusively call my Chinese friends by their English name, and they almost exclusively use my Chinese name, despite which language we are conversing in. I think this is surely a psychological thing, as it feels more personal to call someone by a familiar sounding name. However I assume this could change over time.

    I would be interested to hear what the above couples do about the name situation. Which names would couples use for each other? (not including pet names of course) Do you use names that correspond with the dominant language? When you switch languages do you switch names? Do you switch names based on location, as in which country you are in with that corresponding native language? Do you use a different name in groups or alone? (again not counting pet names)

    I know I’m a bit late commenting on this post, but it was linked to from today’s post. Thanks for the thought provoking info and comments!

  34. […] also reminded me of this interesting article by John Pasden. The connection to the article will make even more sense after you watch the movie. […]

  35. My boyfriend is Indian (but from Birmingham in the UK) I am white, we have been dating for a while now and will start living together soon. Right now he is trying to teach me Hindi, although it is extremely hard im lucky that in India English was the first language, so many hindi speakers use english. Learning his language is very important to me and him, it makes the love grow, which is all that matters in the end. I dont know what we will end up speaking most likely be english.

  36. different experience Says: May 7, 2011 at 1:27 am

    i’m an american who has lived in china for over a decade and i have a fairly high level of chinese. i read through all the posts and found my experience to be quite different.
    i get vibes from chinese people around me suggesting that they would prefer to speak to me in english so that they can improve their english level and get ahead professionally. some of my chinese friends have basically given up on english, so this is not an issue – they are glad to be friends in chinese as there is no other option.
    i’ve just started into a relationship with a partner whose english is as good as my chinese. since we are living in china and i’ve been here so long, i personally would prefer that our relationship could be in chinese, but my partner is quite professionally driven and seems to always want to switch things into chinese. sometimes i find both of us initiating conversations in the other’s language, rather than speaking our native languages. it’s almost like a wrestling match as i would like the relationship to be in chinese and he wants it to be in english. we like each other, but prefer i prefer to know him in chinese and he prefers to know me in english. we like each other, so i think things may work out.
    i get the same feeling at business networking events in china where you meet new people. the chinese are trying their hardest to speak in english while the foreigners are trying their hardest to speak in chinese. it’s like a sad comedy.

  37. different experience Says: May 7, 2011 at 1:31 am

    sorry, just noticed in my above post that i made a mistake in this sentence:

    i personally would prefer that our relationship could be in chinese, but my partner is quite professionally driven and seems to always want to switch things into chinese.

    should have said my partner seems to always want to switch things into english….

  38. […] always spoke in English, then it will be hard to break out of that pattern. And it could even be a little dangerous for the relationship to try to do […]

  39. Another aspect to consider is local dialects. When I am with my wife’s family they mix dialect with Mandarin even in mid-sentence. Drives me up the wall (from a learning perspective).

  40. The article and majority of comments focus on the male being non-Chinese & female being Chinese. In our relationship it’s the other way around. When we met his English was great but I was just starting out in Mandarin so the relationship was established in English. We do speak in Mandarin but only when among Chinese or in matters we want to keep private among non-Mandarin speakers.

    I’d be very interested to see what the trend is among Chinese male with non-Chinese female couples both inside and outside of China and whether which way around the gender is makes any real difference.

  41. When I met my wife (here in the US), her English was poor and my Chinese was very poor, so we spoke only English. I was far more motivated to learn Chinese than she was to learn English, and often expressed my wish that she talk to me more in Chinese. As my level increased, we spoke more and more in Chinese. Now five years later, we speak about 95% of the time in Chinese. I don’t think this has had any negative impact on our relationship. In fact, she is happy that I can speak Chinese, although it was frustrating sometimes for her in the beginning when I was too slow to express myself.

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