Monday, November 23, 2009

Superpowers 102: Speaking Husband

My husband is a pretty good guy. He works hard to provide for our family, makes sacrifices, does little things to show he is thinking of us, etc. Overall, I can't complain. Sometimes, though,...let's just say we are both human.

I have come to realize that a large part of our differences comes from speaking two different languages. I thought I was pretty fluent in "Man" since I have 5 brothers and I thought that having 6 sisters had prepared him to speak "Woman". Unfortunately we learned different dialects.

For example, my husband would come home from work and ask innocently "What did you do today?" Now, that is actually what he said but it translated to "I have been working all day long, work that I am compensated for because of my education and experience, which compensation supports you and our family, and now I come home and find you still in pajamas, dirty dishes in the sink, the floor not vacuumed (because it is so covered with stuff you can't SEE the floor), and piles of laundry everywhere which may or may not be clean, and you haven't even started dinner, so WHAT exactly have you been doing all day?"

My reaction would be one of two things, sobbing uncontrollably or defending myself. This happened for years. Not everyday, but often enough. If I started defending myself, sometimes we would argue. Sometimes the argument was "What is wrong with you, woman? All I said is 'How was your day?'" The reply, as all women know, is "NO YOU DIDN"T!!!!" Now, my husband actually says "How was your day?" which somehow leaves less room for wild interpretations.

Of course part of the misinterpretation was my fault. I was the one who felt like an underachiever. That is why I heard things he didn't say. As I have become more accepting of myself, we have less misunderstandings from simple phrases.

Sometimes our roles are reversed. I have often complained that my husband didn't tell me enough about what was going on in his life outside of our home. He sometimes forgot to tell me that his sister had  another baby or that he was getting some kind of recognition at work. Sometimes he mentioned things casually, in passing (while I was trying to help kids with homework and cook dinner and nurse an infant).

Later, he would use these moments as examples of me not listening to him. I would try to argue that  he didn't make a big deal about it so I didn't think it was important. His reply: "I told you about it. That means it's important!" Again, mistranslation between "Man" and "Woman".

After living in foreign countries, where simply using a dictionary was not enough, I have learned a few things about speaking foreign languages.

First, there is more to a language than just the words. Those words have meaning and cultural connotations that can not be explained in a single phrase. That is why "What did you do today?" turned into an attack. It takes time to realize that what we think we are saying and what the other person is hearing are not always to same.

Second, the same phrase can have a very different meaning from one language to another. For my husband "What did you do today?" means "What happened today that was different or exciting?" That is why his answer to that question is "Same as always." It doesn't occur to him that I don't actually know what he does everyday.

Third, learning a new language is fun! Okay, so it is really frustrating sometimes, too. The point is, learning is exciting. It is challenging and rewarding. My husband and I have been married for 10 years. We are much better at speaking each others languages but it didn't happen overnight. It took time and patience. It took work from both sides. I feel really sorry for couples who divorce because of communication problems. I know that they weren't trying hard enough. Maybe they were trying to teach the other person but not learning themselves. I know it takes work, maybe even a translator. But it is so worth it!

I learned German in school. I was disappointed that I was not able to communicate well when we lived there. I was reluctant to expose my flawed skills. I was afraid of making a mistake. Then I moved to Belgium. Then I knew what it was like to REALLY not speak a language! I suddenly felt fluent in German!

The point is, whatever effort we make is a good one. We may know that there is still room for improvement but that doesn't negate the knowledge we have already gained. I have been speaking English for over 30 years and I still learn new words and improve my grammar on a regular basis. Oh, wait. Does that mean in 20 years I still won't speak "Man" as well as my husband? Probably. But I am sure I will speak it better than I do today!


Anonymous said...

Dear Amy,

My comment is not necessarily about this post, although I truly enjoyed it. I want to comment on your blog and say I love what you are doing. You are a truly inspiring person and I´m glad to have known you in high school and found you again. You blog is not only educating, but also brave, personal and sometimes moving. I believe that “to educate” is to bare yourself and let people in, and that is exactly what you are doing.
As you know, English is my not my native language, so I know you wont mind my mistakes. :)

With admiration,
Alex Vukadinovic (Bjelica)

Unknown said...

Thank you, Alex. I appreciate your comments. I am glad you are enjoying the things I have shared. I am also glad to be in touch with you. I remember you complaining about how boring Statesville was. After living in Europe for 8 years I completely understand!
By the way, I think your English is great!