How To “Meet The Parents” When There’s A Language Barrier

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The pressure that comes with meeting your S.O.'s parents is real, no matter the circumstances. But, when you can't smoothly compliment their home, ask them about their daily lives, or even make small talk about the weather, that pressure can feel even more intense.
If you don't share a language with your partner's parents, it can seem impossible to get to know them — but not all communication needs to be verbal. With a little preparation, your visit needn't be filled with radio silence, says Judith Kellner, LCSW, a certified EFT couple therapist and adjunct lecturer at New York University's Silver School of Social Work.
For one thing, you can try to learn a few key phrases in their language. Don't let self-consciousness stop you. "It is a nice gesture," Kellner says, adding that you can even ask your partner's parents to teach you a few new words or to correct your pronunciation. Making them a part of the process will show that you accept your differences and are eager to know more.
Plus, getting acquainted with the language when it's just you and your partner (well before meeting their parents) will keep you from feeling like you're going into your visit completely cold.
Speaking of your partner, make sure there's a shared understanding of the role they'll play during the visit. Kellner says it's up to your partner to establish a connection between you and their parents — and then to stick around and translate. Their presence can help maintain a sense of comfort, since they are, after all, the one who brought you and their parents together.
If you're comfortable spending time with your partner's parents alone, they don't need to be your shadow. Offer to help out with tasks that might not require much conversation, like setting the table, preparing the meal (with guidance from their parents), or tidying up before other guests arrive.
Whatever you do, simply acknowledging and expressing curiosity in your partner's background will go a long way. Take the time to learn about their culture's history or read a book translated from their language — even if you can't discuss it at length, your effort will be appreciated.
"Emotions are a universal language," Kellner says. Taking these additional steps to show that you haven't just embraced your partner, but their heritage as well, will resonate on an emotional level with their family — and we can't think of a better first impression than that.
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