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While "meeting the parents" is always a nerve-wracking event, the pressure is compounded when there's a language barrier. Not being able to properly communicate with your significant other's parents (not to mention, not being able to compliment their home) can be frustrating—and I say that from experience.
When en route to Colombia to meet my boyfriend's parents for the first time, I remember nervously listening to the latest episode of News in Slow Spanish on the plane in a desperate attempt to refresh my high school Spanish one last time before shaking their hands. Luckily, I could not have asked for a warmer welcome (or a more patient audience as I stumbled through even my most well-rehearsed sentences). Of course, in hindsight, I wish I took learning Spanish much more seriously when I was younger, but over the past three years, I've found that there are ways to make communicating with a language barrier much easier, even when you're not even close to being fluent.
If you're preparing to meet your S.O.'s parents and you're facing a language barrier, here are a few tried-and-true tips for making the process less intimidating.
Learn (and Practice!) Some Key Phrases
If your high school education was anything like mine, your language skills are limited to phrases that are great for asking for directions and ordering off a menu, but not very useful for making small talk beyond anything but the weather. As neurotic as this sounds, I found it really helpful to prepare answers to semi-expected questions like, What do you do? How many siblings do you have? What kind of music do you like?
Knowing that I was meeting not only my significant other's parents, but also members of his immediate and extended family, I wanted to practice in order to feel confident in my responses (plus, I tend to get "deer in the headlights" face when speaking in front of a crowd). For brushing up on reading, listening, and speaking skills, these are the only language learning apps worth downloading in my opinion. But don't stress—when in doubt, your significant other can always act as a translator.
Immerse Yourself in the Language Ahead of Time
When my boyfriend and I were planning our first trip to Colombia, we made a point to spend a few days traveling through the country before I met his parents so I had some time to practice my Spanish on unsuspecting locals first. If your vacation balance (and/or your budget) doesn't allow for an extra-long trip, I highly recommend listening to music or podcasts in the language of your S.O.'s parents to help train your ear to pick up words and phrases. For music, Spotify conveniently has top 50 charts available for most countries. For me, News in Slow was a game changer for immersing myself in Spanish and learning more about local current events.
Remember, Not All Communication Has to Be Verbal
In the moment, you'll quickly realize that you don't need to rely solely on verbal communication to make a good impression. Odds are that you're "meeting the parents" over a meal. If you feel comfortable, don't be shy about offering to help set the table or chop vegetables. These tasks don't require too much talking, and you'll be able to spend time with your S.O.'s family while lending a helping hand. And what makes a better first impression than that?