When you first become romantically involved with a person who doesn’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs, you learn that language isn’t as important as you thought it was. “Relationship experts” are always talking about the importance of communication, and blaming the divorce rate on its lack, but verbal communication is far down the list of ways in which couples can interact.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a poet to realize how to take care of someone else. When they are hungry, you feed them, when they want affection you give it. When it’s reciprocated, you notice and are grateful. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Eventually, you develop a common vocabulary you both understand, but those words could be made up, and sometimes are.
I’ve been with Wipa for a year now, and she knew almost no English when I met her. I had studied Thai at the local YMCA, but knew very little. A year later, I still don’t know much. Can’t read or write Thai. My progress as a Thai speaker has been glacial. After a few years of trying I got to speak pretty good Spanish, but I don’t predict the same level or rate of success with Thai. It’s just too damn hard.
When I try to help her learn English, it’s amusing to see how difficult it is for her, and I must conclude that my attempts at speaking are likewise almost incomprehensible. We speak a mixture of English and Thai at home, probably so heavily accented that anyone listening in would have a hard time understanding what was going on.
The great gift of not being able to communicate verbally is that you can’t argue about abstractions. If you’re restless or irritable you can’t take it out on the other person by baiting them into an argument about intimacy or responsibility or a toss around psychological terms used as weapons.
You simply take care of each other and it shows.