Language Barriers in a Western-Filipino Couple

When I first met the Filipino woman who later became my wife she could barely speak my language. This was not a problem because I am fluent in English and, like many Filipino women, she is fluent in English too, and all the more so because she’s got a college degree.

I have been in this relationship for 20 years now and she is now fluent in Italian and I am fluent in Tagalog. But it took her around 10 years to really become fluent in Italian and it took me, more or less, the same amount of time to master Tagalog to the point of being able to communicate with her in a meaningful way.

I know plenty of Western-Filipino couples where the husband is Italian or from another non-English speaking country (I know French-Filipino couples, German-Filipino couples etc.).

In most cases the Western husband is a well-travelled individual who is fluent in English and few of them are also trying to learn Tagalog.

However I know few couples where the Western mate speaks neither English nor is he trying to learn Tagalog.

Now, what I have noticed is that most Filipinas, when they settle in a non-English speaking country, it really takes them a long while to master the local language.

Here in Italy most Filipinos never really learn the language properly and the kind of job they do (many are live-in domestic helpers) doesn’t offer them the chance to mingle with local people and practice the language. On top of all that I’ve also noticed that Filipinos don’t have a way with languages and grammar. Although my wife is Filipino and I am always surrounded by Filipinos, I have had to study Tagalog by myself because they don’t even know the structure of their own language, let alone being able to explain it to others (Italians are not any better under this aspect though).

So, apart from English, which they learned in the Philippines when they were kids, when they move to a foreign non-English speaking country, they struggle to learn the local language.

So, I guess that if a non-English speaking guy struggles with the English language, he’d probably better improve it before marrying a Filipina because being already in a relationship where he speaks nothing but Italian, French, German or any language that is different from English and she struggles with the language of her husband can lead to huge communication issues.

I know a couple that lives in my neighborhood and they have this communication gap and, sure enough, the relationship is barely coasting along. There might be other problems that I have no knowledge of but certainly the language barrier is a huge obstacle.

I know other couples in which the parents of the Filipino wife live with them and the Western husband is unable to understand what they talk about.

So, in those situations a lot of problems can arise and do actually arise.

Although my wife and I can communicate in English, Italian and Tagalog we still have misunderstandings from time to time and culture shock still requires a lot of effort on both parts.

So, in order not to end up like those couples that only have superficial communication and avoid all the problems that are a consequence of that, non-English speakers who wish to marry a Filipina had better carefully weigh how language barriers might impact their interracial relationship before committing.

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