Learning a Language for Love

Ven, gorda, que te voy a dar un beso. Enrique held his arms outstretched as I let the words slowly formulate a sentence in English in my head.

When they did, I pivoted and strode into the bedroom, pouting as I sat on his unmade bed. Masked between a coax and the promise of a kiss, my new boyfriend had just called me fat.

When Enrique and I had met several months before, I was having a friend over for dinner at my flat. The smell of burnt tortilla de patata – and the smoke that accompanies it – wafted through my small place as I rushed to pick up a roommates’ notes and textbooks, cursing myself for deeming Arrested Development more important than cleaning. As I used a wet rag to dissipate the smoke, a buzz came from the telefonillo.

“Um, hey, hola,” I said clumsily into the speaker. The voice that came from the other end was masculine, not that of the other girl I’d invited.

Kike knocked on the door twenty seconds later, wielding a bottle of whiskey and a half-drank bottle of Coke. “This is for the party,” he quipped.

As we ate burnt tortilla, potato chips, cured meats and cheese that night, I marveled at how he could partake in conversations with me in English, my Spanish roommate in his native tongue and German with my other roommate.

“Yeah, I’m also learning Arabic,” he told me later that night.

Over the next few months, our bilingual texting and tapas grew more serious. I learned pillow talk in Spanish and corrected his preposition use in English, confessing to him that I didn’t think I’d ever get a good handle on castellano or even start learning a third.

Don’t word, guapa, practice is the one thing that makes a tongue perfect, he said in his smooth Spanish. Leaning in close, I kissed him hard. Pulling away, he laughed. “No, no, no,” he said in between belly laughs, “I mean that practicing speaking Spanish will help you improve!” The word  lengua means both tongue in your mouth and tongue that you speak.

Was it any surprise that the first time he told me he loved me, he did it in English so that I wouldn’t get confused? Those three little words were shouted over the pumping music of a discoteca, but I got the message loud and clear.

I often ask my students why they’re studying English. Most say to be able to travel and communicate, or to have better job prospects. In coming to Spain, I would have answered the same. But after falling for a Spaniard, it was clear: I would learn a language for love.

After fuming over the gorda comment, I finally got tough and confronted him. Um…tú eresmuy mean. He laughed and between breaths said, “This laugh? It’s called a carcajada!”

Always quick to point out a new word.

When he calmed down, he explained that gorda was a pet term that people give to one another often, the same as feo (ugly), rey (king) and pequeño (small one). I had a lot of studying to do.

As our relationship has evolved, so have my tastes for Spanish food, the destinations on my Been There list and the number of experiences we’ve been able to share together – often in two languages. His handle of English and willingness to learn more has allowed him to entertain my best friend while I had strep throat during her visit, understand both football and baseball and say hello to my parents on Skype each weekend.

At an American’s friend’s wedding to her Spanish mate last year, she read her vows in Spanish for his family to hear; he did the same in English for hers. I was too busy wiping my tears away as gracefully as possible to remember exactly what he said, but it was to the effect of, being in a bilingual relationship means giving you twice as much of everything: friends, foods to try, vocabulary to say “I’m sorry,” holidays to celebrate together and laughing at the other’s language blunders.

Nearly five years later, Kike and I are now in a unilingual relationship: Castilian Spanish is the only language that we ever speak to one another. I love you is te quiero, kiss has become besito and baja la basura de una vez is as common for him to say as jó, haz la cama de una vez is for me.

Our one exception? Our pet name for one another is no longer in Spanish.

Has learning another language helped you to travel? Fall in love? Get a promotion or pay raise? Sound off in the comments!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. I totally get the story! I am in bilingual relationship with one great Portuguese guy I met in Warsaw. At the beginning we spoke only English and then gradually switched to Portuguese, as I studied both Spanish and Portuguese at the university. Now we are trying to teach him some Polish, but it’s not that easy… But hopefully he learns my language for Love :) saludos

  2. Jennifer Glickson says:

    Cat, this is such a cute story!! The way you speak Castellano, one wouldn’t think you ever had trouble learning :)

  3. Aw what a cute story! You and Kiki seem to have a great relationship.

    Same thing with my parents. When my parents first met, they only spoke in French to each other because my mom was studying abroad in France at the time. My father was her French host brother so they spent an entire year under the same roof. When they got married, they ended up living in the States and my father eventually learned English just through immersion. Now they mostly speak English to each other though my father will sometimes respond in French, it’s a weird mixture!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, A! It seems that with all of the ability to bordercross, bilingual and bicultural relationships are so the norm nowadays. I think all of the language blunders help keep us grounded.

      By the way, you need to email me your address, I have a postcard for you!

  4. The “gordita” one always makes me laugh, because when I first arrived here in Seville and was working in an English academy, one of the other teachers was horrified and deeply offended when her (Spanish) novio called her that, when she was trying on a dress for a wedding. This girl was slim. The general reaction among the teachers was one of collective outrage – how dare he insult our friend and fellow Brit! It wasn’t until a while later that I realised it was a term of affection, rather than an insult.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I wrote a similar opening for a story for Glottogon and got quite a few nasty remarks of, “DUMP THAT ASSHOLE!” Like most things with Kike, I am ignorant and blissful!

  5. Cat, this is a lol story! There is hope for me! Love your writing.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hi, Nancy, great to hear from you!! My whole life, as you’ve probably seen, has been one lol moment after another!!

  6. The “gordita” one always makes me laugh, because when I first arrived here in Seville and was working in an English academy, one of the other teachers was horrified and deeply offended when her (Spanish) novio called her that, when she was trying on a dress for a wedding. This girl was slim. The general reaction among the teachers was one of collective outrage – how dare he insult our friend and fellow Brit! It wasn’t until a while later that I realised it was a term of affection, rather than an insult. Culture gap hadn’t been bridged yet.
    Fiona Flores Watson recently posted..Flamenco flashmob in Seville (and Rome, London, Shanghai…)My Profile

  7. love it!!!!

  8. Fun story….I can imagine it is difficult, yet funny, overcoming the obstacles of a bi-lingual relationship:)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hey DJ, The difficult part came before. We have had countless misunderstandings because of language, but it all makes for good fun in the end!

  9. Just wanted to let you know I loved your post! I entered the competition too, and this is one of my favorites.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, Alex!! It’s too bad the contest is all about Facebook likes, because there’s tons of great stories to tell without having to be the most popular.

      Senfing saludos from Spain!


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