Ask Team Practical: Bilingual Weddings by Alyssa Mooney So it’s Friday, and you know what that means! It’s Ask Team Practical with Alyssa. By now you guys already know the drill and are like, blah, blah, blah Meg. I’ve got my shot of Friday morning celebratory bourbon and my keyboard, and I’m ready to DISCUSS. Let’s move this thing along. So, fresh off of yesterdays beautiful tri-cultural, tri-lingual wedding, we’re discussing bi (and tri) lingual weddings and how to plan for them. Take it away Alyssa: Today’s question is from Chantelle, who is planning a wedding in Italy. So, here’s my query, my fiance and I are planning a small wedding in his tiny hometown village in Italy, his side of the family is Italian and speak no English, for real. We hope to have a fair bit of our friends and family from this side of the world (Toronto, Canada) join us for our wedding. I definitely want to craft a ceremony that is unique to us, and am trying to deal with the language dilemma. I don’t want to alienate either side, but as our languages are primarily English it makes the most sense to have the ceremony run in English. I’ve thought about having programs that have everything translated, or repeating things in Italian after English. It just seems like it will make everything long and tedious and may lose the meaning behind our numerous readings etc. Our officiant (a close friend of ours) does not speak Italian either and would have to spend a lot of time learning correct Italian pronunciation. Thoughts? My first initial thought? “OMG, can I be you so I can go to Italy?!?” But that’s not helpful, so let’s continue. This question is harder than people realize. [NOTE: Because language and culture and faith are so intertwined, it’s hard to separate the three. However, today’s post is just about language and weddings, not bi-cultural weddings or interfaith marriages.] A bilingual wedding can be done out of necessity (i.e. the guests won’t know what’s going on otherwise,) honor (of family or a shared culture) or a combination of both. Y’all who are planning a single language wedding and having issues with invitations, signage and ceremony wording? Trying adding in another language to the mix, a language that you possibly don’t even speak. Now give your fellow bilingual brides a hug and possibly a cookie. It’s hard, but not impossible. First off, determine if you’re doing it out of necessity or honor. Honor means that you better dang well get the spelling and phrasing right. Necessity means that you better dang well get the phrasing and spelling right, AND make sure that you handle practical stuff too, so people know where to find the bathroom. From there, it’s a matter of determining what your ceremony is and what you believe needs to be said in one language, translated out loud and/or translated in a program. Will a translation in the program, with a few key readings in the second language, work? Do you have someone who can repeat the vows after your officiant, or would your officiant do both? Will you both be responding to your vows in your primary language, or the second one? All things to think about, discuss and decide on together. Things to consider if you’ll be saying vows in the other language: 1.) Are you fluent enough in the language to be able to do it while nervous/excited/anxious/blissed out? 2.) Is your officiant fluent enough in the language to recite there ceremony correctly? I’m all for learning the other language, IF YOU HAVE TIME. If you think you can learn the phrasing needed to say your vows, then great! If your sister wants to recite a reading in the second language for your ceremony, yay for her! But set a goal for yourself and others and have a back-up plan; if you haven’t gotten it down by a certain date, go with plan B. The added pressure of a clock ticking down as you struggle with your accent is NOT going to help your stress level. Whatever you decide, make a plan, stick to it and for goodness sake, practice. It’s a big day and some of use had a hard time even speaking our native language at the altar. If you have non-native speakers at you wedding, you’ll also have to consider other things, like signage. Does your venue have a graphic sign for it’s restrooms, or does it just say “Ladies” and “Men”? Will you have signs listing the food on your buffet table? If you want to make sure that the non-native speakers are included in your ceremony, remember to include them in the reception too. Granted, they may have someone with them who can translate, but I think they’ll appreciate being able to tell what is in the steam tray just as much as they appreciated knowing what your vows meant. Just remember, a good gesture can come across insincere or mocking if not thoughtfully executed. This is not to say that Aunt Millie is going to vilify you if your German is not up to par. But try your best and know your limitations. And if you’re having printed material, have it checked more than a few times by native speakers. And then have it checked one more time. This is not the time for an errant diacritic to turn your vows into “I take you as my kumquat.” In the Secular Ceremony Round-Up, a mini-discussion (initiated by Chantelle!) about this popped up and, as usual, the readers had really great suggestions. The general thought was that live translation was great, but the length may be a problem. Liz mentioned that she would want the guests to understand the vows most of all, and Sharon had this to say about her wedding: “I agree with Liz about picking and choosing the parts that matter most to you. All of our guests knew at least enough English to understand the basic gist of the ceremony, but my husband and I really wanted to honor our respective heritages, so we had our Scripture reading done in English, Chinese, and Korean. Also, a running commentary in the margins of our program about the liturgical elements of the wedding and why we chose them.” Emily also made the comparison to Jewish weddings and Hebrew: “I would keep in mind that often, it’s more important for guests to understand the sentiment than the specific words. For instance, I’ve been to a lot of Jewish ceremonies, but I’m not Jewish, don’t speak Hebrew, and don’t understand all of the words in the ceremony. However, those couples have always found a way to communicate the ideas behind the Hebrew parts of the ceremony, so that non-Jewish guests like myself still feel involved and can recognize the meaning. This included, yes, explaining certain aspects of the ceremony in the program. But that’s okay! Sometimes it’s nice to have something to read while you wait for the ceremony to begin. I actually think it would be beautiful to include the English and Italian translations of your vows or one of your readings, because it would represent not only your feelings about marriage but also your family backgrounds and cultures. And in a lot of ways, that’s more meaningful to your guests than a simple “Order of Events” on the program. And for the record, Italian is just a stunningly beautiful language and most English-speakers I know would enjoy a wedding entirely in Italian because it’s just beautiful to listen to. Obviously, you want to make sure your non-Italian-speaking guests and family feel like a part of the ceremony, and I think including English here and there will help. But most of them have been to many weddings in English. The fact that your ceremony is partly in Italian may make it more meaningful and memorable to them, not less.” Now, what if you’re doing it as a way of honoring your partner/family/adopted country? Luckily, our fabulous intern Lauren will be having a Seattle wedding with some Mexican flair in honor of her beloved and his family. I only realized that I actually have a bilingual wedding when I saw the title of this question during the Ask Team Practical review last weekend. (yes, we talk about you) [NOTE: Lovingly, and usually with awe. – Alyssa] It was really important to both of us to include Kamel’s family (those living in the U.S. and those in Mexico City) in our ceremony and reception. And maybe include isn’t the right word…because they’ll be there of course, but I also wanted them to feel like they were participants, that they weren’t just showing up to some event as mere witnesses. And of course, we aren’t completely done with planning yet (even when I seem to decide on something, a week goes by and I change my mind), but we’ve made some hard and fast decisions already. Our first was to translate half the invitations, because isn’t putting that document into someone’s native language one of the (if not THE) best way to make someone feel invited? We’re also choosing to do one of the three readings during the ceremony in Spanish (as well as one from literature, instead of the Bible, for me). When it comes to finding other ways to incorporate Spanish into our wedding I try to really think – 1) where is it most significant and necessary, 2) how can we do it where it seems seamless and not “Hey everybody! This here is SPANISH! Get it? Cuz the bride’s last name will now be PEREZ?!”, 3) if I was attending a wedding where my language was not the primary go-to, where would I be pleasantly surprised to see English? Where would it be most meaningful to understand the full significance of the words? and 4) how much work is this actually going to be? (Because if it’s too difficult or stressful, then it’s probably just not that important.) Whatever you do, approach it with the care and pragmatism that you approach anything else in you wedding. Honor yourself and honor your guests, but also respect yourself and them also. If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like “conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit” (CARBDILID, duh). Adding the date of your wedding helps improve the timing of our feedback AND Alyssa’s disposition. Alyssa Mooney Emeritus Staff Alyssa received a BA in Theatre and a minor in Gender Studies from Stephen F. Austin State University. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her adorably red-neck husband, Maggie the Wonder Dog, and sassy baby Tater.