Ask Team Practical: Bilingual Weddings

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.


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.

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  • amanda

    I am Mexican and Swiss, my now husband is dutch with Surinames origins. So… we had to go through this as we would have spanish, dutch and french as main languages. For the most of it, we used english as the main language since almost everyone understands it .However, for the ceremony, half of the pamphlets were in english, some others in dutch and I made a special spanish translation for my mom who is not fluent in English. (Complete with readings, vows, etc).
    The priest alternated english and dutch and even learnt a allelujah in spanish .
    As was said in Emily’s post yesterday, it was quite amazing how “love” and joy trascended it all and people were able to mingle and mix and get to know each other even if they did not speak a language.
    So, I do not know if this is helpful, but this was our experience on this !
    I would suggest using a “main” language but do include the other languages / traditions (we did have the “lazo” it is a mexican tradition where after the vows the bride and groom are bound together with a cord, this is done by a young couple friend of the family) to make the whole day more “yours” and true to everyone.

    • Chantelle

      This is such a smart idea, will definitely be doing different versions of the program for the different groups, that will save a lot of space and cut it down in length. It just kills me to think about all the paper I would be wasting!

  • I like the idea of having the ceremony primarily in English (your officiant doesn’t speak Italian – there’s the decider), but having a meaningful reading in Italian, and finding someone you love and trust to serve as a translator for the vows.

  • Liz


    • We talk about them, it’s only fair ;)

  • Sarah Om

    With all due respect and props Alyssa, I think you’re making this way too complicated.
    As far as the ceremony goes, I think it really really reeeally needs to be about the couple, as in, the couple should be able to understand everything that’s going on. If it’s a secular wedding the guests will probably we able to follow along pretty easily, and if not… they will still probably be able to follow along pretty easily :)
    To Chantelle’s particular situation, I think that incorporating lots of Italian music (including lyrics) could be a lovely way of acknowledging both cultures without stressing about timing, translations, etc.
    Also, let’s give our guests some credit. Most people enjoy being around and even emersing themselves in other languages, and I suspect they can figure out where the bathrooms are and whether you’re serving chicken or beef no matter what kind of signage you have. What they DON’T enjoy is waiting twice as long for the bar to open or dinner to be served while listening to clumsy translations of bad jokes.
    Which brings me to my final two cents: I would keep readings, toasts, etc. brief, and resist the urge to say everything twice.
    I think people go to weddings to celebrate love, watch the couple beam at each other, eat, drink and hopefully party it up, and that stuff transcends language.

    • Calumnia

      So basically, you want her to hold the wedding in Italy, in the italian half of the family’s home town, but conduct it in English, a language 50% of the attendees (and maybe more, since they have the home town advantage and don’t have to travel) do not speak?

      • Alyssa

        Which might work, Calumnia, depending on the particular situation. I don’t think so, but I know there’s going to be a bride who looks through this later and goes, “Well, this post is stupid, but I agree with THAT comment.” So it’s a win for everyone!

        And Sarah, I’m a big fan of overthinking, it lets y’all go through the options and go, “Okay, that’ll work; that makes sense; well that’s dumb, Alyssa, we’re not doing that part; and this part works too.”

        • Chantelle

          Hi Alyssa,

          I’m an overthinker, and love to research and analyse things to death, so your questions are awesome guides to start me off in the directions I want to explore. My fiance on the other hand will just simplify things to the extreme and say something like, “What’s the big deal, so some stuff is in Italian and some is in English…*shrug* ” . Thanks for this post Alyssa (and Meg!)

          • Sarah Om

            Ok, full disclosure. It’s possible that my laissez-faire attitude has something to do with a bilingual wedding I attended this summer.
            The ceremony was all in French, a language I have a basic understanding of and, while I couldn’t comprehend everything that was said, it was lovely to watch the couple expressing themselves in their own language.
            What didn’t work so well were the toasts, which were translated in French and English and felt endless. Dinner took hours. What also didn’t work was the lengthy skit performed by members of the wedding party, in French, that was completely lost on me and the other English guests. But then we all made it to the dancefloor and were speaking the same language once again.
            Honestly Chantelle, do whatever feels right to you, but your wedding is not a meeting of the UN. Your guests will probably enjoy the mix of languages, so long as it doesn’t become inclusive to the point of pain. All the best!

          • Chantelle

            oh and Calumnia, those were my thoughts exactly about the whole language issue, which is why I’m really trying to be sensitive and think this whole thing through very carefully, so neither the home town team, the visitors, or me and my fiance, feel alienated.

      • Michele

        Yeah, I’m not a big fan of ‘have to’s’ when it comes to weddings, but practically speaking – in this situation, I really do feel like the author and her fiance HAVE to incorporate Italian into the ceremony in some way. And really, I think they should do it in a meaningful rather than symbolic way. If they weren’t getting married IN Italy, or if we were talking about a small handful of non-English speakers, I’d feel differently, but they can’t reasonably use the argument that their officiant doesn’t speak Italian to skirt this, because there will be native Italian speakers everywhere once they get there. Any one of them could serve as co-officiant or even a translator (and I’m sure many of them would be thrilled and honored to do so).

        Between the geography of the wedding and the likelihood that there will be MORE Italian speakers than English speakers in attendance, I can’t help but feel that it’d be a little inconsiderate to craft the ceremony entirely in English. It’s true that sentiment transcends language, but in this case, I think the right thing to do would be to honor the fiance and his family’s native language somehow.

        Honestly, I love the idea of an Italian speaking co-officiant who works in tandem with the officiant they’ve already chosen to deliver a beautiful, heartfelt ceremony that speaks to guests on both sides.

        • Chantelle

          I’m thinking this is a good idea to mull over a bit too, co-officiant was definitely a thought, but I’m not sure if there is someone in the family that fits the bill…and can also communicate with me at all enough to know what I’d be comfortable with. My fiance is much more easy going, I’m the one with all the hangups about what I want said at the ceremony (nothing religious, anti feminist or gender exclusionary…a tall order for both our families who are pretty traditional).

          Literally, the only person in his family who speaks English is his 17 year old cousin (whom I adore and am trying to incorporate into the ceremony).

          Ideally I just need to find an awesome translator and go from there. Trying to get his traditionalist family (and mine) to recognize our non religious wedding with an officiant that does not represent church or state, but marries us by their authority of being a witness to our love, is going to be interesting to try to translate as well. Whole ‘nother pickle though.

          • Hi Chantelle

            Have been reading through all comments above about your questions, but noone clearly states that a civil wedding ceremony in Italy must be in Italian – this is a law requirement. Then you can choose your trust translator as I saw you wrote above, but you can not escape Italian language really… which would give anyway an exotic touch to your wedding!

            If you go in the “burocracy, that’s amore” section of my blog, you’ll find out I appreciate a lot of good tips and information for you about this topic!



    • Chantelle

      LOL, “inclusive to the point of pain”
      Point taken. That will be my mantra as I craft this thing :)

      • Calumnia

        Hi Chantelle,

        I was thinking about this this morning because I live in a bilingual city where repeating everything in both languages is routine. I only speak one of those languages fluently and my partner speaks a third. Which makes the language math more like algebra. Anyways, here’s an idea:

        A) Invitations, programs, directions, menus, bathroom signs and everything else that is written in Italian and English. You can make the invitations and programs double sided for ease of design. This way, everyone will know all the important information. Like when and where you are getting married and what’s the fish sauce. Include some useful phrases in both languages to encourage mingling (“Would you like to dance?” “Where’s the bathroom?” “What a nice tie!”).

        B) If the ceremony has to be in Italian to be legal, of course make it in Italian. English-speakers doing ceremony readings can do so in English, Italian-speakers can do so in Italian. As many commenters have mentioned, no one will mind listening to a ceremony in another language. Especially if the program is bilingual so they can follow along. It takes twice as much time to repeat everything outloud in both languages, but in text each side of the family can just flip to their language.

        C) For the vows, you and your partner could use whichever language will make the vows resonate the strongest for you. Whatever tugs your heart and will make you happiest. You can put translations in the program so people can follow along. I sort of figure “With this ring” is comprehensible in any language!


        • You might also be able do all the legal parts in Italian (if that is the law) and place that within a larger ceremony that includes English. We had our French civil ceremony (the legal part) right within the longer bilingual ceremony that had all sorts of aspects that weren’t a part of the legal part (readings, music, our personal self-written vows, etc.) So (depending on the legal requirements) maybe there is a way to do both languages (if you want to)?

        • In response to Calumnia’s point C) on vows: My partner is Spanish & we got married in the U.S., where I’m from. We had the ceremony in just English for lots of reasons, but even though our officiant and the vast majority of the guests don’t speak Spanish, we said our vows in just Spanish because that’s the language we speak together at home and that’s how we’re used to expressing ourselves to the other person. We also didn’t really want to share that most special part with the whole crowd of people gathered (who we love and loved having there, of course!). It’s just that for us that was a really intimate thing to say and we’re kind of private people, so it seemed right to keep something for just us. The whole ceremony, including the vows in Spanish, was “mic”ed, though.
          We didn’t want our officiant to tell us what to say line by line (it seemed like it might detract from the full sentence(s) we were saying if we said it in bits… plus, he didn’t speak the language). I did need a cheat sheet, though (partner has an awesome memory and didn’t need it)! None of the guests minded not understanding that one part of the ceremony (quite the opposite, actually, most people said they loved seeing us interact as we usually do), and only my mom & sister actually asked about the content, so I paraphrased it for Mom the day after and let my sister read my cheat sheet (it was in her pocket before and after the moment I needed it anyway), since she understands enough Spanish to get it.

          We did another thing that might be useful to some other people at the celebration we later held in Spain, which was attended by only 11 English speakers and 1 French person (who speaks English but not Spanish). My partner and I gave a speech in Spanish only, but provided the translation on paper for those who didn’t speak Spanish (we just gave it to them during the cocktail hour and told them that that was what we’d be saying later). My parents later told us that they really liked being able to follow along with what we were saying, but understand it, which they wouldn’t have been able to do just listening! The content of our speech was just an adapted version of part of the U.S. ceremony (which we’d written ourselves), translated into Spanish.
          My FIL and I then tag-teamed the interpretation of my dad’s speech from English to Spanish. (At the end, FIL said to all the guests in Spanish that he had passed the mic over to me for all the hard parts!) And then his dad gave a speech in Spanish and Catalan, repeating the parts that affected/mentioned the English-speakers in English.

          Sorry this is such a long response, but hopefully it’ll help people, or at least give them ideas for a jumping-off point! :)

  • I think it’s important to note that in the post yesterday, it was mentioned that the ceremony was done in German (if I remember correctly, and I admit, I might be wrong because it’s early) and the brides mother didn’t understand the words, but fully grasped the meaning and was moved to tears as a result.

    I appreciate that this post is more about the entire day, not just the ceremony, because there are language details that can be overlooked (I would have never thought of the buffet food descriptions). I’m all about making my guests from near and far feel comfortable and I have every intention of communicating with them in one way or another, what they will see, why we did things (not as an explanation for our ways, but as information in case they are curious) and make sure they know how to get around and what to see/do while they are in town. Sometimes, I feel like out-of-towners, even in a place that their language is spoken, can get “lost”…you know? Be it cultural or language or location confusion…

    I think ceremonies generally have the same flow no matter the language…two people coming together to join their lives in front of friends and family. While one might not want to have people feel “left out”of the word for word translation, I would think that it would be best to maintain the spoken flow of the ceremony (in whatever language/languages are chosen) and then maybe provide a program which has translated readings or perhaps even a general overview of the ceremony the guests are witnessing.

    Ultimately, the bride and groom should know their guests well enough to have a feel for what is needed as far as communication for the wedding, weekend, travel, ceremony. It’s all about owning your wedding, sticking to your guns and keeping in mind the best interest of all people in attendance (I’m not saying to please everyone, but not neglecting a group of people for any reason).

  • Hi there Chantelle!

    So excited to hear more about your wedding after the discussion yesterday. I have a couple of things to add, from my own experience

    1) Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut feelings. The ceremony is of course not only about you, but I think it’s very improtant that your vows, and the ceremony in general be meaningful to you as a couple. Your guests are there to bear witness to your union, so I think the key here is to make sure that they feel included and honored. Here is what we did:

    – we welcomed everyone in all three lanaguages (our officiant practiced all three, we sent him recordings of the correct pronunciation)
    – the main “speech” was in german, with an abbreviated english version to follow. Everyone received a written english translation of the whole ceremony.
    – we had readings in all three languages – german, polish, english. We did provide translations of the readings, but not at the ceremony (we had them at the tables at the reception). This prevented our guests from burying their noses in paper during the ceremony.
    – our processional was a polish song. My dad played instrumental versions of two other songs. Music is international :)
    – the vows are, of course, key. I wish we had provided a translation of our vows, but I really wanted them to be a surprise, and i didn’t want people reading them beforehand! So we compromised and each did our own langauge. It worked well. Interestingly, Artur put his paper back into his pocket before we were finished, and so he ended up saying his ring vow in english, since he had to read it from mine! No one cared.

    2) Lessen the role of the language. Ok, this was really hard for me to come to terms with… Because of the true lack of a common language between the arguably most important wedding guests, our parents, we had to cut down on all highly nuanced use of languages. For example, we did not have any toasts. We did not have clever quotes on our tables, or our story on a poster. We stuck to visual and universally recognizable elements. It made me sad sometimes – there are so many smart, awesome ideas out there in the blogosphere that involve clever use of words and language. But it just wasn’t an option for us, without leaving one group out.

    What we DID end up doing was using simple words all over the wedding, in all three language. Wedding, Hochzeit, Slub. Love, Liebe, Milosc. Cheers, Prost, Nazrdrowie. We posted these words everywhere, so that people could learn a little of other languages and have some fun. That did work.

    I wrote a longer blog post about my thoughts on this, if you’re interested:

    Also, a few other ideas

    – what about putting the translation of your vows on a screen, or even posterboard? You could have a friend hold them up, like subtitles. Could be quirky and cute
    – if you are having group signing, what about including an italian song as well? everyone could give it a shot. We actually taught all of our guests a polish song of congratulations and sang it spontaneously throughout the evening. FUN!

    ok sorry that was so long. CONGRATULATIONS and best of luck!

    • ok, this will be the last of my blabbing (just so excited to get to talk about this topic!!)

      Chantelle, I wrote this before the wedding, and just found it again, and it turned out to be so true:

      “So for our ceremony, we will say some meaningful words. I will be reciting my vows in English, and he in German. But for us, it’s not really about that. It’s going to be about that moment, and looking into each other’s eyes and into the faces of our dearest friends and family and feeling married, and embracing that. Nothing we write, no matter how eloquent, will replace that. “

      • Chantelle Thank you so much Emily, you have a gift for expressing exactly the right thing. I am so appreciative of all your practical advice, but most for really getting to the core of the matter.

    • ddayporter

      ohmygosh. subtitles! that sounds amazing. written out by hand (if someone has a really good handwriting for this) in a readable size on pieces of foamcore or whatever.. Just for the important parts of course, like the vows.. I would die if I saw this at a wedding (in a good way).

      I love the variety of ideas here. I have to say, if you’re having the wedding in Italy, I don’t agree with some others that you need not do much in the way of incorporating Italian. You don’t have to kill yourself making it entirely translated, but I think a little effort there is important (for things like the buffet, everything could be in Italian with English subtitles, not the other way around). But, if the officiant doesn’t speak Italian, it doesn’t seem plausible to have them attempt to do any of it in Italian themselves.

      I like a lot of what Emily suggested above (welcoming in both languages, having programs in both languages, nixing a lot of speeches, etc). I would say, have your officiant conduct everything in English, but incorporate music and a reading or two in Italian? And then, if you had someone appropriate to do this for you, have someone from the Italian side come up and stand in for the officiant for a brief bit of ceremony? If you are or could be fluent enough, this person could lead you through vows you both speak in Italian, before the officiant leads you in vows you both speak in English? You could work with your fiance in advance to determine what this person is going to say in Italian, so you actually know what’s going on, and what your vows mean.

      Alyssa, I think you did a great job of presenting a lot of options! The reminder about the buffet signs was brilliant, and yeah if the bathrooms Don’t have the symbols to go along with the words, it might be worth adding either the symbols or the English translation. I like what Emily says above, about relying more on visual and symbolic things rather than language, to bring people together. And maybe it’s just the language nerd in me, but I LOVE the idea of having words or short phrases in both/all languages, so people can learn a word or two easily – or at least have fun butchering the pronunciation.

      • Elise

        I love the ideas being thrown around here, but I want to add my two (detail-oriented) cents. While I very much agree that the love and excitement of a wedding can transcend language barriers, things like food allergies and potty training might be a bit more of a stretch. Since bilingual weddings frequently also incorporate delicious foods that all your guests might not already know, it might be helpful to have the dishes labeled in both languages- not just to respect both cultures, but also in case Great Uncle Vinny just found out he’s allergic to shellfish. That way, he can choose to avoid the tasty looking salad with the clams hidden in it without it being a big deal. And though it may seem minor, small children who are just learning how to go to the bathroom by themselves might be able to avoid an accident if they don’t have to take the extra minute to ask which door to use.

        • Since someone mentioned using icons on the bathrooms, what about a picture of the bride or groom on the appropriate door?

      • ddayporter

        oh umm also, I forgot to say: are you guys trying to keeeeeeeel us with that font size on the foot note??? lol. my poor eyes.

        • Liz

          you DO realize what an old fart you just sounded like, yes? ;)

        • Hit Ctrl + a few times in Firefox, because I’m old, too. (My justification: I work at a computer all day long, my eyesight is old long before its time!)

    • 1. What a great idea to provide translations of the readings at the reception, not at the ceremony. Preventing the guests from “burying their noses in paper during the ceremony” is actually pretty clever!
      2. I love the idea of sub-titling! It would crack me up to see something like that! (If the couple has a similar sense of humor, of course.)

  • Maybe this idea isn’t as put-together as you’d like, but I went to a Hindu wedding over the summer and I think they pulled it off beautifully. The ceremony had several different parts to it, so each part was explained, in English, in the program. Additionally, the bride’s aunt stood to the side of the canopy, explaining, again in English, what was going on.

    You could do an English/Italian split program (Shakespeare Cliffs Notes come to mind, with his work on one side and the modern day translation on the other), and then the ceremony in one or alternating languages.

    Oh, and half of my family speaks Spanglish, so maybe Engtalian (or Italish) is an option, too. Good luck!

  • J.

    Okay, this is semi-related and also a funny story so I want to share it.

    I recently attended a wedding where the ceremony was conducted completely in Spanish, despite the groom not speaking a word of the language. The priest conducted the ceremony and a translator translated. So essentially, the groom was repeating what the translator said, not the priest.

    Well, the priest came to the part in the Spanish that was the equivalent of: “I promise to love you all the days of my life.”

    Which the translator translated as: “I will love you until I live.” (No, this wasn’t a professional translator.)

    Which the groom heard as: “I will love you until I…leave???” He had the funniest look of confusion on his face, but figured something had probably gotten lost in the translation and just moved on.

    Moral of the story: whatever you decide upon, make sure that you get a good translator and that you give the translator the entire ceremony to look over before the actual wedding. ;)

  • Cass

    “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.)”


  • So….I have been drafting my wedding graduate story to send to Meg for the last several months and this language thing is something I had written a lot about in it, because it was something that was important to us in our process. I guess I will just say what I was going to say here instead (and will try to recover from feeling sad about my procrastination about submitting my graduate story. Sigh.)

    My first language is English; my husband’s is French.We both speak the other language. We did bilingual everything because it was important to us in our situation and in who we are as a couple. And to facilitate things for our families since most people are not fully bilingual. (And my side is only English speaking, so….)

    What we did was:

    1. Bilingual invitations: We wanted each invitation to have the entire text in both languages. It was important to us to have each guest receive the invite in their own language and also see the opposite language at the same time because we felt like it helped introduce the other person’s culture/language to the guests from each linguistic side and established the expectation that we were going to use both languages relatively evenly in our entire process. This meant we had to make our invites to accommodate all the text. And writing formal invites in another language is not easy, but thankfully my husband’s mom is really good at formal language, grammar, and etiquette.

    2. All our signage, the e-Save-the-Dates, the Welcome Dinner e-vites, our website, etc- It was all done in both languages by my husband and I.

    3. Our service was bilingual. We used both French and English (we had two officiants, one in each language), BUT we did not do everything twice because we wanted the service to be a normal length. We chose which parts would be in which language. (Except the text of our actual vows….we said those in each language because we wanted to and it was important to us to do them in both.) We used projected surtitles to fully translate everything else. If a reading was in English, the surtitles were in French. We have seen this work successfully in plays using four languages, so we knew it would work, and we borrowed the necessary equipment and had a friend run them from a laptop during the service.) We projected the surtitles onto a screen, which we placed to the right of the stage area, so people could easily read and watch at the same time, without missing much (if anything). This solution also ended up working well for one hard-of-hearing elderly guest. Anyhow, we got a lot of positive feedback about it, and my husband even made it look aesthetically pleasing. (Like it was pretty and matched our other aesthetic details!!!!) But it was hard work. We had to know every word of the service in advance and then translate it. And since wedding language is poetic language, it wasn’t easy and quick. My husband worked really hard on this, but it was totally worth it and one of my very favorite things we did.

    That is just how we chose to approach it all. Obviously every couple has to find what works for them. :)

    • Chantelle

      This is such a great idea, sadly it won’t work for us since we are doing an outdoor on the beach ceremony.
      I’m going to have to find me someone who speaks/translates Italian really well, because my fiance’s mom’s Italian is a little rusty when she writes.

    • It’s funny, I love going to the opera, and some sort of projected surtitle is incredibly common for productions (in the US, anyway), but it never would have occurred to me that the same concept could be useful for a multilingual ceremony. Not that I’ve had to think about it personally, but still, duh.

      • My husband and I are theatre people, and have worked with multilingual shows using surtitles. That’s why it occurred to us! :) But yeah….I guess this option only works indoors. Or outdoors at night… :)

    • Alyssa

      LADY. I’m going to have to fuss at you because this post (or yesterday’s) is no excuse for not sending a grad post! Your particular wedding is going to be different and help different people. Are you going to leave those poor baby brides out in the cold?!? :-)

      Also, I can’t squee over your dress if you don’t send it. I always squee over dresses, that’s my favorite part of wedding grads.

      • Haha. Yeah, I was initially bummed, but realize the main point of my post was not the bilingual thing….those were just examples I included to illustrate my point. I should finish editing it. I am one of those people who edit, then edit some more, then re-edit…. :)

    • Jenny, don’t even worry about it… I’m a professional translator married to another professional translator (a native speaker of the other language), and our ceremony was hard to translate! Worth it, of course (like you said), but rather hard to get just right!

      • Also, I just remembered that we did a slide show with pictures of each of us growing up and we had the captions in both languages. People at both the American and the Spanish parties said they really liked seeing the other language there. It was worth the _many_ hours we spent discussing things like “you can’t make that same joke in my language”, or “that’s only funny to you and me”, or “but there’s no perfect way to express X in my language!”

  • Chantelle, if you had someone in your fiancé’s family that was comfortable with public speaking and also spoke English, perhaps you could always ask them to help lead parts of the ceremony? (Or to translate any parts you want to be in Italian.) I personally would not suggest that an officiant try to learn a new language to do parts of a service in a foreign language. I find it takes a long time to learn a language well enough to feel comfortable using it in public speaking. I mean, I started studying French in high school and majored in it in college, and I have been out of college a long time, and I still was a little nervous about saying my vows in French. :)

  • FM

    I commented on Chantelle’s original comment on this a few days ago, but I’ll repeat my experience here. My friend (an American living in the U.S.) married a man from Mexico several years ago, with the wedding in the U.S. (where the couple lives). Most of each family don’t speak the other language, and actually the groom didn’t really speak much English at the time they got married (certainly not comfortably), but the bride was pretty comfortable with Spanish. The couple had a few close friends who were bilingual, and the bride’s brother is bilingual and acted as the officiant. So they decided to repeat pretty much everything in both languages – using a few of the couples’ friends as translators during the ceremony. The people involved in the ceremony were pretty evenly split with the native English and native Spanish speakers saying something or doing a reading. I think there were some readings they only did in one language or the other, but the speeches (including by the parents) and vows were all translated (with translating on the fly). It was long, and it wasn’t always smooth as translators sometimes struggled to get their parts right on the fly, but it was definitely right for them. There was a lot of laughing, tears where emotions rose even when half the guests couldn’t yet understand the words, and everyone felt included.

    I think my point is, I agree with the person above who said go with your gut. And also that sometimes things might not be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still the right fit for you.

    Also, I had a Jewish wedding which was probably more than 50% in Hebrew, including what I guess are the vows. And pretty much no one at our wedding speaks Hebrew, including myself and my husband – that’s just the traditional ceremony. It’s common for Jewish weddings to have a program with lots of information in it about what’s going on, I guess partly because so much is likely to be in Hebrew, and also usually the officiant gives some quick explanations about what’s happening in English as he/she goes along. And that approach seems to work ok for Jewish weddings even where the couple doesn’t choose to have much in English or translate everything (which some couples do, depending on what strand of Judaism you’re working with).

  • Tina

    I wanted to comment very quickly before heading out to work. I get the impression from Chantelle’s email that she and her fiance speak mostly English to each other. I definitely agree with the comments I was able to read that incorporating Italian is definitely important when a good portion of the people there will be Italian. However, I think it’s really important to determine how you both want to hear certain parts. Do you want to absorb the meaning of the vows or do you want to hear the vows spoken in the language in which you communicate best? That’s something that the couple has to decide. Will it be more about honoring the family by having the bride say the vows in English and the groom saying them in Italian? I agree that those at the wedding will love it either way.

    I just wanted to offer a personal experience, that some of you are probably much more familiar with than I if you are even having to consider bilingual and trilingual weddings. I have a very good friend that I met while I was teaching in Argentina. Despite her speaking amazing English, our friendship formed with us primarily speaking Spanish to each other. I was the one constantly having to go in circles to get my point across and she was the one helping me and correcting me. After 6 months, my boyfriend came for a visit and he was not able to speak Spanish. We all went to dinner together and had to speak English. My friend and I giggled at how odd it sounded to have to communicate to each other with our roles reversed. We got over it and found it funny, but it didn’t seem as natural.

    So no matter how much you honor your respective feelings, I think it’s important to really imagine what you want to say to each other, and how you want to hear it. Once you determine that, you can figure out what language to use when incorporating readings, etc.

    • Tina

      Oops. I meant to say no matter how much you honor your respective families, not feelings.

    • It’s so true that the language you meet in is usually the language you’ll always speak! The first person to come visit my partner and me in Spain (partner’s country) who didn’t speak that language was amazed by my complete lack of ability to speak to him in English. Now that we’ve had years of experience hanging out with other people who don’t speak Spanish, though, we can do it mostly comfortably (a few 3-week visits to the U.S. to see my family helped with that!).
      And that’s why we said our vows in Spanish, even though the rest of the ceremony was in English and we were surrounded almost exclusively by English-speakers.

      • This was the same for us – my husband is Danish, I am English. We did a lot of the service bi-lingual but the vows themselves in English because my own Danish was very very basic then and I needed to be able to understand what he was promising me. It made sense for us because we only communicated in English then.

        Now, one year later, we speak maybe 20% in Danish (my classes are paying off!) and have made a big effort to try and make it feel as “normal” as possible to communicate in either language. At first it was weird but now I’m past the beginner stage, he says it’s not so bizarre talking to me in Danish!

        Probably if we were getting married today, we’d have used more Danish in the ceremony, but it was right for us in Oct 2010 to say our vows in English and it’s now a part of our story which includes the whole saga of me learning Danish :)

  • Chantelle

    Thank you so much APW! This is why I describe myself as a fanatical fan of APW. It’s amazing to feel that I have this great support system that I can tap into, if I have a dilemna I can reach out to so many talented intelligent women and get some help and muddle through it.

    I love all the input, and am absorbing it all to work through. In my head bilingual menus (food is made yummier when you know exactly what deliciousness you’re eating) and invites were a given. We’ll probably do two sets of invites, one in each language to ease crowding of text.

    I also love the idea of incorporating Italian readings and songs, and have been furiously hunting down poems by Italo Calvino (one of my favourite writers, who didn’t pop into my head, because I’ve only read him in English. duh!) Dante and Beatrice came to mind as well, but so far the sonnets are all directed at Beatrice who seems to have been a very gentle damsel, which would be completely innapropriate if they were directed at me LOL!

    And subtitle bubbles for vows…genius! So doing it. Also like the idea of having some of the vow in Italian as well. Something simple though so we don’t have a repetition of I will love you till I leave… LMAO.

    I think the ceremony will be mostly English as it has to do with our commitment, and the reception will be mostly Italian. Hopefully that will strike a good balance. I’m also thinking that phrase books wil be making an appearance on tables for the reception. I had a friend of mine visit with me last summer, and got to witness exactly how language barriers can be broken down. She basically invented her own concotion of Italian/French and English and courageously rambled away to my fiance’s family, who fell madly in love with her. Hopefully her linguistic bravery will inspire the guests to just go nuts and create their own language.

    Thank you everyone! The wheels are churning!

    • Hoooray!!

    • I totally get the decision to do only one language invitations (and specifying which language to send to each guest) because of all the bulky text that can result from trying to use more than one language on something. But just to open up another possibility, possibly for somebody else who is pondering all these same issues, I will add that instead of the standard flat invite, we used invitations that were folded like a card (specifically, Paper Source Fold-over Cards that fit A7 envelopes). Ours were black. Inside, we mounted another smaller, white flat card on each side of the fold-over card. Those were the traditional format of a wedding invitation. One side was the French version, the other the English version. We designed a wrap around thing to go on the outside of the card, that, you know, coordinated with out design look. It wasn’t the most traditional wedding invitation, but it worked for us and (I think) managed to keep plenty of “white space” in the design. I think when doing research in invites I ran across a card-like invite and that is the only way I could figure out how design uncluttered invites using two languages. :)

      • Chantelle

        mmmm, so creative. I like this too!

    • JEM

      For your invites, consider doing a bi-fold (like a birthday card!). My friend did that for her English/Portuguese wedding and it was lovely (and oh so romantic). It also gives guests a hint of bi-lingual things to come, which is exciting.

  • Michele

    Well done, you. :)

  • Vmed

    My sister’s husband is from Croatia while we have family from Mexico, and the couple were married in the US (where they met and live). A trilingual wedding of sorts…

    1. Invitations were letterpressed in english and the translation in either Croatian or Spanish was printed on the back of the same sheet. I wasn’t there but understand that this was tricky because of special characters and formal translations.

    2. The ceremony was in English, and that was ok. For them, it would have seemed stilted to learn vows in the others’ childhood language.

    3. I gave my MOH speech in English only. I was waaay too emotional to get the spanish out correctly, though I have been fluent all my life. Speaking was hard enough without the mental acrobatics of switching back and forth. But non-english speaking guests still laughed when I asked the bride to make funny faces, and teared up when I welcomed her new husband to the family. Some things are really universal.

    4. My father gave part of his very short speech in Spanish. He is not Mexican. It was hilarious and awesome and completely unexpected. All of my family was wild about it, like, they roared with joy and delight.

    5. Instead of clinking glasses, guests either chanted the Spanish or Croatian word for kiss. Totally impromptu, they just taught each other. Beautiful example of operant conditioning and positive reinforcement in a group setting- say this thing, the bride and groom kiss! Isn’t learning fun?

    At my own wedding in addition to translated invitations I’d like to put more Spanish explanations in the programs. Because I always appreciate a roadmap with footnotes.

    And while we were really worried that no one would understand each other, or the guests who didn’t really speak english would be lost or confused- it was an unfounded worry. It was awesome, and your bi or trilingual wedding will be, too.

  • Hi!

    I’m French, have been living in Italy for 12 years, and got married last year with an Italian guy who’s been sharing my life for the last 11 years!
    We got married in Italy, and the question of language was definetely not an issue
    1) Invitations – in French for my French guests, and in Italian for our Italian guests otherwise, it was too messy and difficult to read!
    2) Directions, Wedding List and any other operative document were translated in both languages and that was not a source of confusion really…
    3) Civil Ceremony was handled in Italian ( BE AWARE THAT THIS IS A LAW REQUIREMENT HERE), with one of my best friends interpreting in French for my family and friends! Having a friend or relative speaking the other language gives some emotion to the ceremony I have to admit!

    In my blog, you would appreciate how much fun we had on our wedding day! Enjoy!


    • Michele C.

      Great site Sylvie, I am reading it right now! Useful info for me.

    • Chantelle

      This is great Slyvie, am checking out your blog right now :)
      We intend to have a small civil ceremony the day before to make things legal with just immediate family, but its improtant to us to have our own completley secular ceremony, which won’t be “official” but it will be the real wedding.

      • Chantelle

        Sorry Sylvie I misstyped your name!

        • Hi Chantelle, Hi Michele!
          Happy you love the blog!
          Right, now I also understand what Chantelle is planning to do as a ceremony!
          Good luck!

  • Michele C.

    Chantelle we should really email – I am doing the EXACT same thing as you! We are getting married in my fiance’s hometown in Calabria in June 2011. I am guessing I will have about 15-20 people there from the US and my fiance’ will have 60-70 Italian speakers who speak little to no English. We communicate in Italian (I live in Italy) though he is learning English since we plan to move to the States in late 2011. Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

    The Invites: I reeeeally want to have the invites in both languages. Like Jenny (I think) said, it’s important to me that people see both languages, and right off the bat get the feel that this is a mixed language wedding. We are trying to find a fold invitation that we like to be able to accommodate this. If it doesn’t happen – so be it – my fiance’ is fine with two invites, one in English and one in Italian, but I really want both!

    The Ceremony: I’m really glad I saw this thread and totally appreciate everyone’s comments, especially Emily the expert who has done this already! I was really thinking about shortening the ceremony and having everything in both languages. Like you, Chantelle, we are having a civil ceremony not in a church which is pretty scandalous for southern Italy. We have an officiant in mind who speaks both English and Italian so I figured it would be very possible for him to say everything twice, but now that you guys mention it maybe it’s not a good idea. We could have one reading in English and one in Italian and have them translated into the other language in the program. And maybe not translate EVERYTHING. As so many of you said, people get the jist. It’s just a little more complicated since we are not doing a Catholic ceremony, we are creating our own ceremony – so the Italians are going to be a little bewildered at the get-go before we even start!

    The Reception: I already thought of labels for the food (we are having a huge cocktail hour buffet with like over 50 items – God help me with the food translations) and bilingual menus. My other idea was to have flashcards (done in a nice way) on the tables – with a phrase in Italian on one side and English on the other. Stuff like “This food is delicious”, “What a lovely couple”, etc. It could even get funny if we wanted. Have to be careful of the Italian sense of humor being very different from the American sometimes.

    I also thought of using family pictures – like a table of family wedding pictures, with a little label saying which family member it is. Some of those family members will certainly be at the wedding, so it kind of helps to see pictures of who’s who to help you remember, and it’s a conversation starter. My fiance claims none of the Italians will look at, they will just want to eat, but I think he’s wrong.

    I was also thinking a video of us or something with images that is non-language-denominational, but couldn’t figure out what to do that was non-cheesy. My fiance’ who is more creative than I am will be thinking about this.

    I also am planning to mix Italians and Americans at the tables, so there is at least minimal forced interaction.

    Chantelle – I have a large community of expat friends in Italy who are professional translators, or American actors that live there that do this kind of thing on the side, etc. If you let me know what region your wedding is in I probably know someone who would be willing to do the ceremony translations for little money.

    I’m glad to know I am not the only bride jumping this hurdle! I disagree with everyone who said it’s not a big deal – I don’t want to have an event where some people are shut out or one culture and language dominates the other. Yes, it’s happening in Italy, but he’s marrying an American with American family, so it’s going to be mixed no matter what. I also am trying to avoid having a reception with Americans on one side and Italians on the other. I’d ideally like people to make new friends, chat as much as they can, etc.

    • Chantelle

      Oh my goodness, this is hilarious, cause my fiance said pretty much the same thing about every “issue” I have with the wedding, being, if the food’s’ good, they’ll be good LMAO!

      And your expat translator base would be a gold mine of information for me, man do I ever love Team Practical, hook-ups all over the world! I would have to hire one for the legal ceremony anyways. I hear you on shocking everyone, when we were telling them we weren’t getting married in a church, they just all stopped and scratched their heads, but I think they’re writing it off as a strange thing North Americans do, and me being some kind of hippy cause I want to get married outside on the beach.

      What area of Calabria are you getting married in? We are actually planning to visit summer of 2011 to finalize all the planning details (the vision of the beaches there is what is going to get me through teh long cold winter). We are getting married in the village of Martirano Lombardo, which is near Falerna beach town, nearest big city is Cosenza.
      here’s my email address:, I’d love to chat.

      • Michele C.

        LOL, hilarious, we are getting married not far from each other! My fiance’ is from Ciro’, but we are getting married in Catanzaro, which is next to Cosenza I think! Will email you.

        • KA

          I have no practical advice to give, but wanted to pipe up and say I cannot wait for you ladies’ grad posts—a wedding in Italy (especially a “hippy North American” beach wedding in Calabria) sounds wonderful no matter the details and language barriers, and I hope your guests will feel the same way! :) I lived there several years ago, and am like physically craving a return visit. Maybe an Italian honeymoon…

          • Chantelle

            KA, the vision of the beaches in Calabria is all that will help me get through our long Canadian winter…and some hot yoga :)

            Honeymoon destination for sure!

      • Taryn

        Ciao Ladies! I’ll pipe in as well, as I faced a lot of the same issues when my Italian hubby and I married 3 years ago in his home village of Barberino Val D’Elsa (in the Chianti hills — if you blink you miss it!)

        The only non-English speakers were his family – but they were a really important crowd! Here are a few things we did (some echoed in other posts here):

        – We did most of the ceremony in English and kept it short in sweet. (We did the courthouse wedding thing a week earlier in our hometown of London b/c getting married in Italy involves a-l-o-t of paperwork. The ceremony was conducted by a friend who’s family is Italian-American. He totally looked the part and this made the strangeness of our getting married outside and in English more digestible for the Italians in the crowd.)
        – We had the vows translated – because we figured they were the most important part of the ceremony. Again short and sweet.
        – We did one reading in English and one reading in Italian
        – We had the dinner speeches translated – this ended up being the best part of the night, and they’re so personal that it was really important to us that everyone could share in and understand them. BUT if you do this – it’s great if your speakers can share a draft version with the interpreter at least a day before the wedding. On the spot interpretation is not super easy, especially for jokes…
        – My mom created a slide-show that she shared on a big screen between the dinner and dancing – set to Italian music. It was great fun for her because she had to work with my mother in law to put it together and share photos. The two of them totally bonded even though they don’t speak the same language.
        – We kept the interpreter for the entire evening – dinner and dancing. He was “on call” to aid in conversations between the Italian and non-Italian speakers. He was an Italian who was studying English, not fluent by any stretch of the imagination, but having something like this went a super-duper long way in encouraging cross-cultural conversations, especially between our family members.
        – We made sure to mix it up with both English and Italian tunes on the dance floor
        – We went paperless on the invites – which made it really easy and flexible for everyone traveling from far away. There’s LOTs of info you’ll need to share. Particularly with guests coming from overseas who are not used to (and will be nervous about) international travel.

        We basically planned a 4 day itinerary for our guests that showed them “our version” of Italy. It’s impossible to have a bad time there! You can see some of the fun activities and stuff that we did + photos of how it all turned out on our wedsite:

        Weddings in Italy are AMAZING – you can NOT go wrong with the food and wine. But there are some nuances (like you have a pay a license fee for the DJ to play any music…) If you gals would like to chat about anything Italian wedding related then totally send me an email! Best one is

        Can’t wait to see your Wedding Graduate posts!!

    • it’s amazing how many of “us” there are around here! makes me smile :)

      We had a wedding slide show and it was a big hit. Everyone can relate to pictures :) We just had it run in the background while everyone waited for their food.

      A word on tables.. I ended up, in making the seating chart, having tables that were predominantely one language. It kind of just happened naturally – I made sure not to put any single people at any table where they would not understand what was being said around them. I made sure to always include at least one (or more) people who could serve as translators, and speak both languages.

      can’t wait for your grad posts (please post them!!)

  • Lauren

    I know what it’s like having to conduct a ceremony in multiple languages and multiple cultures, given that my now husband is Italian and when we got married we had to incorperate three languages into our ceremony, English, Italian, and Japanese, because we had people who only spoke those languages and we wanted them to be included. What we did was we conducted the ceremony mainly in English, but we had two close friends (one Italian, and one Japanese) read the main homily (even though it wasn’t religious) in their respective languages so we were about to at least have our guests who don’t speak English feel somewhat included in that they were able to understand the substance of the ceremony. Also, if you are planning on having programs, do them bi-lingually so that all you guests can follow along with the ceremony.

  • lani

    Wow! Already a lot of comments but I’ll add my two cents.
    We had a mostly bilingual wedding; my husband speaks English only and my first language was French, although I became bilingual at the age of 12. We speak English to each other and we live in an English part of the country, but 10% of our guests were French. So, we had English only and French only invitations and reply postcards. In order to simplify things and save paper; we had no other paper goods. The website was bilingual. Our officiant was pretty fluent in French, although she certainly wasn’t perfectly bilingual, but I think most people don’t judge others who try to speak a second (or third) language. They just appreciate the effort!
    So, the welcome words were in English first, French second, and so were the explanations of the “blessing of the rings”. The opening words, about love and marriage in general were in English only. We then had the first reading (from “The Little Prince”) in French first, then English. The officiant then read another reading, in English only. Vows were in English because we wanted the each other to know what we were saying at that particular moment. This was followed by the signing of all paperwork and then the closing words were in English and in French. All in 30 minutes! It doesn’t have to lengthen the process by much. Just choose your readings in consequence. I know some of our French guests enjoyed watching us during the parts they couldn’t understand, and they mentioned how moving it all was, seeing our emotions and reactions to the words. I guess that’s the important part for me!

  • Like so many other posters, we are in the same situation. I am American, he is Argentine, we live in Argentina and we speak Spanish always. I have a lot of ex pat friends here… and it seems that whatever language a couple speaks when they first meet… is the language that defines the relationship and which they will always use when speaking together. I even know a Moroccan- German couple that met in Spain.. and despite Spanish not being the native language of either, they continue to speak to each other in Spanish (although they now live in Switzerland!). I think language, somehow, changes who you are a bit. It’s hard to explain but it’s almost like you have a slightly different personality in each language.

    So… I definitely think vows should be said in the language spoken by the couple if at all possible. . And for me, the rest of the ceremony should be conducted in the language where the wedding is held. In part, because presumably the majority of the guests will be from said country and in part, out of respect for said country. I think in Latin America this is a particularly sensitive issue, as their culture is already so inundated (some would say dominated) by the United States. So for us, it will be all Spanish. We plan on providing bilingual programs so the Americans can follow the ceremony. And we plan on having a section dedicated to explaining the wedding traditions of each country. I think the language immersion is going to be part of the fun for our American visitors.

  • Melissa D.

    Great article! We know a couple where the bride is from Puerto Rico and the groom is from Germany.
    Both of them now reside in the U.S. and have for many years. Their wedding ceremony was in English but the groom recited his vows in Spanish and the bride recited her vows in German. (They each had the vows written out on note cards for the ceremony, with the words spelled phoenetically to help with pronunciation).

    Both families were touched by this tribute and it meant they did not have to worry about multiple translators or multiple versions of their program.

    • Morgan

      That is ridiculously sweet. I love it.

  • Kee

    My husband is English and I’m Swedish, so we did a bilingual wedding. We just swapped between english and swedish in the ceremony and skipped the translations in the programme, people get it anyway. One reading was done in swedish, one in english. One hymn was in swedish, one in english…

    And for the vows, I think it’s nice to do them in your native language. I read mine in Swedish, and my husband did his in english. As they were the same for both of us, everyone would hear them in their preferred language.

    I think the bilingual part is fun, you should all enjoy it rather than worry. It’s not so important to understand every single word, but it’s important to incorporate a little bit of everything into the day.

  • My husband is Danish and I am British so this was an important question for us too. At the time my Danish was limited to a few simple phrases so we always spoke English to each other but I had also just started lessons and we agreed it was important to have both languages represented partly because it is so closely linked to identity as Alyssa said, and partly for practical reasons – some of my husband’s family have only basic knowledge of English.

    So we…
    1. did separate English and Danish invitations
    2. We had two bible readings: one read in English by a friend of mine, one read in Danish by my mother in law
    3. We had prayers in both languages by friends of mine and by my sister and brother in law.
    4. We made our declarations (the “I do” bit) in both languages, but said our vows in English because it was then our primary language to communicate in and I needed to understand fully what he said to me and what I promised him.
    5. At the big reception, just my dad and my husband gave speeches. My dad in English with a mangled but amusing attempt to welcome my in laws in Danish! And my husband also in English except for a section where he welcomed and thanked his friends and family in Danish (with a quick paraphrase into English)
    6. After the afternoon reception we had an evening dinner for just the immediate family. Denmark weddings have a tradition where EVERYONE makes a speech. We wanted his family to feel comfortable doing this in Danish, so we modified the tradition a little and did all the speeches that evening at our private family dinner and arranged that everyone would pre-translate their speech into the other language so that we could all understand. It seemed easier to do this in a smaller group and was actually more intimate and meaningful to have these precious speeches said amongst the people we love most.

    It worked well for us because as Alyssa said, language is so interconnected with identity, faith and culture, and we were also honouring those differences in other ways through the ceremony and receptions. Friends of mine still talk about all the Danish traditions we incorporated and I look forward to the day my Danish is good enough that I can go back to the video and understand the prayers that were said for us.

    It was special then, but I know the meaningfulness of it will only increase as we continue in our bilingual and bi-cultural marriage.

  • RP

    This is a rather long post about invitations. Apologies but I am in the midst of planning and have given a lot of thought to this.

    I am having a sort of tri-lingual wedding. I am Canadian. I speak English and speak French very poorly but am working on it. My fiancé is Greek but grew up in Canada. He speaks both English and French fluently, and a little Greek. We communicate in English (except once in awhile when one of us wants to say something nasty or funny, in which case he does it in French and I try to do it in French).

    The majority of the guests (if not all) who we expect to come speak English, so our ceremony and reception will be fairly straightforward in terms of language (if things change we will have to put into action many of the great suggestions in this discussion as I want his non-English speaking family to be able to follow along and feel included, especially after a 20 hour journey).

    Like many of the other commentators, it is really important for us to send out the invites in all the languages of our family. This is a way of introducing my Canadian family to my fiancé’s Greek heritage (and to show them what my future last name will look like in its native language), and to ensure his family can understand the invitation and feel welcome. And, as others have said, bi- (or tri-) lingual invitations announce that your wedding will be an international affair (even if it’s held in your hometown). Plus we love travelling and both live abroad, so it makes sense for us as a couple to have multi-lingual paper products.

    But this is where it gets tricky. My family speaks only English. His family is a mixed bag – some speak varying degrees of English, Greek & French, some only English and French, and some only Greek. Bi-lingual invites are hard enough so we didn’t want to do tri-lingual ones. At first I wanted to do French and English invites, because those are the languages that I know, but we (wisely) decided on English and Greek invites. The main reason is that more people speak Greek than French, and some speak only Greek (I do not think anyone speaks only French), so everyone will be able to read at one least of the languages. Plus my fiancé is Greek and not French (although he does have French-speaking family in Belgium and the DRC) so it makes sense in terms of our backgrounds.

    We also want everyone to get invites in both languages, in part because we think this is more inclusive, but mostly out of necessity—it would be really hard to figure out who should get the English and who should get the Greek. This way people can decide for themselves which language they are more comfortable with.

    On my first stab at my invites (which I’m designing & printing with the help of a friend), I tried including both languages. But as other people have testified this is not easy to do aesthetically. My solution is to make double sided invites on single 5 x 7 inch piece of card stock. The design will be identical, but one side will be in English and the other side in Greek. I love letterpress, but ruled this option out since one version will have to be in Greek letters and the invites must be double sided. This would be tricky to do in letterpress and if possible, would be too expensive. So I am compromising by having the invites printed on a very high quality cotton paper. For a hint of French (because I love France & all things French, and it’s a nod to the bi-lingualism of Canada and the French in his family), both the English & Greek reply cards will say “répondez s’il vous plaît” with no translation (I figure that is a fairly universal phrase but, if anyone does not understand, the rest of the instructions on the card will explain the it).

    If we do end up making our ceremony & reception bi- or tri-lingual (depending on who makes the journey) I think we will do something similar in both printed and spoken word. The ceremony will be in English, but we could have a few important bits that we think are important for all to understand translated on the fly (fortunately we have skilled family that we can call on for help), and perhaps have a reading in Greek or French. While it may work for some, I think a full translation of everything would be too much (our short 20 minute ceremony would become at least 40 minutes, which I know from past experience is a long time for a guest to sit, and may be too long for me to stand in my shoes*), so we’ll have printed materials with translations and explanations to cover the rest. I actually think it’s nice to include the text of readings, even when they are spoken in someone’s native language, so that if guests are a literary geek like me, they can read them over later at their own leisure or keep them for posterity.

    One tip is that we are going to do the big family toasts the night before at the rehearsal dinner. Some of our family members are talkers. We do not want to deprive them of the chance to speak their hearts out, but we think this is more appropriate for close family and the wedding party. If necessary, we can take the time then to translate everything for those involved. This way, by the time of the ceremony and reception, everyone will know each other a little better and have an idea of what is going on, so even if they do not understand everything they will (hopefully) feel included. And we’ll definitely make sure to sit a non-English speaker next to a bi-lingual speaker so that they can translate if necessary.

    Finally, straying from the topic of invitations and moving closer to the topic of culture, I think that food is a great way to communicate across languages. We are thinking of holding our rehearsal dinner at a Greek restaurant, and having a dessert bar at the reception incorporating yummy Greek and German sweets (my dad’s family is German, but fortunately everyone we are inviting speaks English). Any excuse for more dessert!

    Now that I’ve cleverly laid out my linguistic plans, I’ve realized that I have not yet given any thought to handling our religious ceremony in Greece a few months later, which will be in Greek! So thanks Alyssa for this post, which has given me lots of options to think about.

    *I am changing into flats for the mingling and dancing bit. I am at least a little sensible.

    • expressobean13

      I see this is an old post, how did everything turn out? Did you go the trilingual route after all?

  • Marsalidh

    Oh my goodness, I just read this comment just now as it was made while I was on honeymoon – sorry for the late reply! I haven’t read the comments all the way through yet but wanted to give you my email address as I can give you survivors tips! I’m Scottish and I got married to an Italian, in Italy, in October this year, and we had the same language barrier with our families although I speak fluent Italian. I am also an overthinker and totally know where you’re coming from as we wrestled with a lot of the same issues, but in spite of this we managed to have a really relaxed celebration in which (I’m pretty sure) everyone felt involved even without everything being dual-language…..One thing to remember is that in Italy the legal ceremony has to of course be in Italian (albeit you can have an interpreter if required/desired) – and most priests or mayors are very unlikely to allow you much flexibility in terms of the content of the ceremony. I won’t bore people with the details on how you can get around this for Italy in particular, but you could contact me by email if you like? Also, maybe I’m biased because I spoke Italian, but I honestly think that things don’t need to be translated if it’s a relaxed event; people will feel involved and part of something exciting even if they don’t follow things word for word. A word of caution when it comes to representing both cultures – I started out really determined to have a Scottish-Italian wedding, with both cultures fully represented, but found that it can get really complicated (not to mention exhausting) if you are hung up on both cultures being fully reflected in every part of the wedding. Go easy on yourself and cut out all the extra stuff that you don’t need – just choose the things you really care about, and go for it!! I say forget the culture and family bit – do what you and your fiance’ WANT!! Because, trust me, by the time you’ve wrestled with yourself/your fiance/both sets of parents/grandparents/etc about the Italian vs Canadian ways of doing favours/ceremony/the meal/speeches, whatever, you risk that every decision you make is a compromise to what is “standard” in your home country – whereas you should be thinking about what you both actually want, and what represents you. We dispensed with a whole load of traditions that normally people in Italy/Scotland would have claimed were absolutely vital…..but actually no-one missed any of them, and we all had a great time!! If you would like to email me you can reach me on thistlesandrosemary at gmail dot com! And if I don’t hear from you – in bocca al lupo e tanti auguri!!

  • I am in a real pickle because 95% of my guests are my family and speak Turkish, of those about 70% do not understand English at all. The rest of my guests were born in the UK or lived here for over 40 years but they are the grooms family and there aren’t many of them :( so, do I go with a Turkish ceremony where the grooms family are alienated or do I do it in English so that 70% of my guests are alienated? The other possibility I can think of is to keep vows and speeches short and sweet and translate them to Turkish afterwards?

    I dread to think what I will use for music…**despair**

    • Bahar

      Hi Ipek,
      Congratulations on your engagement. I am getting married in the US this Spring, and my family is from Turkey too. Most of our guests will be the groom’s family, who are English-speakers only. Our Turkish guests are all bilingual and understand English. My mother’s English is not that good and I know she’ll need translations when the ceremony takes place. Although I like your idea of translating everything afterwards, I think a simple translation in Turkish at the reception may be sufficient. I want the invitations and the program to have both languages too. Have you already made any decisions since your last post? Thanks.

      • Hey Bahar :)
        I’m going with Turkish stationery for my family who don’t speak English and English stationery for everyone else. I am hand making it all myself so it won’t be difficult to get that done. I am a perfectionist unfortunately and had definite ideas of what I wanted (really not making it easy for myself lol)

        As far as translations go…….I think I will have to ask everyone to keep speeches shortish. I think I will be having short translations of the speeches in Turkish so it doesn’t bore everyone to tears, that’s the way I am thinking at the moment anyway. As far as music goes I think we are having a Turkish DJ who is up on all the latest music and throw in a fair few English songs that we love and typical cheesy wedding songs. I don’t think you can have a wedding without cheesy songs that everyone loves to hate but can’t help dancing too hehehehe!! can’t wait.

        Have you got any ideas about how you’re going to get around the language barrier??

        • Bahar

          Bahar writes:

          Hello Ipek,

          Thank you for your prompt response. Yes, doing it all yourself is probably the best, but unfortunately I don’t have that much talent or time :( I like the idea of keeping speeches short. In fact, we weren’t even considering a speech time, but I guess the American family would especially like it. I know that even my mother would understand all, but again she’d have some difficulty. Honestly, I don’t have any concrete ideas as to how to overcome this language barrier issue. We didn’t even decide on the venue yet, and everything seems so complicated! You’re right about a Turkish DJ; we may also look into that.

          In general, I tend to agree with the general forum contributors here about the language issue. Since the entire event is already so hard to put together, I don’t think I’ll go crazy about the issue of language barrier. If we arrange seating in such a way that Turkish guests who are bilinguals can provide translations to those who are not, then I guess they would still have a lot of fun! Let me know if you come up with any new ideas. Good luck with the preparations!

  • Piera

    Hi I am getting married in Italy in May and we are having a trilingual ceremony. My fiance is half French, I am half Italian and our French and Italian relatived don’t speak English and nearly all our friends are coming from England.

    We are having a reading in each of the languages, and splitting the vows and ring exchange. Our officiant (also our friend) will say it in English, my fiance will say his in French and I will say mine in Italian. If you only have two languages then you can say them in English and our hubby-to be in Italian.

    We are also translating the program into the three languages so that if people want to follow and understand everything they can.

    I think most people can manage to say a few words in another language and remember your families will be understanding. For example your officiant just saying Benvenuti at the start will help make those who don’t speak English feel included.

    You could also do a Evviva gli sposi which is a toast at the end.

    At the end of the day everyone will have a good time so don’t fret.

  • I’m a bilingual officiant and DJ and find that with each multicultural couple I work with, they each have their own delicate balance. Some ceremonies kind of turn into Spanglish….”Y ahora, for the first time ever, Sr. y Sra. XYZ” because one crowd pretty much already figures out what’s being said when half the room starts clapping. Likewise, if you say, “You may now kiss the bride” in one language–the groom is going to kiss the bride the first time he hears that. He’s not going to stand there politely waiting for the translation to be said first. With careful planning, bilingual events can be more fun and less tedious than other events! Trust me :-)

  • Jo A. Rodriguez

    I wonder how hard it is to have a bilingual wedding. I guess it requires a lot of effort and time to be able to pull off a wedding like this but it sounds fun though. Planning a wedding is already difficult, what more if it’s a bilingual wedding, i bet it’s going to be harder but when the big day comes, i know it’s all going to be rewarding.