The New Stuff


English, Please

By Joy Ehonwa.

Hallo! Wie geht? Some of you speak German and understood exactly what I said, some had the vague idea that I was saying “hi”, sort of, and others were just blank. When I was studying for my degree in Linguistics, one of the things that struck me over and over was the fact that when you translate something from one language to another, many times it doesn’t quite hit it. So you find people saying—about a phrase in their mother tongue—“I really don’t know how to explain it in English”. Even when they give a literal representation in English, the essence of the phrase is often lost in translation.

The truth is we prefer to be spoken to in our own language, regardless of whether we have a fairly good grasp of a foreign language or not. And when it comes to love, it’s really no different.

In his book, “The Five Love Languages”, Christian counselor Dr. Gary Chapman writes about the importance of being able to express love to your partner in a way that your partner can understand.

Deji and Alero have been married less than a year. They were really good friends throughout University and though they were never romantically involved, and didn’t even keep in touch when Deji travelled to Scotland for his postgraduate studies, he returned to Nigeria with a certainty that Alero was the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Alero on her part saw in him a man she could love, respect, and build a life with, and in no time they were both inseparable.

They loved movies and music, shared a love for board games, particularly Scrabble, and were passionate about the welfare of orphans. With a strong foundation in friendship, and shared hobbies and values, one could imagine what a home full of life and laughter they would make. But there was trouble in paradise. Deji couldn’t shake the feeling that Alero was slipping away from him. If you asked him, “does Alero love you?” his answer would be a firm “Yes, I know she does.”  On the other hand if you were to ask Alero if Deji loved her she would say something along the lines of “Well, I think he does. He loves me, I guess.” And although Deji couldn’t place a finger on it, it was his wife’s lack of conviction that her husband was in love with her that placed an emotional wedge between them. They simply couldn’t connect in a deep and satisfying way.

Many couples have found themselves in some variant of this situation and concluded that they are incompatible, or that their partner loves them but is not in love with them, and many other diagnoses that spring from this basic lack of fulfillment. The truth of the matter is that trouble begins in marriage when needs are not being met. And even though men and women have different needs, we all have a need to be loved and feel loved.

The thing, though, is that we all give and receive love differently. For some people, they just need to hear the words. For others, talk is cheap. Deji felt loved by his wife because she made a point of loving him in a way he understood, but Alero didn’t feel cherished by her husband because he didn’t communicate his love to her in her language.

Gary Chapman identified 5 love languages, where a large percentage of people have a primary and secondary love language. When our partners speak to us in our language, they are said to be “filling up our love tank”. When the love tank is empty, all kinds of unnecessary negative feelings begin to spring up, seemingly from nowhere.

  • Words of Affirmation: As the name implies, people with this language want to hear your love, more than anything else. Hearing you say that you are glad you found them, that they look great, that the dinner they made you tasted wonderful and all other such things scream “I love you”.  And of course good old “I love you” spoken sincerely works wonders.
  • Acts of Service: For these ones, words don’t mean much. They hear “I love you” in the things you do for them. Helping them with their office projects, shopping, gardening or even preparing and serving them a meal fills up their love tank more than sweet words ever will. Note though, that these acts of service need to be done with joy in order to be perceived as a gift of love.
  • Quality Time: Spend time with me. Drop your Blackberry, get the office out of your head, be here with me and nowhere else. Look at me, listen to me, gist with me, and play with me. Be in the kitchen with me; you don’t have to help with anything, just be around me. No amount of love-talk or acts of service can replace quality time for someone with this love language.
  • Receiving Gifts:  Some hear “I love you” when you give them something that says “Look, I was thinking of you”. This goes beyond the general pleasure most of us feel when we receive gifts. They don’t have to be expensive to send a powerful message of love. Partners who forget a birthday or anniversary or who never give gifts to someone who truly speaks this language will find themselves with a partner who feels neglected and unloved.
  • Physical Touch: Nothing particularly sexual here. Hugs, pecks, cuddles and massages speak volumes to a partner whose language is Physical Touch. Even merely holding hands will sometimes fill this need. It may sound funny but to this partner, not being touched like this equals not being loved. “Yes, if you really love me you will touch me”, they think.

Most of us enjoy some measure of these 5 languages, but it’s much more than that for a “native speaker”. One easy way to know your partner’s love language/languages is to observe the language they speak to you, because we subconsciously tend to give love in the way we understand and receive it.

Some may argue that this fosters selfishness; that you should try and hear when your partner is saying “I love you” even though it’s not in a way you want. I disagree. It is more loving to make the effort to speak your partner’s language than for both of you to “manage”. If you really look at it, it’s an investment that actually makes your marriage more fulfilling in the long run.

Tu comprende? Bien!


About the Author

Joy Ehonwa is a writer specialising in documentary scripts.  She is passionate about self development and relationships. You can read her blog at, send her an email at, and follow her on Twitter @joysuo.

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