I don’t know about you but I sometimes find it hard enough to express myself when I’m speaking in my mother tongue, let alone a foreign one. I’m much more comfortable with the written word, where I have more time to formulate. There is sadly no backspace for your mouth. E-mails to friends, even facebook messages, can become meandering, elaborate essays and I wish I were as articulate when speaking, but the words tend to trip over one another.
That’s in English. Imagine how it is when I am trying to express my more complicated cogitations in French, and I am (as is usually the case) in an awful hurry to get it all out. It’s amazing, then, how I have somehow managed to have some really quite profound (I like to think) conversations in French. A challenge enough with a native speaker, but imagine with another non-francophone…
Yet, somehow we manage. My comely German neighbour and I do not share a mother tongue, yet our regular tea and chat sessions in (albeit staccato and mixed with German and English) French are more enjoyable and rewarding than many a conversation I happen to have in English. And she’s not the only one. How is it that, umming-and-ahhing and vocabulary mind-blanks aside, sometimes conversations in French just seem to flow better than with others in English?
This is how I know that language can be completely arbitrary, if you got the click. I know couples who do not share a mother tongue, yet muddle along just fine; better than many couples who do. It can be difficult for your full personality and sense of humour to come across in a foreign language, but they are often transmitted without a word being spoken anyway. Indeed, an Italian I know, who happens to be in a non-native-language-sharing romance himself (there must be a simpler term for this!), really likes to emphasise the importance of body language!
But seriously though, to communicate one’s values and motivations and find them compatible with another’s (the essential ingredients for a friendship, or any relation that brings any kind of satisfaction), an expansive arsenal of advanced vocabulary and sophisticated grammatical manipulation is not necessary. All you need is that little bit of magic, that chemistry, that affinité, and you’re laughing.