I've been living in Spain for 12 years. I've stopped dating locals because too much gets lost in translation.

  • Nicola Prentis moved to Spain in 2012 but isn't fully fluent in Spanish.

  • Prentis is single and says that when she dates in Spanish, she never feels like herself.

  • She says she now prefers to date English speakers.

"Say something to me in Spanish," said my date in the small Catalan city where I've lived since 2016. But despite his great English and being interesting and attractive, his question immediately made me both self-conscious and irritated at what I knew was coming next. It's an inevitable part of the first-date scenario I've come to hate while dating in Spain.

Unlike in bigger cities such as Madrid or Barcelona, most of my local dating pool speaks only Spanish or Catalan, so I'm always grateful when I find someone who speaks English. Navigating the apps with my level of Spanish is easy, and I can even manage whole dates. But it's not just the language barrier that's the challenge

"No tengo nada para que decir," I replied, hoping to get his judgment on my Spanish over with as soon as possible. Plus, it's kind of true. I really don't have much to say in Spanish because I'm not yet (ever?) going to be at the level where my real personality comes through.

"Terrible," he said.

Whether he meant my accent or the grammar error I'd made, I didn't know. But it wasn't the first time I'd been mocked for speaking Spanish in a supposedly romantic context. I still remember the belittling way a Mexican boyfriend laughed at how I pronounced the restaurant name "100 Montaditos" in 2012. All this has very much shaped my attitude toward the language and how I feel speaking it.

I'm overly compliant and naive in Spanish

It's not just unpleasant memories that are to blame for my unwillingness to date in Spanish. There's also research that suggests personalities can change when you're speaking another language. Nate Young, a former Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at the University of Oslo who worked on the study, told Business Insider: "Environmental cues, such as language use, can lead to adjustments in mood and demeanor. Multilinguals often use different languages for distinct purposes, and those purposes will influence your emotional states." Young holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from Queen Mary University of London.

So, as much of my experience in Spain involves frustration with my own language limits, it's shaped how I feel when speaking the language.

The result of this is what some refer to as "nodding-dog syndrome." If I'm tired or if the social situation means multiple people are in the conversation, I end up nodding along, "sí, sí" to everything. Debating something complex in Spanish is beyond my language level, but I also know I'll sound rude if I disagree using the blunt language tools I do have.

Added to that is the naivete that comes with dating outside your own cultural context. I can't tell whether that guy who said "joder" in front of an 80-year-old priest is crass and disrespectful. The swear word is much milder in Spanish than in English (it translates directly as "f**k), but is it mild enough to use in front of a priest? I also couldn't tell whether the guy who paid me a million compliments and texted me all the time was enthusiastically open or love bombing, something I'd be fully tuned into in my own culture.

I'm a terrible listener in Spanish

Listening intently in order to understand is tiring to do for a whole date, let alone a relationship. But sometimes I'm not paying attention at all whereas, in English, I have really good active listening skills.

In Spanish, I'll find myself using the break where the other person is speaking to go over whether I made a mistake in what I just said. Then, I'll ask them about the related grammar query instead of what they were just telling me. Even worse, because I'm either not truly listening or I'm focusing so hard on how to express myself, my memory of the actual content of these conversations is scant at best. Being more concerned about verb endings than how the date may end isn't exactly conducive to a great date.

I've come to prefer people who speak English and don't make fun of my Spanish, just so they get to know the real me and not this version of me who's sometimes bolshy, sometimes overly agreeable, and often inattentive. After all, I wouldn't date me in Spanish.

Got a personal essay about dating abroad that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor: akarplus@businessinsider.com.

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