As our world grows smaller and our countries more multi-cultural, weddings with couples from two or more cultures is becoming more commonplace.
Some couples opt to have a wedding celebration in each of their native countries (my husband and I had one in Munich, Germany where he’s from, and a second one several months later in California). If two weddings isn’t feasible another option is to have one ceremony and include as much of both cultures in it as possible.
However, hosting a wedding where half or more of the guests don’t speak one of the languages runs the risk of leaving many people attending feeling out of the loop. Here are some ways to keep everyone engaged and feeling included.
1. Make sure guests receive wedding stationery and or communication in their native language. There are many ways to do this, you can create bi-lingual stationery, or create two (or more!) sets of stationery; one in each language. If all your guests are online and you are less concerned about formality you can go entirely paperless which makes it easier to create invitations, directions and other communication in more than one language.
2. Consider a mixed language ceremony. Your wedding ceremony is the heart of the event. Ideally none of your guests will have to feel lost or tuned out while it’s happening. If possible keep it short and sweet. If you both understand one anthers native language, each person can say his or her vows in their native language. If the ceremony is primarily in one language, intersperse it with poems, songs or readings in a second language or say key phrases ‘You may now kiss the bride’ in both or a second language.
3. Split the ceremony. In Germany, where I got married, a civil ceremony or ‘Standesamt’ takes place first, followed by a religious or church wedding ceremony separately. Our civil ceremony was in German, and later our wedding ceremony was in English.
4. Create a wedding ceremony program in each language. If a linguistic mash-up won’t work in your ceremony, create dual-language programs with sections dedicated to explaining the wedding traditions of each culture. Translate poems, wedding party roles, songs and explain each section of the ceremony.
5. Add subtitles to reception slideshows or movies. If you’ve put together a film or slideshow for the reception of the wedding, include sub-titles if someone is narrating it, or consider making it a wordless montage and adding music from both cultures instead.
6. Incorporate food and music from each culture. Food and music are universal and transcend language. Alternate courses with a dish from each culture or have both cuisines represented in your wedding buffet. If you’re having a wedding DJ ask him or her to learn a few key phrases in both languages, better yet, if the DJ speaks both languages, for example Spanish and English, ask them to speak ’Spanglish’ ‘Ok, ahora! everybody bailando!’
7. Hire or assign interpreters. If you can’t hire an interpreter for the wedding, ask friends that speak dual languages to help out (you can request this as a wedding gift). Strategically sit them between important guests (like parents) so they can do some light translating during meals and important moments.
8. Come up with a few ‘buzzwords’ to teach everyone. For example instead of toasting ‘Cheers’ teach everyone to say ‘Prost’, ‘Salud’, ‘Kampai’ or ‘Skål’. Share words for ‘kiss’, ‘love’, ‘happiness’ and another phrases that are appropriate to use at a wedding celebration. Guests can lean on these as needed to cement connection or raise a glass.
9. Plan smaller, single language events leading up to the ceremony. In some cultures, like Denmark, it’s traditional for every guest to make a speech. This can be difficult for guests that don’t understand. Plan to have smaller more intimate events, like a breakfast or cocktail hour, leading up to the big day where these cultural traditions can be shared without the burden of trying to translate them.
10. Plan language independent icebreaker actives during surrounding events. If you’re hosting events like a barbecue or picnic on the day before the wedding plan for some common group sports (like soccer), card games or even board games like chess that cut across cultural lines, and help guests to get to know one another without needing to make conversation.
Did you have a bilingual wedding? What did you do to make all of your guests feel comfortable?