How to Have a Bilingual Wedding Ceremony

And not get lost in translation

Bilingual Indian wedding

O'Malley Photographers

It goes without saying that weddings celebrate the joining of a couple. But weddings also bring together two families. With the joining of two families, it can often mean individual cultures, histories, religious beliefs, and languages are all colliding on one beautiful, momentous day. And just as wedding planning comes with a huge variety of choices from deciding on the perfect venue and the style of your invitation suite to your cake and your flowers, there are a few additional planning considerations to keep in mind if multiple languages might be present on your wedding day.

Especially if some of your guests don't speak your celebration's primary language, there inevitably may be hiccups, but embracing the idea of a bilingual wedding ceremony can go a long way to further celebrate you and your partner as a couple, along with your individual heritage. Plus, it will make sure that those gathering for the occasion won't miss a beat.

"We find it exciting to mix traditions and give everyone an experience wherever possible," says Ashley Smith of Ashley Smith Events.

Meet the Expert

Ashley Smith is the owner and lead designer of Ashley Smith Events, a wedding and event planning company with a focus on planning weddings in California and worldwide. 

Just a few special touches can truly make all the difference. And those details can help to make sure that all of your guests feel included when it comes time for you and your partner to walk down the aisle. Read on for eight key ways to plan an inclusive bilingual wedding ceremony that will help you bridge that language gap.

Have Both Languages Present on the Wedding Website

Make sure that those nearest and dearest to you feel included from the get-go. Including all the details of your big day in both languages on your wedding website can make all the difference. If you're planning to include specific cultural traditions in your ceremony as well, this is the perfect place to explain and share those details.

Offer a Multilingual Program

Consider the way you're wording your program to be sure it's inclusive. "Have the program printed in both languages so that as people are watching, they can follow along and keep up without guessing what is happening," suggests Smith. When you’re creating your ceremony program, either design and print a version in each language, or offer translations beneath each line for your monolingual guests.

Consider offering a multilingual program that offers translations with one language on the front and the other on the back. That way, if a guest misplaces their program and asks to read off of their neighbor's, each program will feature both languages used throughout your ceremony.

Translate Your Readings

If your ceremony will be entirely in one language, consider offering printed translations of your readings or vows so guests who aren’t fluent can follow along. Ask a friend or family member who is bilingual to help with the translations (instead of using an online translation website) to make sure the nuances are clear in both languages.

Consider a Bilingual Officiant or a Translator

If you have a large number of guests who don’t speak the same language, this is an important point to consider. "We highly recommend having the officiant be bilingual," says Smith. "That way they can repeat what they are reading or saying in both languages as they are speaking." Alternatively, you might also consider hiring a translator to provide a live translation of the ceremony. Look for a local simultaneous translation service (like the translators who work at the United Nations, translating proceedings into delegates’ headsets in real-time). They may not advertise wedding services, but these companies offer professional interpreters and can often rent you the wireless headsets necessary to allow your monolingual guests to follow along.

Keep in mind that it's important not to overdo it with translations. Work with your officiant to find a balance for you and your guests' needs so that you're not unnecessarily extending the length of your ceremony.

Keep Readings Concise

To avoid boredom or loss of attention from guests who might not understand the proceedings (whether you’re having a monolingual or bilingual ceremony), keep the readings and sections short.

Include Both Languages in Your Vows

Are you learning the language your partner’s family speaks? Share your vows in both languages. If you’re using traditional vows, repeat them in both of the represented languages. If you’re writing your own vows, you can either read the vows in one language, then the other, or alternate back and forth between each language—offering the full text in both languages in your program.

Translate Key Moments

Even if your ceremony is monolingual, ask your officiant to translate key moments into both languages. Think “With this ring, I thee wed” and “You may now kiss the bride.” Yes, your guests will see what’s happening, but having those major phrases spoken in both languages will help to make everyone feel like they're truly part of your celebration.

Use Signage

Including both languages on signage throughout your ceremony, along with your reception, can go a long way. "It's important to incorporate bilingual signage so that everyone can be included," says Smith. You can opt to include a translation on signage, or design signage in a way that includes a recognizable symbol for anyone to easily understand.

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