Getting married is an exciting, but stressful thing for a couple. Organising your special day often turns out more complex than expected, and even more so when planning a bilingual wedding. There are lots of extra difficulties to solve and details to bear in mind to make sure everything is perfect.
Use this article as a checklist of things to look at when planning your wedding and how to deal with them so nobody feels left out or awkward.
Before the wedding
Are all your documents you need to take to the register office in English?
After giving notice of your wedding, you and your partner must go to your local register office and submit some documents to prove your name, age, nationality, and address. For example, valid passport, birth certificate, bank statement, bills… If either of you has been divorced, you must also submit a decree absolute or final order. If any of those documents is written in a foreign language, you must get it translated into English by a certified translator.
Will this be the first trip to the UK for your foreign guests?
Attending your wedding will be the perfect excuse for friends and relatives to travel and see first-hand where you live. For some of them, it may be the first time in the country or even abroad, which can be a bit scary if they do not speak English.
A good idea to help them would be to create a guide in their language including practical information on topics such as accommodation, transport, things to see and a list of useful mobile apps to download to make things a bit easier.
Do your guests know what to expect?
Although the main elements of a wedding can be easily identified and understood, different cultural traditions may confuse some of your guests. For example, at a bilingual wedding between a Briton and a Spaniard, Brits may be shocked to see the groom puts the wedding band on her Spanish bride’s right hand, instead of the left one. They may also find it shocking to discover the Spanish bride has two surnames and she is keeping them both. (Read more on Spanish surnames and naming customs). Likewise, Spanish guests will not expect formal speeches and will be offended if their children are not invited to the event.
Putting together a brochure explaining how your wedding is going to be, and the type of things they can expect will come in handy. It will avoid misunderstandings that would otherwise lead to awkwardness and judgmental gossiping.
At the wedding
Do you need an interpreter for the ceremony?
Hiring a consecutive interpreter for the ceremony is highly recommended, although it is not the only solution to the language barrier. On the one hand, an interpreter will render a perfect message of everything being said, allowing your guests to enjoy the most important part of the wedding without having to read texts. On the other hand, the ceremony will be a bit longer, and this will be annoying for your bilingual guests, as they will have to listen to everything twice. An alternative would be to distribute bilingual leaflets among your guests, so they can follow the ceremony, no matter which language is used by the officer or the people doing the readings.
What about speeches?
If you are thinking of hiring an interpreter for the ceremony, you may hire them for the whole event and have both the ceremony and the speeches covered.
A good alternative would be to create PowerPoint presentations, however simple, and display a translation of what is being said in the other language. Bear in mind you need to ask your guests for their speeches well in advance, so you can get them translated and inserted into the presentation. For the presentation to be effective, it needs to be accurate (the speaker going off topic will cause issues) and well-timed (not displaying the end of a joke or anecdote before the speaker says it, for example).
A small piece of advice: even if you and your partner speak each other’s language, refrain from translating the speeches yourselves. Speeches are so personal, so funny, so emotional… that reading them in advance will ruin the surprise. Moreover, the language, the jokes, the cultural references are hard to translate and only a professional translator will guarantee the best possible result.
Whether you post set menu options to your guests, or you go for an informal buffet, you will want to have the menus translated. To save money on printing and postage, you could email the menus in PDF format, or upload the translation to your wedding website. If you decide to have an informal buffet, where everyone simply chooses what to have, make sure the menu is somewhere visible in both languages (ideally next to the table where the food is). Consider having the names of each dish or product displayed on a folded card in both languages including all the ingredients and stating whether they are gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans, for example.
After the wedding
Registering your marriage abroad
After your wedding, you must get your marriage certificate legalised with the Apostille and translated if you want to register your marriage abroad. For example, if you married in the UK and your partner is Spanish, you will need to contact the Legalisation Office, and then contact a Spanish sworn translator to have the document ready for registering your marriage in Spain.
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IRENE CORCHADO RESMELLA is a Spanish translator based in Edinburgh. A Chartered Linguist and member of the CIOL, she is also an English-Spanish sworn translator appointed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Irene specialises in sworn and legal translation (particularly in wills and succession) and is an Affiliate member of STEP. ICR Translations is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and has professional indemnity insurance.