Portrait: TJ, from Albany, New York

Software engineer TJ talks with Babbel about meeting his girlfriend Mari and learning new languages for love.

We are launching a series of portraits of Babbel users – a snapshot of their lives, and the reasons why they are learning a new language. If you’d like to share your story, let us know in the comments. This is the month that we all celebrate Valentine’s day: a good reason to interview TJ, a 26-year-old software engineer from Albany, New York who is learning Norwegian for his significant other, Mari, from Norway.


I met my girlfriend, Mari (26), while she was studying at the University of Albany as an exchange student from Norway. We met via a mutual friend while we were out at a local pub, and I thought she looked beautiful. We hit it off right from the start, so I asked her out to dinner sometime that week so I could get to know her better. There wasn’t a language barrier, her English is very good. She grew up learning English, and had already spent two years studying in Australia.

On our first date, we talked about her home country of Norway, and it really piqued my interest. I had seen photos and heard tidbits about Norway, but talking with her and getting an insider’s perspective is what really made me fall in love with the country, and with her! We ended up both having the same taste in music, television shows (except The Bachelor – yuck), and sarcasm.

We spent the rest of the night talking and getting to know each other, much to the chagrin of our waiter. It wasn’t just meeting another girl, it was meeting someone who came from a different place, with different stories, customs and traditions; that’s what instantly captured my attention. The fact that she spoke with an accent added to this, and made me want to get to know her even more. I still think it’s the most adorable thing in the world when she pronounces “weather” as “wetter” and “thighs” as “ties”.

Before meeting her, I had no experience with Norwegian at all. I was always fascinated by the Scandinavian countries, their landscape and culture, but it wasn’t enough to motivate me to learn more about the languages. I studied Spanish in school, but it never really stuck. Once I met Mari however, I was dead-set on learning Norwegian! I also wanted to be able to converse in Norwegian if I ever went to visit her family, which I actually did recently.

Mari and I traveled to Norway to be with her family for the Christmas holidays. Since I had been learning for just a few months, I was limited to simple sentences. It was pretty funny to see me and a 6 year old conversing in Norwegian and having about the same vocabulary! I still felt lost in conversations, but it just gives me more motivation to become even better before we visit again this summer.

Of course, there are always moments of discouragement. I was very excited to get started in the beginning, but after a few weeks it seemed like an impossible mountain to climb. There is a LOT of vocabulary to learn, and your brain can’t handle more than a certain amount each day. The times I’ve gotten frustrated were simply because I was trying to cram too much into my brain at once. Now I know better: learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint.

Mari is also a great help to learn Norwegian. We speak in English, but she will sometimes repeat what she said in Norwegian afterwards. She has decided to stay in the U.S. so that we can be together, and we are currently in the process of applying for a K-1 Fiancee Visa, which would enable us to get married and allow her to stay in the U.S. permanently.

Currently, she can only stay for a maximum of 90 days, so we’ve had a few stretches of a long-distance relationship while she goes home to Norway. Last summer, we talked every day via Skype and were actually able to meet up (for only 24 hours) when my family traveled to Italy in July! But now she’s back for 3 months and we should receive an answer from the U.S. government in the next few weeks. Once we are finally approved, we both want to move out to the west coast, preferably San Francisco or Portland.