How to create a bilingual wedding ceremony with Carly Petracco




Carly shared some amazing stories and ideas for couples who want to personalize their wedding ceremonies.


A Canadian-Belgian couple living in Switzerland came to Portugal to get married. 

Their wedding wasn’t just the joining of their lives, but the joining of everyone there. It was creating this new, one big mix of a family. And their wedding is not going to be the last time they are going to celebrate with all of these people. At the ceremony everyone dumped different colors of broken glasses into one vase, then they took it to a glass blower, who made a beautiful piece of art out of it. What a beautiful memory from their wedding and a symbol of bringing everyone together.


A couple from Scotland, living in Portugal wanted to implement a Scottish tradition where the marriage is only sealed after they drink whiskey out of a two handled love cup.

(It’s called “The Quaich” ) But the bride didn’t like whiskey, so with Carly’s suggestion they added local wine into the cup, since Portugal became part of their identity over the years. So this is a representation of the mixing of their lives and cultures.

We often talk about multicultural within a couple. But there is another way for weddings to be multicultural. When couples are living and marrying in a place that’s not their own. I think there is a really great way for couples who are marrying abroad -even if they are from the same place,- to also include parts of the culture of the place where they are marrying into it.


Japanese couple living in the United States, marrying in Portugal.

The couple ended up doing a wine ceremony, where they shared 3 glasses of wine from Porto (the city they both fell in love with). One representing the past, one the present, and one the future. It was a beautiful way to incorporate something that is very emblematic from the city that they love. They also found it meaningful that Carly is from America, plus she learned a few phrases in Japanese, which I think is pretty amazing! What a great way to make all the guests feel included! Language is such an important way to make your wedding ceremony inclusive. It’s how we express ourselves in the most basic way.


Do you have any advice and helpful tips for couples who are planning a bilingual/multilingual ceremony?

There are 3 ways to bring cultures together through language:

1, You say everything in both languages. Paragraph by paragraph. This can get very long, tiring, and boring for people who speak both languages. If there are languages with very little overlap (like Chinese and Flemish) than this option makes sense. If the couple chooses this option, we -as celebrants- ask the couple to write the first draft of their ceremony in the main language, and then translate it into the other language.

2, Alternating languages. The introduction is in one language, the reading in the other one, and then couple each give a speech in their own language. To accompany this along, (so nobody is lost) you can have a translation for each part written down in the program book.

3, Have the main language with sprinkling the other one. The welcome is in both languages, then talk about their story just in one language, then introducing the vows in both languages, and so on… If you are doing repeat-after-me vows or ring exchange, then the celebrant would first say the line in the other language, then say it in the language that will be repeated. This way everybody is following along. At the end the pronunciations would be done in both languages. 

4, If you have two different native language, and a common language as a couple, let’s say in English. For example: Belgian-Chinese couple did the ceremony in English, with two native language readings. Which was explained in English before, for everybody to understand.

I loved Carly’s advice on making sure to focus on the feelings, which will make the ceremony more engaging. Because a feeling is everybody’s language! You can make people feel in a certain way without even speaking each other’s language. And if you can achieve that in your ceremony, then everybody is going to enjoy it. Even if they didn’t understand the majority of time what was going on.

If your ceremony has a lot of love, laughter and happiness; but people don’t know what’s going on for a few minutes, that’s ok. I don’t think you are going to lose the energy.


How to write your personalized wedding vows?

I like to give my couples a few rules, as a guide to make the vows more balanced.

First, decide on your opening and closing lines. That gives a symmetry in between your vows. I don’t think you are giving anything away, if you two talk about how do you want to start and finish.

Second, decide on the word count, so you can even out the length of the vows.

Lastly, decide on the tone. Is it going to be romantic, are you going to joke, is there anything that’s off limit?

These are very general things that you can talk about and agree on as a couple. You can also individually send your wedding vows to the celebrant, so she or he can be your arbitrator, and guide you in the right direction.


Questions to ask from a wedding celebrant:

-Why did you become a wedding celebrant? Understanding their journey, and how they ended up there is really important!

-Share your philosophy on wedding ceremonies. 

-What is your style?

-Tell me your favorite part of the whole process.


Someone can have all the skills that you need; really good public speaker, really good at storytelling. But if they lack the ability to connect or the empathy that comes with being a wedding celebrant then maybe they are not the right person for you.


Why would you hire a wedding celebrant instead of asking a family member to marry you?

I come into the situation with no baggage. With no judgement. I don’t know what you were as a little kid, I don’t have any expectations for who you supposed to be, or how you suppose to act, what your marriage is supposed to look like. I’m going to reflect back to you, from what you show to me. The other thing is that you can tear my wedding ceremony into bits, and there will be no hard feelings. I’m never going to get upset with you. So a professional wedding celebrant takes that emotional part out.


Our Skype calls are one of my favorite parts of the whole planning process! It’s about going back in time and remembering why are you doing this? What do you love about each other? What drives you crazy about one another? Why is your life better from being together? Where do you see your future? Our conversations are going back to your love, relationship and your bond together.


Advice for same-sex couples who want to have their ceremony personalized?

It’s the same advice I would give to any couple. Take all of the influence that you have from your childhood, lifetime, society, movies, and just throw it out! Get rid of it! But at the same time if there are wedding traditions that are really important to you, figure out how to make them your own. I think LGBTQ+ couples are actually almost freer of that, because all of those ideas of what a wedding should look like are so heterosexual normatives. It’s much harder for heterosexual couples to step out of that box of what a wedding should look like. So maybe it is kind of an advantage to LGBTQ+ couples.


Elopements really bring weddings back to what’s at the core! That this is about us!

It’s for couples who like simple things. For couples who are comfortable being selfish about their love and about putting themselves first. And I say selfish in the most positive way. I think that you need to guard your love and your marriage, because people, things, stresses will try intrude on that. And so for you to do an elopement wedding is a gorgeous thing. But, if it’s going to cause a lot of conflict in your family, then maybe it’s not a great idea for you. If planning the wedding is becoming really stressful, maybe try to separate the two things. Elope, then go back home and have a wedding that your mother has always dreamed of.

For other couples their wedding and their marriage is really about creating one family. It’s about bringing everyone together. When that is the case, -and especially if you haven’t had the chance to bring your families (and all of your friends from around the world) together before-, then a wedding with a lot of people is a good thing.

Weddings are one of those weird things that people would travel for! Your friends and family would go to the end of the earth for you. It’s just one of those things we really show up for in our culture.


Remember what’s important on your wedding day! It’s so easy to get caught up in everything else. One of the best ways to keep that at the forefront is to have a ceremony that really celebrates your love! A ceremony that launches you off into your day, that brings you so much joy and excitement. It’s a kick off for an incredible celebration! And find someone to work with you on the ceremony that gets you, and really understands what you are about.


Check out the first part of my conversation with Carly: Talking about multicultural ceremonies with Carly Petracco


Connect with Carly:


Instagram: @yourweddingcelebrant


Udemy courses: How to write your perfect wedding speech and How to write your perfect wedding vows


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Although I was born in Serbia, graduated in Italy and have been living overseas for 14+ years, I'm very proud of my Hungarian heritage.
I love documenting my life adventures, trying out healthy recipes and herbal remedies, or going on family trips in our new home, Canada.

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