A married couple who lived more than 5,000 miles apart when they first met, and didn’t speak each other’s languages, have revealed how Google Translate helped them fall in love.
Madina, 33, from Kazakhstan met Matthew Harbidge from Darwin, back in 2018 when she was visiting Australia from Kazakhstan.
Although they didn’t speak the same language, sparks flew when friends interpreted for them and when Madina returned home, they turned to Google Translate to keep communicating.
After 18 months of long-distance dating the couple decided they wanted to live together, but then the pandemic struck and kept them apart for 18 months – meaning that even their engagement had to take place over video call.
Matthew and Madina are all smiles on their wedding day in June this year, four years after they first met.
Distance is no object: Matthew and Madina Harbidge pictured in Alamaty, Kazakhstan – which is one of the country’s largest cities and Madina’s home
The couple indulged in digital dining together as they learned each other’s native tounges, enjoying the same meal at the same time – 5,000 miles apart
The one language that didn’t need any translation was that of attraction, because the pair knew pretty quickly they fancied each other after meeting in a restaurant with friends on Madina’s trip to Australia.
Madina said: ‘We were sitting together on the same restaurant table and we didn’t talk with each other.
‘I didn’t know English and he didn’t know Kazakh or Russian.
‘When I saw him he smiled and I remember his eyes. He looked at me with open eyes and it was a different view for me, I was like ”OK, hello”.
‘And of course, he was handsome, I decided I liked this man.’
Matthew said of their first meeting: ‘People on the table helped to translate between Madina and I, so they helped out a bit at the start.
‘She’s a beautiful lady and obviously very intelligent as well so we got to talk about a lot of different things before our friends got sick of translating.
‘And then we had to go to Google Translate and other online translators.
At first, Matthew didn’t think he would see Madina again, after meeting her at a restaurant with friends and was thrilled when she asked him to coffee the next day. However, they needed to translate most of their conversations via those around them or using apps.
‘I had no idea it would work out to where we are now.’
Matthew didn’t think he would see Medina again, and was over the moon when her friend reached out to him to ask if he’d meet up with her the following day for coffee.
The pair saw each other as much as possible during the fortnight Madina was in Australia before she eventually flew back to Kazakhstan.
When the 33-year-old returned had travelled back to her native country, 5,000 miles away from Australia the pair spoke daily via the online translator.
The official languages of Kazakhstan are Kazakh and Russian, with Kazakh also spoken in parts of Mongolia and China among Uighur Muslims.
The couple pictured when they met up in Amsterdam in the autumn of 2018 and became a couple officially
Madina is pictured in Frankfurt in 2019, on one of the couple’s trips – which kept their love alive while living 5,000 miles apart
Madina speaks both Russian and Kazakh, with Matthew attempting to grapple both, while his beau learned English.
The lovers started to learn each other’s languages as they communicated online – before eventually transitioning to video calls in English and indulging in romantic digital dates – sharing food and wine over Facetime.
The pair had to co-ordinate their video dates alongside the significant time difference, with Kazakhstan four hours ahead of Australia.
They officially became an item after meeting up in Amsterdam again later that year and dated virtually in between travelling to see each other in either Kazakhstan, Germany or Australia, every few months.
Madina and Matthew met in many different countries before the pandemic. They are pictured here in Germany around Christmas time.
The pair both made efforts to learn each other’s languages – with Matthew trying his hand at both Russian and Kazakh, but Madina managed to pick up English a lot quicker within six months so they began to use it as their dominant language on video calls.
Before the pandemic, the pair decided they would talk every single day and make a commitment to see each other at least every three to four months.
The lovebirds out and about together in Madina’s home city of Almaty – they want to ‘thank Google Translate’ for helping them fall in love with each other
Matthew looks delighted to be dressed in traditional Kazakh clothing next to Madina. The clothes are often made of materials suited to the region’s extreme climate and the people’s nomadic lifestyle. The clothing is decorated with elaborate ornaments made from bird beaks, animal horns, hooves and feet.Although contemporary Kazakhs usually wear Western dress, the Turkic people wear more traditional clothing for holidays and special occasions
The colossal transcontinental distance and the pandemic didn’t prove to be barriers for the determined couple, even though they were unable to physically see each other for a year and a half.
In August 2020, Matthew decided to propose to Madina via video call, and she excitedly said yes.
After a grand total of 145,559 Facebook messages and 48 days spent on the phone, the long-distance element of their relationship ended when Madina eventually moved to Australia last May and the pair tied the knot in a ceremony in June this year.
Matthew and Madina are urging anyone who knows they’ve ‘found the one but are separated physically to stick at it’ – as difficult as it is, they say ‘enduring temporary unhappiness is worth it to spend the rest of your days with the love of your life.’
Matthew said: ‘We fell in love thanks to Google Translate, it really helped.
‘Our relationship progressed from there, which was amazing, but the translator worked really really well.
‘Sometimes Russian and English handle context very differently so I had to learn how write so it translated correctly to Russian and Madina had to do the same thing.
‘Otherwise, it was excellent for doing that and we transitioned from writing in each other’s languages to phone calls and video calls together.’
Madina’s English became significantly better than Matthew’s Russian after the first six months, so from that point onwards the pair mainly communicated in English.
It wasn’t all plain sailing from the start, when Madina suggested a relationship- Matthew, despite having feelings for her was initially reluctant due to the obstacles in the way such as the visa process and the distance.
Madina said: ‘One time I messaged him saying ”do you know that I like you, maybe we could try and have a relationship?” he answered ”no” and I was very upset.’
Matthew said: ‘I really wanted to make it work but I thought ”this is going to be really bloody hard if we try to do this”
‘That’s why I said no to Madina and after that she didn’t speak to me for two days.
‘I knew friends who had been through the Australian visa process and at that stage I was really enjoying talking to her- but knew it would be incredibly difficult to be successful at the end of it.
‘Follow me’ the pair indulge in the online travelling trend ‘follow me’ where couples or friends take pictures with one in front leading the other into the wilderness.
Matthew and Madina take a trip up the mountains in Shymbulak,Almaty, near Madina’s home together in 2019 before the pandemic. Around this time the couple were planning to live together and had no idea that a global tragedy was about to strike.
‘And then there was the future – one of us would have to eventually have to move to the other’s country which is monumental in itself.
‘At the time I thought ”that’s very hard work” and not something to be like ”ok yeah, let’s give it a shot”.
‘But two days was the longest that we hadn’t talked to each other and when that happened I thought it was over.
‘It really affected me and after that I decided I absolutely want to spend the rest of my life with this woman.’
The pair then met up in Amsterdam in October 2018, where they became an official couple, however some of Matthew’s message was lost in translation, as Madina was confused by the word ‘partner’.
Madina said: ‘He had a lot of roses, one bouquet of red roses and wooden tulips, and he asked “do you want to be my partner?”‘
‘And to be honest, I didn’t really understand what he meant because in Kazakhstan we don’t use ‘partner’ a lot, maybe boyfriend and girlfriend but not partner.
In Amsterdam autumn 2018, the couple became official, with Matthew meeting Madina with a bunch of roses and wooden tulips. She says she was confused by the word ‘partner’ despite brushing up on her English, so he had to ask twice!
‘After the second time he asked, of course I said yes.
‘When I saw him in Amsterdam, I saw him as the person I really loved.
‘He had a clear soul, was very friendly, open, caring and respectful to everyone. I’d never met anyone like him.
‘Every day in Amsterdam he showed me things, shared stories with me, and everything was so cool and easy.
‘I felt at home with Matt and very comfortable.’
After an incredible week in the Netherlands, they returned to their home countries.
To make their relationship work, the new couple agreed to speak daily, scheduled a virtual date day every weekend and then tried to see each other physically every three to four months.
But after deciding they wanted to live together, the pandemic struck, meaning they didn’t meet up again for a year and a half.
In the midst of the pandemic, August 2020, Matthew decided to propose to Madina via video call at a nearby beach that Madina had liked on her trip – but admits he was scared of dropping the Brilliant Earth branded ring in the sand!
Matthew said the pandemic was ‘tough’ for the couple, but their communication routine helped.
Matthew said: ‘We were trying out hardest to make things work but we didn’t know when covid was going to end.
‘We kept saying “it will just be a few months” but it seemed there was no end in sight’
‘The structures that we built in – saying good morning and good night to each other and spending as much time as we could together, it really helped but it was a tough.’
‘In 2020, mid-pandemic, Matthew bought an engagement ring for Madina.
Matthew said: ‘I lived quite close to the beach at the time, it was one that Madina really liked, and proposed to her there remotely from 5,000 miles away.
‘We had no idea when we were going to see each other again.
‘I got out the ring, turned the camera around and asked her to marry me. She was ecstatic.’
Despite the romance of it all Matthew admitted he was ‘scared of dropping the diamond ring in the sand’.
The couple were eventually reunited after Madina’s Australian visa was approved.
They were warned the process could take up to two years, but luckily they only had to wait eight months.
Their long-distance relationship officially ended in May of last year and they married this June at the same nature reserve in Australia where they spent their second date.
Madina said: ‘Matt managed to stand outside my hotel when I was in quarantine for two weeks and he sent coffee, food and pictures to paint to my room.’
After a year and a half of not seeing each other Madina looked out of her hotel window where she was quarantined and saw her long distance Romeo, bearing coffee.
Mr and Mrs Harbidge on their wedding day this year. Matthew said ‘What’s a few years of unhappiness compared to fifty years of being with your soulmate?’
The couple on their wedding day in June of this year, they tied the knot at the same nature reserve in Australia that they visited when they first met
Madina stuns in her long sleeved white wedding dress with a thigh split, her dark hair in loose curls and gold shoes- ready to marry ‘her person’ after four years of long distance love
She said: ‘After I left quarantine we saw each other and I don’t know how long we stayed there crying, kissing and cuddling each other.
‘If it’s someone who you really love and know you’ll be with them forever, you need to work on the relationship.
‘Of course it will be hard and you will think of all the obstacles- but if you know it’s your person, you need to do it.’
Matthew said: ‘Long distance is really just a temporary thing and in comparison to the rest of your life, is it worth doing the hard yards?
‘It will be hard but what’s two years of mild unhappiness and doing the hard work to have 50 to hundred years of happiness with your life partner?
‘The pay off is so worth all the hard stuff that the long-distance relationship brings.’
Google were contacted for comment.