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Does Speaking A Foreign Language Change Your Personality?

I have noticed that a lot of people here on Virily speak at least two languages. What do you think of the idea that we have a different personality when we speak different languages? I’m not referring to the idea that learning a foreign language may change your perspective and widen your horizon. I’m talking about the idea that we feel, act, and express ourselves differently in different languages.

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I’ve heard many people saying that they don’t feel completely themselves when they speak another language. Do you act or feel differently when you speak in different languages? Sometimes the language itself requires a more polite tone, even though there are always several ways of saying the same thing.

I’ve even heard people saying that it’s easier to say “I love you” in a language that’s not native to them (people who generally feel uncomfortable saying this phrase). Would you say that it’s less meaningful in that case?

It would be interesting for me if bilingual people join the topic too and share their perspective.

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As for me, my native language is Bulgarian, but I’d say that I feel more friendly and upbeat when I talk to someone in Spanish, and I act more polite when I communicate in English. The reason is not that I know Spanish well. In fact, my Spanish is worse than my English. Another possible reason for this could be that nowadays we are expected to know English, and there’s more pressure to speak this language properly. I’d love to hear about your experience.

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Written by ellie925

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  1. As a young person I learned French Canadian (which is very different that the French from France). Then I started to learn English in mid primary. I swore my head off because I had a lot of problem with it. But today at my ripe old age, I flip from French to English, or vice versa, on a dime. But French (known as the language of love) is much more … flowery and emotional than English, and also it takes more words in French to express an idea or a concept or a description than in English which is a more straightforward language. Believe me, I know as I do some freelancing translations in that language pair. But as for personality, I am just as nasty or nice whether I talk or think in English or French….

  2. My native language is Bulgarian. At school we were obliged to study Russian. We even had friends in Russia. We were writing letters and exchanging gifts for parcel holidays. Now that I live here in Spain, it helps me a lot. There are a lot of Russians. A lot of years ago I worked in Greece. I do not know it perfectly, but for a simple conversation I am doing it. I have no problem with the Spanish. It gives me the opportunity to get to know people from many countries around the world. Thanks to that I know a lot about their cultures and culinary specialties. Sorry English I do not know. Communicate with you through a translator. But for me the words I know are a fortune.

  3. Really very-very-very interesting theme!!! Very grateful that your publication is devoted to it! As for me, my native language is Russian. When I speak English, I feel that I find myself in a different coordinate system, almost like in another Universe. So, to my mind, if you speak any foreign language, your perception to some extent is changing. Also, sometimes I see dreams on English. It’s a very funny & strange feeling!

  4. I am different, as I grow up more than half of my life in the USA, so English is more suitable for me to speak. My native language is only used to speak to my mother and older siblings but it always accompany with English words!

  5. I agree with you. I was born Afrikaans so feel completely myself when speaking Afrikaans. More sophisticated and business like when speaking English. And lately I have been learning Italian, which is a very expressive language with hand gestures and all.

  6. Great questions and article Ellie!

    One of the things that I find interesting is the reality of technological languague aids. In Star Trek we used to love watching the Universal Translator. In part because it was cheaper for the show to have everyone speaking the same language but in part for what it represented.

    The reality of language is a learning process. During my youth I learned French, Thai and Spanish. I can understand a lot more of the three than I can speak. Although with some of the new translation hardware I can now speak more as well.

    The easy button answer is the reality of humanity. Communication only works when everyone understands. Not that I am advocating English, because English is a pitfall waiting to capture the tongue. Rather that a universal easily shared Language is needed to improve global communication!

  7. Great article Ellie!
    I used to speak in 4 different languages (due to my work), in the last years – so I had found myself thinking and sometimes dreaming in some of those languages.
    If you speak, write and communicate in different languages I believe that it changes your brain as more neurons are stimulated.
    I believe it is a great feeling, I wish I could learn to speak more languages (I might learn when I will be retired :P)

  8. I learnt French, German and Latin in school of which I still have a passable understanding if you don’t use it you lose it! Latin still comes in handy and I have a few German friends but understand more than I can speak if that makes sense. As I live in Thailand I can speak passable Thai because I hear it every day…My grandchildren speak both very fluently and just swap from one to the other…Interesting the comment on the expectation to speak English… Here road signs are in English in towns and tourist spots, Car number plates the numerals are English, tea shirt motifs very often in English. English is taught in the schools even rural schools so yes here it appears to be the promoted language in many areas…

      • Japanese culture values manners over honesty (and pretty much everything else) so I end up lying and then sometimes I can’t say what I mean so I have to say something that I know how to say, which may or may not be true. Sometimes I just quote somebody from a manga and that’s almost never true

        Don’t take anything I say in Nihongo at face value

        • Thank you for the explanation! Oh, I understand the part about saying something in a foreign language just because you know how to say it.
          I come from a culture where people are not so mannered, so I think I would enjoy some manners. I don’t care how honest people are as long as they are not close to me.

  9. Grew up in New Zealand only hearing English. When we learnt French at school it was not as the French speak it. We didn’t really learn anything. If you were really lucky enough to have wealthy parents you got put into the top class and they were the only ones allowed to learn latin. Now I didn’t have wealthy parents. If you were extra lucky you may even get to learn German in the 5th form.

    Now today all has changed and all sorts of languages are spoken in Auckland. Ove 150 different languages and cultures.

    As a child we had Chinese and Indian from India and Pacific Island people around. I rather feel it was a white european thing at that time, they neglected to teach us the language of our neighbours. Also there were quite a lot of Croatians.
    We didn’t learn that either.

    Now my husband is really good at languages and was a language scholar. He’s taught me quite a lot but you need to have the time to go into a language. I do too many things.
    He grew up in Remurea Auckland and also went to a private school. So he got a better education in that department than me.

    Yes, I notice I feel a certain change in me when attempting to speak another language, only very basic words.

    I think to learn other languages is a really good advantage. I don’t have that opportunity but only learn a few words.

  10. One factor here may be the reason why you speak in one language or another. I have known many people who were completely bilingual in English and Welsh – I spent five years as a student in Wales, but never learned more than a few words of Welsh myself.

    Most children in North and West Wales grow up speaking both languages and are soon completely fluent in both and able to switch from one to the other as the occasion demands. The point is that they tend to use Welsh in circumstances where they are more relaxed – within the family and on social occasions – and English when they are being more formal and communicating with people who don’t speak Welsh. I can see why they might adopt different personalities when speaking the two languages, but this is down to the circumstance rather than the fact of speaking the other language. Also – if you are so bilingual, can either language be regarded as foreign?

  11. I think somehow foreign language affects me, at least in terms of feelings, either that makes me more comfortable or otherwise. As a cultural product, (foreign) language certainly brings cultural values of origin, so there needs to be more vigilance for “cultural change” at the time of communication. Moreover, my attitude will be influenced or adjusted to the language and of course the person who talks with me.

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