Is there someone in your life who could do with a personality overhaul or perhaps are you looking to have a change of outlook yourself? Well, we have a solution for that you may not have ever considered, one that will give you a brand new skill at the same time. What is this magical personality overhaul? Learning a second language, of course!
A new perspective
Okay, so perhaps it's not a totally new personality that you gain by learning to speak in a tongue that isn't your own. However, various studies across the world have demonstrated that our personalities do adapt and alter depending on the language we are talking in.
A study by Nairan Ramírez-Esparza of the University of Connecticut back in 2006 conducted a personality test with bilingual Mexican-Americans in both English and Spanish. The results showed that for the test measures of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, each participant scored higher when taking the test in English.
This led the study's author to speculate that individualistic cultures like that of America place a higher value on traits like assertiveness, achievement, and superficial friendliness, which might not really come as any surprise to some of us! Though it would be interesting to conduct the same study today in America's vastly different political climate, to see what, if any differences there are now between the English and Spanish test results.
Putting on a front
Depending on why you are using your target language can change the way you behave. If you are travelling for business and your experience is mostly with business terminology, for example, perhaps your personality comes across as more direct and abrupt than it would do in your own tongue. And if you are normally a quiet person, being amongst a group of loud, chatty speakers of the language you have as your second might either make you even more reserved, or bring out a side of you even you weren't aware of having—temporarily, at least!
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If you are an expat and want to embrace the community you have adopted as your own, the chances are you will take on the traits of the locals around you as you learn and use the language yourself. Does this mean speaking louder and faster and more joyfully in Spanish than you would normally do in English? Could it lead to learning to control the intonation of your voice so that it is a little more monotone to fit in with your Finnish friends, instead of ending every sentence on a high to turn it into a question as you would do at home?
Ask any blogger who is bilingual and they will probably admit that the language they use on their social media accounts differs greatly from that of their carefully cultivated blog. And perhaps that is true for all of us who blog, being careful with the language we use and tailoring it to our audience but blurting out who knows what elsewhere.
But for those who are bilingual, the essence of their native language might express itself more pessimistically, while posts in another language are more open and optimistic. Or perhaps the opposite is true for other bloggers who find it easier to express themselves in a language that isn't their own because they feel more free of the restrictions of their own tongue.
Despite numerous studies into why our personality changes with our language use, no one is yet to come up with a definitive answer, either for why it happens or in what scenarios we are most likely to see it. Some people more openly curse in a second language because there isn't the association with anything bad that there is with swearing in our own language. Others might feel more or less confident in, for example, singing, or reciting and writing poetry in a second language than their own, perhaps because it feels less personal that way.
And perhaps the answer to this is that there is no definitive answer! Since we are all different people with different personalities, our attitudes and outlooks are going to vary from the next person even if we speak the same first and second languages.
Group dynamics also come into play with how we use language. If you are in a group of native speakers you probably already know your place; group leader, quiet contributor, observer, and so on. But in a second language that group dynamic may shift, and you might find yourself the leader when you would normally sit in silence, or start avoiding eye contact when in your own language it's normally impossible to shut you up!
In essence, learning a new language is one thing, but using it another entirely, and using that language means learning and incorporating parts of a different culture into your own. Is it any wonder then, that people are said to adopt entirely new personalities when speaking a foreign tongue?
How about you? Have you found any differences in the way you speak or behave when speaking your second languages?