Room4Talk blog | Multilingual people have multiple personalities

Multilingual people have multiple personalities


"Travelling and learning a foreign language open and broaden your mind"

Many studies about the connection between the number of languages you can speak and personality-switching have been carried out. It is quite a fascinating and mysterious topic, which needs to be looked into and explained, but researchers seem to be on their way up.

It seems that people who speak more than one language tend to change their personality when they switch their language code. To make it simpler, someone having an Anglo-French origin and being able to speak both languages, could change his/her attitude and behavior in the same context if he or she chooses which language to use. Think about it, has it ever occurred to you to say that German is a cold language, that Spanish and Italian are sweeter and so are the people that speak them? Apart from the fact that the socio-cultural environment too affects the behavior, language can create different patterns in the brain.

However, many experiments have been conducted about it and there is evidence of this phenomenon, though no reason or explanation has already been given.

Between 2001 and 2003, linguists Jean-Marc Dewaele and Aneta Pavlenko asked over a thousand bilinguals whether they feel like a different person when they speak different languages. Nearly two-thirds said they did.

What’s more, in 1968 an experiment on Japanese living in the US and speaking English fluently was conducted. They were given different verbal tasks, but one of them was particularly significant: they were told to complete some sentences using both languages in different sessions. The completion was very different according to the language they were speaking and included different perspectives of the society where the languages were spoken. For example, in Japanese the sentence “I will probably become” was followed by “a housewife” while in English they mentioned a job, such as teaching.

A similar experiment was conducted in Paris, analyzing the different implications for people who were born in Portugal and went to live in France. When these women were told to come up with a story in their languages, considerable differences were registered: the women in the French stories were more likely to stand for themselves, while those in the Portuguese ones tended to cede to others’ demands.

A possible explanation of this phenomenon lies in the context where we have learned or where we are learning a language. So, for instance, our mother tongue can both influence and be influenced by our family, our school, the way we are brought up… On the other hand, our second or third language can be influenced from our teachers, university, jobs and people we are speaking to in the learning process.

Another explanation could lie in the language structure and grammar: for example, Latin languages are freer, while German is based on categorization and strict word order, which reflects in their organization and precise attitude.

Whether it is the language which is influenced by our personality or the opposite, that’s to say, it is the language that influences our personality, we still don’t have an answer, even though both can be possible.

However, one thing is certain: switching language makes your personality shift or event splits it. This doesn’t actually mean that you are becoming a serial killer or that “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” will be your new lifestyle. These changes in personality are not that big and whether it is the case, you can both choose which language you want to speak and who you want to be (BIG PHILOSOFICAL QUESTION!), or you can accept and embrace your 2/3/4 personalities. I am sure you feel like learning a new language just to check whether you are a psychopath or a genius! Sorry, it doesn’t work like that, but you can still give it a shot and see what happens in everyday life. However, let’s be clear about it: it is always you behind all the languages you are speaking, so your attitudes, behaviors and personalities are still and always be a mirror of who you truly are.

“Travelling and learning a foreign language open and broaden your mind”. I guess they were not wrong at all.