I was a shy child who often preferred to stay home reading a book to going out on adventures with other kids. As a teenager I was at times more comfortable with telling my deepest thoughts and emotions to my diary than sharing them with a friend. Yet I am sure that many people who know me today would describe me as extroverted rather than introverted. How can that be? I think it might have something to do with language.
When I was 11 years old my parents sent me to an international camp and I subsequently became an active member of the youth organization that organized it – CISV. The month-long camp and all the subsequent international meetings, seminars, and workshops took place in English. I got to meet people from different continents, learn a lot of exciting things, and have a huge amount of fun. I was learning to become more extroverted and I was doing it in English.
As English was not my native tongue, I could play with this language and didn’t face the some borders or limitations in it. (Have you ever noticed that it is both easier to curse and say “I love you” in a different language?). English was my language for multicultural communication, travel, and making friendships with people from all around the world. To this day my English self remains my most outgoing and confident self.
In turn, my German self has experienced a remarkable growth in the last few years. I used to feel trapped when speaking German, there was so much I wanted to say but I simply did not know how. Yet, although I have become more or less fluent, my German self remains a little awkward, oscillating between being lost for words and talking too much to mask my lack of comfort. It is more self-critical and often double-guesses her social interactions.
I suppose my Latvian self remains the most balanced of the three, it has neither the increased extroversion of English nor the stricter self-critique of German.
So does the language I use affect my personality? Maybe somewhat but it is probably not that what makes the most difference. Yes, I express myself in different ways in each of the three languages but it has more to do with the context that I learned (and use) these languages in and my language skills.
The language I use does not make me a different person but it brings a different facet of my personality to shine.
How about you, my readers, have you noticed any differences in the way you think or express yourself when using a different language?
If you are interested in the connections between language and thinking, “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages” by Guy Deutscher is a great book.