Do multilinguals have multiple personalities? Some studies claim that your personality changes when speaking another language.
People who speak a foreign language, tend to focus on speaking the language correctly and some feel that they are not able to express who they are in a non-native language.
Multilinguals feel a change too, but the reason is related to the culture of the language. Some studies claim that it is your personality that change, while others argue that it is the person’s perception.
Does speaking a foreign language change your personality? The question has been studied a lot. The most famous study is from 2016 made by Nairan Ramírez-Esparza. He found that people described themselves differently in different languages.
You can read more about the study here.
It is common to feel that your personality changes when you speak another language. People who speak a foreign language feel different because they are not as comfortable speaking it compared to their native language. On the other hand people who are bi-or multilinguals feel different due to some cultural differences in the languages.
People who speak a foreign language focus a lot on speaking the language without making mistakes. They can feel that their personality changes because they do not have the same vocabulary as in their native language. So they might experience feeling stucked using words that do not reflect who you are.
Also when focusing so much on grammar, word order, choice of words etc. you risk that your language will become less impulsive and therefore less you.
Read about who are bilinguals and multilinguals here.
“I think that I sometimes focus so much on being grammatically correct and making myself clear so I couldn’t focus on saying things in a way that reflected my personality. In Danish, I would definitely describe myself as a funny person who always knows what to say while I often in English find that I do not feel that that personality comes through.” Mai, 23
“When I speak Polish (native language) I feel more loose and funny. I feel it’s easier to interact in a way with other people. At the beginning I had to only use English when I was on a holiday so it feels like being on a holiday all the time while leaving abroad. Moreover, there are things I haven’t really done in Poland, like dating cause I moved out quite early so I’m really bad at talking to boys in Polish. I can flirt – more or less let’s say – only in English.” Kornelia, 21
But will you still experience this change in your personality when you learn to speak the language fluently or if you have more than one native language? You probably will. Bi- and multilinguals experience that their personality changes when they speak another language too. There is just another reason for the change. We will look at culture to explain why they experience the change.
In this article from Quartz, they argue that language cannot be separated from the cultural values of that language and that you see yourself and express yourself through the cultural values of the language you are speaking.
Nairan Ramírez-Esparza’s study from 2016 also showed that the way people described themselves was closely connected to the culture of the language. When the bilinguals answered questions about themselves in Spanish, they saw themselves in relation to family, friends and hobbies, whereas they in English emphasized their achievements, college and activities. This reflects the two language’s values and how closely culture and language is connected.
“I believe speaking any different language changes the way you feel and think. I can currently speak four languages and every time I switch between them I notice slight changes in my mood. I believe this is caused by the fact that when you speak a different language your mind imagines the way people talk and think when speaking that certain language, sometimes even their way of life. We tend to, temporarily, become like a native speaker of this foreign language to try and express ourselves in a way they do.” Zsolt, 27.
Not all agree that it is your personality that changes. They do all agree that something changes though.
In this article, they argue that learning a new language is like putting on a pair of glasses. You see the world in a different way.
“I feel different when speaking a foreign language. I am still me, but something has changed. When speaking a foreign language, you unconsciously accept all the unwritten rules, norms, and social practices that are tied to the culture of that language. And that makes you another person. At least for the duration of speaking that foreign language.” Christian, 23
Others argue that you are always the same person no matter what language you speak or how many you are able to speak. But learning other languages is “pushing certain spots” or is extending your personality. They describe it as: “Speaking a certain language probably sparkles something in you that is not sparkling when you speak another language.”
If it is not your personality that changes, then what is it? The article concludes that it is the individual’s perception that changes.