Does your personality change when you speak another language?

Kungfucius spoke to several polyglots. The answers were fascinating: most had different feelings and personality traits depending on the language of communication.

Prof. Christoph Harbsmeier famously mentioned that his wife prefers his personality when speaking Danish, as he gets too cocky and intellectual when speaking English. 

Now, what are your experiences in speaking a language and how are you perceived by others while speaking? What is your perception of Kungfucius is of course also of interest here! Write your reply and link to this page! 

So, have you ever found yourself feeling like a different person when speaking a foreign language? Perhaps you’ve noticed you’re more outgoing in Spanish or more reserved in Japanese. It’s not just your imagination – this phenomenon is a hot topic among language learners and researchers alike. In this article, Kungfucius punches through the upper layers and dives into the debate over whether personality changes or remains constant when speaking a foreign language. Let’s also explore some of the reasons behind these shifts.

A. Introducing the concept of personality changes in language learning

The concept of personality changes in language learning has been discussed for quite some time, but it’s a topic that still piques the interest of learners, teachers, and researchers. Some believe that your personality stays the same no matter what language you’re speaking, while others argue that your personality may change to varying degrees depending on the language you’re using.

B. The two main views: personality changes or doesn’t change when speaking a foreign language

There are two main views regarding personality and language learning. The first view is that your personality remains constant, regardless of the language you’re speaking. Proponents of this view believe that your core identity doesn’t change, and any perceived shifts are due to external factors or temporary circumstances. The second view suggests that your personality can change when you speak a different language. This perspective posits that the linguistic and cultural aspects of the language you’re using can influence your behavior and thoughts, leading to changes in your personality. Well, at least temporary changes of some aspects of your personality or even more shallow it is just a cultural and linguistic accommodation that doesn’t change your personality, but how you feel and interact with others. More on that in this article.

II. Personality Changes in Foreign Language

A. Examples of changes that could take place

Many Spanish learners claim they become more assertive, friendly, or polite when speaking a different language! These changes can stem from various factors, such as the language’s structure, cultural norms, or simply feeling more at ease in a foreign language setting. Some learners have reported feeling more confident, daring, or even flirtatious when speaking a foreign language, while others may feel more reserved or cautious.

B. Factors contributing to these changes

There are several factors that could contribute to personality changes when speaking a foreign language. One of the most significant factors is the language’s structure and the way it shapes the way we express ourselves. For example, some languages might require more explicit or detailed descriptions of emotions, which could lead to a more emotional or expressive demeanor when speaking that language.

Another factor is the cultural context in which the language is spoken. Different cultures have different social norms and expectations, which can influence how we behave and interact with others when speaking that language. Additionally, our level of proficiency in the language can impact our personality, as we might feel more comfortable and confident when speaking our native language compared to a foreign language in which we’re less proficient.

C. How changes affect speakers

Personality changes when speaking a foreign language can affect speakers in various ways. For some, these changes can be positive and empowering, allowing them to express themselves more freely or adopt new perspectives. For others, the changes might feel limiting or uncomfortable, as they struggle to adapt to the new linguistic and cultural norms.

D. The impact of cultural context and social norms

Cultural context and social norms can also play a significant role in personality changes. For example, if you’re learning Japanese, you might find yourself becoming more polite and respectful due to the language’s emphasis on hierarchy and honorifics. Similarly, when speaking Chinese, you might adopt a more direct and assertive communication style, reflecting the language’s preference for straightforwardness.

III. Different Languages Activating Different Aspects of Personality

A. The idea that languages activate different character traits

The idea that languages can activate different aspects of your personality is intriguing. It’s possible that when you speak a particular language, certain linguistic or cultural aspects of that language encourage you to adopt particular character traits or behaviors. This could be a result of the language’s structure, the culture associated with it, or even the way you learned the language.

The debate on the internet rages on with hundreds of replies to this topic on Quora

B. Chinese: What aspects are activated?

When speaking Chinese, some language learners may find themselves adopting a more direct and assertive communication style. Some might also become more talkative overall. One common theme that many Chinese learners reported on this thread on reddit is that they mostly learned from women and that many of these women are rather outgoing and open to interact with foreigners which might then in case reflect on non-native speakers becoming more open and communicative. And it was not only overwhelmingly female teachers, many Chinese learners had Chinese girlfriends and are thus familiar with rather familiar and less formal language. 

On the other way, native-Chinese speaking Youtuber Rui Zhang found out that she becomes more extroverted in English compared to her native language and a bit more introverted when she switches to French. So the question for Chinese learners is maybe also what their native language is.

This could be due to the nature of the language itself, which often favors straightforwardness and clear expression. Additionally, Chinese culture values harmony and balance, which may encourage speakers to be more conscientious and mindful of their actions and words. Overall, it might be more about culture and environment than purely about language. 

Among youtubers there is often a clear distinction of US youtubers to be the most expressive and European youtubers to be much more reserved in their overall style. Chinese KOLs express more through dress, location, setting and less through the most expressive sayings.

C. Japanese: What aspects are activated?

In contrast, Japanese language learners might find themselves becoming more polite and reserved when speaking the language. Japanese culture places great importance on respect and hierarchy, which is reflected in the language’s extensive use of honorifics and various levels of politeness. Consequently, speakers may feel the need to adjust their behavior and communication style to conform to these cultural norms.

Plus, many Japanese learners have heard about reading the air and incorporate that in their communication. That means Japanese speakers must be great listeners first and foremost which might correspond to a more contemplative way when speaking Japanese.

IV. Insights from Polyglots

Kungfucius has gathered many examples of polyglots about personality changes. In sum, most polyglots that Kungfucius directly spoke to reported on some changes in personality as well as examples from the web. 

  • Tim Doner has mentioned that he feels more confident and outgoing speaking languages such as Arabic or Italian, while he feels more introverted and contemplative when speaking Japanese. Tim Doner’s TEDx Talk:
  • Luca Lampariello mentioned that maybe its not personality that changes but something changes. For him, he feels more confident and free when he speaks English
  • Alex Rawlings has a particularly interesting way in describing this phenomenon. “It’s not that your personality changes when you speak a different language. It’s more like you’re just putting on a different pair of glasses through which to see the world each time.” Check out the youtube video.
  • Matthias Alexander mentioned that learning foreign languages let him explore the world more. 

V. Academia

Let’s have a look at academic research as well. Kungfucius wants you to have a look at the following: 

Sigmund Freud, the famous Austrian psychoanalyst, once said, “Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or the deepest despair.” Some languages might make a speaker happier than other languages. But while in this article and speaking to some polyglot, Kungfucius has found some similarities, these are in no ways more than anecdotal evidence. So: It doesn’t mean that Japanese will make speakers rather contemplative, even though that is something the interactions that Kungfucius had about this topic might suggest.

VI. Conclusion

In conclusion, the relationship between personality and language learning is complex and multifaceted. While some people might experience personality changes when speaking a foreign language, others may feel that their core identity remains constant. Regardless of whether or not you notice any changes in your own personality when speaking different languages, it’s crucial to recognize the power of language in shaping our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By understanding the potential impact of language on our personalities, we can become more mindful language learners and better appreciate the rich cultural nuances that each language offers.