Different language, different personality: the polyglot phenomenon

Laura Mangels
A.C.T. GmbH


Andere Sprache andere Persönlichkeit | Veränderung der Persönlichkeit durch Fremdsprache | Andere Sprache andere Emotion | Einfluss der Sprache auf Persönlichkeit | Other languages other personalities | Influence foreign language personality | Foreign language different personality | ACT

Different language, different personality? One thing is for sure: every person is unique. Our personality is not only determined by our genes but is also shaped by our daily interactions with our surroundings. Especially after traveling abroad, we often return with life-changing experiences and feel as though we have changed. And not without good reason. Languages and cultures influence how we think, act and feel. Does a foreign language change our personality? The results of various studies indicate that it does.  

For example, a study by the University of Connecticut looked at Americans of Mexican extraction who had grown up bilingual. The test subjects completed a personality test in Spanish and in English and described themselves in both languages. The result: the Spanish responses referred mainly to family values whereas the English versions repeatedly focused on personal success. The researchers attribute this to the fact that English-language American culture is strongly individualistic and defined by assertiveness and the pursuit of success.

The study shows that cultural priorities and language are closely and inseparably linked. If we speak multiple languages, our personality and mindset are inevitably influenced by them. This article takes a closer look at exactly how this manifests itself and how this benefits you in a business context.

Andere Sprache andere Persönlichkeit | Veränderung der Persönlichkeit durch Fremdsprache | Andere Sprache andere Emotion | Einfluss der Sprache auf Persönlichkeit | Other languages other personalities | Influence foreign language personality | Foreign language different personality

How language influences your personality

Multilingualism is not only a sought-after skill in the labor market. It also has a positive influence on one’s own personal development. We show different personality traits depending on which languages we speak. On the one hand, this has to do with the underlying cultural mindsets and priorities that we associate with the respective language. On the other hand, our self-confidence and self-assurance when speaking the language also influence our being.

Cultural thought processes and emotions

People define themselves by the culture in which they live or with which they are in contact. Language is an important pillar of every culture and we associate specific ideas and expectations with it. By learning a new language, we adopt these cultural mindsets to a degree. One could therefore argue that we develop different cultural identities in every language.

If we perceive Spanish people to be extroverted, passionate and cheerful, we will apply this feeling to ourselves when we speak Spanish. When speaking Danish, we might be more unassuming in how we express ourselves and feel. After all, this approach is always emphasized as an important part of Danish culture as defined by the Law of Jante.

The learning environment also influences the emotions that are linked to other languages: If you learn French in a language school in Marseille, you will always associate all your cultural experiences there with speaking the language. Conversely, an evening class at your local adult education center is unlikely to leave a major cultural and personal impression on you. This is why a stay abroad is always a worthwhile investment in your own personality development.

Facial expressions, gestures and pitch

Language refers not only to the spoken word but also to the body language. Italians are renowned for their passionate gestures and facial expressions. If we take inspiration from native speakers and movies when learning a language, this body language will also rub off on our own way of speaking and our actions. Consequently, it is entirely plausible for an otherwise reserved German person to automatically start gesticulating when speaking Italian. We even adapt our pitch depending on the language and may sometimes become more animated speaking Portuguese than when speaking Japanese.

Self-perception and self-awareness

We usually master our own mother tongue with confidence and without difficulty. This is not necessarily the case when it comes to foreign languages. Limited language proficiency prevents us from fully expressing our personality that we have developed in our native-language environment. This often leads to feelings of uncertainty that remain with us whenever we speak that particular foreign language. For example, if you spend a long time struggling to hold a conversation in a difficult language such as Chinese, you will probably also be timid when communicating in the language in future.

Social and societal experiences with other native speakers also influence how we feel and behave when using the foreign language. This also because our own self-perception is determined by how we think other people perceive us.

However, this should not under any circumstances hold you back from learning new languages – on the contrary! The benefits in terms of your personal development as well as your professional context are enormous.

Use languages for your personal advantage

There is no denying that languages and cultures are closely linked to one another. This means that language skills are essential if you want to engage fully with another culture while on holiday, on an extended stay abroad or at a business meeting. It’s not just about learning vocabulary and grammar, but also getting the opportunity to discover and develop new facets of your identity. Languages broaden your horizons when it comes to other mindsets. They allow you to better interpret the behavior of your business partners in meetings and avoid cultural blunders. From then on, you can engage with your counterpart on an equal footing.

This means that languages are a valuable instrument that will help you better understand yourself and the world around you. To ensure that you too are never lost for words in a business context, ACT Translations can support you with translations and cultural consulting in more than 150 languages. Let us help you put your best foot forward.

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