Valentina Ambrogio — professional English to Italian Translator, Localiser and Subtitler

How speaking English is shaping my personality / I am nicer when I speak English - and it's killing me!

How speaking English is shaping my personality

Posted by Valentina Ambrogio in English, Language 24 Nov 2014

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Over the years, I have realised that I am nicer and happier when I write or speak English. I say ‘have a nice day’, ‘I hope you’re having a good time’, and I mean every single word… It’s killing me! I am not the kind of girl you would define as cheerful. One minute I am the most talkative person on earth, the next the April Ludgate (Parks & Recreation) of the situation. I cannot deny the fact that I have a grumpier attitude when I speak Italian, or in my life in general.

I am joking, of course; this is not killing me, but it is really puzzling. So I started thinking about the impact that studying a foreign language has had on my life so far.

I have read many articles on the theory that speaking a foreign language also entails showing a different personality. Possible causes are:

 Limited vocabulary in the second language;
 Linguistic relativity: the structure of a language affects our world view;
 Biculturalism and Cultural Frame Switching: individuals switch between cultural systems in response to the environment.

Personally, I don’t think that my personality actually changes when I speak English. On the contrary, I believe that my second language allows me to express myself better, even considering my non-native vocabulary. It might just be a matter of feelings and culture: I feel happy when I write or speak English; I feel happy when I get to know people from all over the world thanks to my second language; I feel happy when people actually get my sense of humour and my sarcasm, and this happens most of the time with foreign individuals. It is a sort of escape from my everyday drama, which in my case is inevitably linked to the Italian side of my life.

I have found this passage particularly interesting (you will find a link to the complete article in the References below):

“Most people are not symmetrically bilingual. Many have learned one language at home from parents, and another later in life, usually at school. So bilinguals usually have different strengths and weaknesses in their different languages—and they are not always best in their first language. For example, when tested in a foreign language, people are less likely to fall into a cognitive trap (answering a test question with an obvious-seeming but wrong answer) than when tested in their native language. In part this is because working in a second language slows down the thinking. No wonder people feel different when speaking them. And no wonder they feel looser, more spontaneous, perhaps more assertive or funnier or blunter, in the language they were reared in from childhood.”


References

For more professional opinions, you can read these interesting articles:

Do different languages confer different personalities?
Change of language, change of personality?
Bilingual? You have Multiple Personality Disorder


Finding kindred people is a key element for me. What’s yours? Do you also believe that your second/third/fourth language shapes your attitude towards life in general? Leave a comment and share your views!

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  • Simon Berrill November 24, 2014 at 12:19 pm / Reply

    I definitely think the language you choose to speak in a particular situation does make a difference to your personality and also to your relationships. My wife and I definitely have a different relationship when we speak English to when we speak Catalan. What seems to happen to everyone living in a bilingual area, like Catalonia, is that when two people meet they have to decide which language to speak (here it would normally be Catalan or Spanish). And whatever they decide they are stuck in that language for the rest of any relationship they have (as friends, as a couple, as professionals, etc.) unless they both make a tremendous effort to change. So it pays to start off in the language in which you are a nicer person…

    • Valentina Ambrogio November 24, 2014 at 12:31 pm / Reply

      This sort of happens in my city as well, where most of the people speak the local dialect (not properly bilinguism, even though it is a completely different language, if we think about it). Deciding whether to use Italian or our dialect defines the level of formality of the entire relationship.

      As for my post, I am not grumpy all the time, but you know… life can be tough on us and certain elements conjure certain feelings. One think I know for sure I often find myself on the same page with foreign people, and I don’t mind that at all :)

  • Caroline Alberoni November 24, 2014 at 1:03 pm / Reply

    I loved the post, Valentina! :)
    I feel exactly the same way as you do.
    After living for a year in England, I found myself being extremely polite in Portuguese as well (something quite unnusual – I guess it must be similar to Italian). However, I had a hard time in the beginning, when I was often frowned upon when telling people to simply do things, instead of politely asking if they would be kind to please do something, and thanking them like a hundred times.
    I always tell people I never felt like my real self this year I spent in the English-speaking country. It was so weird!

    • Valentina Ambrogio November 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm / Reply

      Thank you, Caroline!
      I know that 99% of the times, I strike as being too grumpy, so I tried to adopt the “English way” in Italian and started saying all the good things I naturally say in English. But I sound too fake, but the need to compensate my grumpy cat face is too big 😀 I must tell you, I like my English-speaking self 😀

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