WORK-LIFE BALANCE / MAY. 27, 2015
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Do Multilinguals Have Multiple Personalities?

Adding a second (or third) language to your CV looks really impressive. If your potential employer sees that that you are able to speak another language, it shows that you have depth in character and you possess strong communication skills. But there has been a lot of research which may suggest that being multilingual can lead to having multiple personalities.

See Also: How to Improve Your Employability by Learning Another Language

Looking at this from a personal point-of-view, I can actually relate. I am bilingual and I can speak both Gujarati and English. And I’ve noticed that I can be a totally different person whenever I switch my conversations from English to Gujarati, or vice versa.

When I am speaking in English, I am more laid back, relaxed and I tend to speak my mind. But when I speak in Gujarati, I am more social and a bit more respectable to people who are much older than me.

It is a strange phenomenon when you look at it that way. But, funnily enough, there is a very intriguing Czech proverb which agrees with the whole concept of having multiple personalities when you are multilingual:

“Learn a new language and get a new soul.”

So does this new soul give you a new personality?

Well according to some research, this appears to be true.

In 1968, Ervin-Tipp observed Japanese women living San Francisco giving different endings to the start of a sentence when speaking in both Japanese and English. When the Japanese women were told the start of the sentence which said “When my wishes conflict with my family...” the responses that were given in both languages were different.

When Japanese women were speaking in Japanese, they responded by saying “it is a time of great unhappiness”, but in English they said “I can do what I want.”

Another study that was conducted in 2013, by Jean-Marc Dawaele & Seiji Nankano, observed 106 multilingual students speaking in a number of languages and they noticed they had acted in a different manner to when they spoke in their native language. They also noted that some languages had made them come across as more poetic and emotional.

Vulnerable

It seems that this new personality actually emerges when someone learns a new language. And this was observed by the Dangon Academy, who pinpointed this down to a key characteristic trait.

They noticed that when someone learns a new language they tend to be more vulnerable. And because of this vulnerability, new language learners will try to adopt a new personality which attempts to blanket their insecurities of not being fluent.

Adapt to our Situation not change our personality

But not all the research suggests that being multilingual can lead to having multiple personalities. Writing in Pschology Today in 2011, Francois Grosjean PhD concluded that that being multilingual does not give anyone multiple personality disorders. Grosjean also wrote that as humans we are more likely adapt to different cultures and this is the reason why we act differently. His article also concluded with a quote from a tri-lingual student which fits his conclusion perfectly.

“When talking English, French or German to my sister, my personality does not change. However, depending on where we are, both our behaviours may adapt to certain situations we find ourselves in.”   

So, with that in mind, having the ability to speak multiple languages doesn’t necessarily mean you have a multiple personality disorder. But due to certain factors, like trying to adapt to a different culture and becoming vulnerable when learning a new language, your brain will automatically try to project a new personality.

See Also: 5 Career Ideas for Languages Grads

What do you think about multilingual people and multiple personalities? Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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