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Bilinguals: 2 languages = 2 personalities?

May 2nd, 2012 by Sara

Learning a second language both builds on the first language and consolidates it but there is a Czech proverb that says "Learn a new language and get a new soul"

Bilinguals have often reported they feel and act differently when they speak in another language. Realistically, bilinguals don't have a second personality but adopt a shift in attitudes and behaviours, depending on the context and/or situation in which they are using the language.

Think of the following situation. The way you speak and act when talking to your best friend will be very different from the way you would speak to your boss or a complete stranger! Certainly your behaviour and attitude will differ, even though the language is the same. The same concept applies to bilinguals - they adapt to the culture, context and situation they are interacting with.

It is also very common for bilingual people to alternate their languages during a conversation because expressing their thoughts or feelings in one language seems easier than another. It has also been suggested that bilinguals report more "tip of the tongue" (TOT) failures than monolinguals because they experience between-language interference at semantic and/or phonological levels, or because they use each language less than a monolingual uses a single language.

I speak Spanish and English fluently and have been told by English speaking friends that I sound excited, agitated and generally over enthusiastic when I speak Spanish! However, my Spanish friends and family tell me that I sound cool, relaxed and formal when I speak English. I also admit to TOT failures in certain situations. (technically known as failure to retrieve the correct word!)

We all know the advantages of being bilingual but recent data from researchers in the US claim that bilingualism is a form of brain training that fine-tunes the mind. Lab tests with biological evidence revealed that speaking two languages profoundly affects the brain and changes how the nervous system responds to sound. Research studies in the 1990s confirmed that students who do successfully complete bilingual instruction perform better academically.

First Tutors have many bilingual language teachers that can help you master the language of your dreams!

As always, we welcome your comments!

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