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La Academia News

Speaking two languages changes the way we see the world

Posted on : March 28, 2015

Some interesting and slightly scary research from Lancaster University, recently published in the journal “Psychological Science”, shows the way that we think is affected by the language we are using.

Professor Panos Athanasopoulos researched bilingual German and English speakers and found that “bilinguals think and behave like two different people, depending on the language they are using”. He tested the bilingual speakers by showing them video clips and asking them to describe what they saw.

One example of a change in the way of describing events in 2 languages was due to a grammatical difference in that English has a continuous present tense (“I am walking”) and German doesn’t. The Professor noticed that this led the research subjects to adjust the way they described a situation. When speaking German they tended to focus on the beginnings, middles, and ends of events, but when speaking English, the subjects often preferred to focus in on the action.

So whereas in German the speakers focussed on a series of actions a woman took – “she leaves the supermarket and she gets into her car”, when using English the same speakers described the action – “the woman is walking”.

So we adjust the way we speak according to the grammatical possibilities of the language we are using. This is slightly scary, but those of us who speak more than one language often find that we feel different when we speak another language – in fact in la Academia’s  language learning resource “Getting the most out of your language classes” we advise students to take on a different name and personality in language classes.

Do you find this helps when learning another language?   Do you ever feel as if your personality changes when you speak another language? Share your thoughts with us through the Social Media platforms below and we’ll do a quick survey!

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