La Vida Is Bella- How Language Changes the Way We See the World?

Have you ever thought about why you feel different when you speak a foreign language? Have you felt as if you were completely another person? That is because you are! Researches have shown that our personality actually changes according to the language we speak; you may feel bubbly in Spanish but very formal in English.

When I tell that I am dating a Mexican, I am often asked first what language we speak. The answer is mainly English, but depending on the context, we also use Spanish. Even if I spoke fluent Spanish, I believe that English will always remain the main language in our relationship. It is a language we have used throughout our relationship; we know how to communicate different nuances of the language, and more importantly, we understand how the other persons use the language. Language can impact the way that we think about time, space, and even colors!

Researches have shown that the way of interpreting things vary depending on the language we use. Even our personality can change because the culture and environment where we are living impact how we use a language. Even the same translation of a specific word ignites different associations in us, depending on the language in which we hear it. How amazing is that!

This is particularly strong in bilingual travelers who have embraced two different cultures. There is a word in Finnish ''vahingoniloinen'' which is something called culture-specific untranslatable word. That refers to a word that cannot be translated because it is so connected to Finnish culture. It literally means feeling joy out of someone's misery, for example, when your friend falls to a pool or when you slip on a banana peel. So it is good to keep in my mind that when we speak different languages, we may use words and expressions related to our culture but they may mean something different in other languages.

Tanja Saarinen meditating in Finland.
When speaking Finnish, I feel calmer and more restrained. Picture by Anita Löfberg.

How languages impact on our emotions?

In one study, participants were shown a picture of a woman on the beach. When the same participants described this ad in Spanish, they saw a strong, beautiful, and independent woman in the picture (this is where I imagine all you gorgeous solo travelers out there!) When the same image was described in English, participants saw a blond woman sitting on the beach enjoying the day. Interestingly, participants' worldviews changed depending on what language they used and what experiences and values ​​were associated with that language. So if you feel like a different person when speaking foreign languages, that is completely normal!

The language we use in our daily lives also affects our emotions. If we both used Spanish, we might interpret events and each other very differently. I feel that I can, for example, express myself and my feelings more freely in English. For example, emotions are spoken more neutrally in Finland, which makes it more difficult and somehow heavier to say “I love you” in Finnish than in English.

I have spent my youth surrounded by the Americans and the British, who express themselves more than the Finns. I believe that is one reason I found it easier to share my thoughts in English than in Finnish. My husband, on the other hand, turns into a social butterfly whenever he speaks Spanish. His tone of voice varies more, and he uses more colorful expressions.

When we travel the world and interact with people from various cultural backgrounds, we should keep in mind that we learn languages differently. We experience the same situations in different ways. The more we learn about other cultures, the easier it gets to understand the wonderful nuances and cues.

I can’t wait to see how my perspective changes as I look at the world from behind the Spanish speaking glasses, but I bet the emotions in one direction and the other will be expressed even stronger!

Want to understand more how your native languages and culture shapes the way you think? Check out my coaching service here.

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