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Foreign Language Schizophrenia

Do you and your students feel “different” when you speak a foreign language?

In a practical sense, it could make for an interesting class discussion not only about language, but also about how your students perceive themselves when speaking English. On a personal level…I’m just curious. I’d be interested to hear what different students say and informally compare it to their personality and level.

As the author of the post points out, the extent of your ability to express yourself in that foreign language makes a difference. It’s probably quite common for lower level learners – like me – just to feel “different” speaking a language because they can’t express themselves as well as they can in their own language. But this doesn’t reveal some “real difference” when speaking a second language, it is just a function of not having the words to express yourself well.

My answer: that above. It is hard to feel any real difference when what I can express is so much less than in English. Would it be different if I spoke the language better – would I have a bigger vocabulary but still feel “different”? Maybe, but I doubt it. One thing that has surprised me though is that I do feel some kind of “Bosnian / other Slavic language kinship” in some circumstances, and I don’t think I’d feel an “English language kinship” in a roughly parallel situation.

I do, however, think that a person’s native language shapes the way they look at the world or “see things”, at least a little. The way you see things is of course not the whole of your personality, but it’s some part of it.

Alongside language, though, culture, life experiences, even an influential professor can shape what you make of the world, and your personality too. A practical example might be that an experienced EFL teacher in Korea would probably come away from a job ad placed by a recruiter with a different overall picture of it than an experienced ESL teacher in the US. It’s not that it’s impossible for them to have the same understanding of it, or that there is some innate difference in them that makes them interpret it in a particular way, but generally they will just see it a little differently.

I certainly don’t think different native languages make people “different” in any significant or un-bridgeable way – I just think they do make a difference.

So – do you feel different when you speak a foreign language?