Our personality is one of those things that is hard-wired onto us. It’s our genetic predisposition that dictates how we think and how we like to spend our energy. Ideally, our personality never changes since it is inborn. However, our traits, habits, and behaviors can certainly change or be developed over time.
When our behavior and approach to situations changes, it may appear to some as if our personality changed. However, such behavior could simply be a result of temporary exposure to a new environment or even an attempt to fake personality in order to fit in. Changes in behavior can be caused by either intrinsic or extrinsic factors. Intrinsic factors are those that come from within us, such as changing your social behavior because you want to appear more outgoing. Extrinsic factors, on the other hand, are those from the outside: for example, picking up catchphrases or mannerisms from office colleagues.
Language is a special one. It is both intrinsic and extrinsic in that you can choose what language you speak (intrinsic) but you need to also make sure your audience (extrinsic) understands the language you speak. And guess what? it can really affect the way you act. If you know how to speak multiple languages or have to do so regularly, you can probably relate to this.
The more comfortable or fluent you are in a language, the better you can communicate your thoughts and emotions through it. That’s why people have their preferred languages. For example, you may be proficient in speaking English, but not so in French. So if you speak French you won’t be able to express yourself optimally.
Now the problem arises when we find ourselves in environments where we have to speak a language other than what we’re best at.
Imagine this scenario:
Joe is U.S. native that just migrated to France. Joe was born and raised in the U.S. and only knows how to speak English, which he’s pretty darn good at. Fast forward 6 months, he’s picked up some French and can carry out simple conversations, but only with limited vocabulary. Over time, he would be probably able to learn French fluently but perhaps he will never be as fluent as the natives.
So now, Joe usually finds himself in a dilemma in social and professional situations. He can speak both English and French, but he can express himself better in the former. On the other hand, speaking French with the locals will help him blend easier and make things more comfortable and informal – of course with some sacrifices in articulacy.
If he goes with French, he’d be able to converse more easily. However, chances are that he won’t be able to say much. In the long run, this can make Joe under-perform socially and intellectually in conversations since he can’t express himself as he’d like to. This is how language can change your behavior and alter your apparent personality. For instance, if Joe is usually a talkative guy when he speaks full-on English, he might become quieter if he gets used to talking less because he forces himself to speak in French with the locals.
This phenomenon is basically part of a larger concept known as the language barrier, which you’ve probably heard of before. Language barrier is when you are unable to communicate effectively and form close relationships with people due to differences in Language.
And over time, the language you speak can really affect your behavior and personality. Going back to Joe, If the exposure to a different environment (french locals) becomes a long-term thing and makes Joe less talkative, there’s a good possibility that when Joe returns to his hometown in the U.S., he would behave similarly. Meaning, the language Joe chose to speak (French) would change his behavior.
However, if Joe decided to speak only in English as he realized French people are pretty English literate, maybe things would be slightly different. He would be able to express himself clearly and all that so his talkative behavior would not change in this case. However, the French locals might not talk to him as much since they would find it tiring to converse in English. This might trigger all sorts of different thought progressions in Joe’s mind. For example, he could feel less inclusive in groups than he used to feel in his homeland. And this, in turn, may affect his mental health, and so on…
In the end, for people like Joe who are usually expats in new environments, the best thing to do is adjust and learn the native language as well as you can. This way you can blend in and express yourself clearly at the same time.
A million locals in a foreign country won’t adjust for you, so you have to adjust to them. So learn their language.
The lesson here is that language is a very important factor in communication. And being a good communicator takes you far. So take the initiative in choosing the right language to speak in a given situation, as well as mastering the languages that you need to speak on a day to day basis. Don’t let language barriers stop you from being the best version of yourself.
What’s the fun in living stronger alone? If you found this article useful in helping you live stronger, go ahead and share it with the people you care about! Let’s live stronger together!