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Multilinguals Experience Personality Change When Using Different Languages

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Multilinguals Experience Personality Change When Using Different Languages

People who are bilingual have been a source of fascination for years, with various studies revealing that they are more accepting, tolerant and open-minded than others. The far-reaching impact of multilingualism does not end there, however, with recent research suggesting that the behaviour and outlook of bilinguals also changes according to the language that they use at any given time.

Between 2001 and 2003, linguists Jean-Marc Dawaele and Aneta Pavlenko surveyed more than one thousand bilinguals on the subject of whether they feel like a different person when they speak different languages. Incredibly, nearly two-thirds confirmed that they did, while the majority of respondents also emphasise different personality traits and express alternative emotions depending on their choice of language.

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How does our personalities change when using alternative languages

While there is plenty of research to support these findings, how do these personality changes manifest themselves? In one of the more recent essays published on the subject, New Republic editor Noam Scheiber revealed that he stopped speaking only in Hebrew to his three-year older due to the impact that it had on his persona. Scheiber claimed that his personality became far colder and less articulate when speaking in Hebrew, while communicating in English brought out his natural sensibility, patience and a greater level of empathy.

In a further study completed back in 1964, psychologist Susan Ervin set out to explore the different ways through which bilinguals shared the same story in different languages. Using 64 respondents who were fluent in both French and English, Ervin presented what is known as the Thematic Apperception Test to share a series of illustrations. Spanning two separate sessions that were hosted in French and English, respondents were asked to create a compelling story based on the images that they had seen.

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Upon analysis, several topical differences came to the fore. The English narratives featured physical aggression and female accomplishment as central themes, for example, while those in French were more likely to include verbal aggression towards peers and guilt.

With English as a central theme in both of these examples, it is interesting to note the alternative perceptions that emerge depending on the speaker. While the use of English brought out traits such as patience and empathy in one instance, for example, it solicited physical and verbal aggression in another. One explanation for these variable outlooks could be the context in which each dialect was learned, with one multilingual claiming that she was friendlier and made friends more easily in her second language (which she learned at an older age and when her social skills were more advanced).

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As a multilingual, why does your personality change?

With this in mind, the context in which languages are learned solicits alternative emotions and changes our outlook, behaviour and levels of self-perception. Michael J. Koven’s body of research from also 1998 reaffirms this, with a group of French and Portuguese bilinguals emphasising different personality traits and behaviours depending on their choice of language. This suggests that the age at which languages are learned also have an impact, depending on the level of our cognitive development at the time when we become multilingual and fluent in alternative dialects.

On a final note, the cultural aspects that are deeply-rooted in language may also impact on the personalities of bilinguals. Our cultural identity has a huge bearing on how we learn and the values that we hold dear, but those who are bilingual are likely to have travelled and absorbed alternative cultures and lifestyles. This will directly change their outlook and challenge their existing values, potentially creating an altered personality that manifests itself in numerous different ways.

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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