Here’s a question for you: What’s your personality when speaking English?
You may be thinking, “Well, my personality stays the same when I’m speaking English or my native language.”
If so, I invite you to really stop and think about the question. Who are you when you speak English?
My experience suggests that you probably express yourself differently between these two languages.
The sooner you can embrace this, the more you can enjoy the unique aspects of yourself that come out when you’re speaking different languages!
How Your Native Language Influences How You Express Yourself
Many of my clients tell me that one of the main reasons they feel so frustrated or less confident about their speaking skills in English is that they express themselves really well in their native language.
Perhaps they use very colorful language, very descriptive language, complex vocabulary words, or precise terms. It really depends on the person and their native language.
If you’re anything like them, you may feel discouraged when speaking English because you’re noticing this disconnect between the way you communicate in your native language and in English.
That’s why I’m here to encourage you to shift your mindset.
Instead of comparing your English personality to the one you express in your native language, view this language journey as an opportunity to develop a whole new personality.
After all, languages have character.
Some languages are much more precise.
Other languages are more flowery, more descriptive, even more romantic!
Some languages can sound really abrupt if you translate directly into English, while other languages seem overly polite and solicitous.
It really depends on the language.
For this reason, I want you to think about how your native language influences how you express yourself.
Your Personality Can Change When You Speak English
Now, let’s turn this idea around. What if you don’t need to express yourself precisely the way you do in your native language?
What if you can adopt a different personality and express a different facet of yourself when speaking English?
As you move toward advanced, proficient, and even fluent English, you will start to develop a unique English speaking personality.
Through sensitivity to unique characteristics of English and English-speaking cultures, you’ll actually be able to express different parts of yourself!
For example, when I speak Spanish, I’m able to be more emotional than I am in English.
You may have heard that Americans aren’t particularly great at expressing a wide variety of emotions (and that’s partially because of our language).
While we do express a range of emotions through our tone and certain vocabulary choices, you may find that the English language is limiting for the more nuanced emotion or idea you want to express.
After all, some languages have two, three, four, even 10 or 20 vocabulary words to express a concept that’s can only be explained in English by one or two words. (For instance: love or other emotional states!)
Beyond that, you can consider your personality in the two languages.
In English, I tend to be a little bit goofy and funny and I like to tell long, rambling stories.
In Spanish, I tend to be more questioning and more curious.
Part of that is because I’m learning the language of the culture that I’m living or traveling in, while the other part is because the Spanish language encourages more questions.
In American English, I often feel the need to be an authority.
In Spanish, I’m able to show more uncertainty and express more interest in why people do certain things.
While I do like to tell stories in Spanish, too (this part of my personality transcends languages!), my stories tend to be a little bit shorter because I may not be able to continue talking for long enough while keeping someone’s attention.
In fact, one of the reasons I knew I had finally achieved fluency in Spanish is that I was able to tell a funny story and get people to laugh at the end.
As you can see, I’m still exploring the nuances of my personality in Spanish and English and how it differs in each language.
That said, I definitely feel like I express different ideas, different thoughts and different aspects of my personality between the two languages.
Since I only speak basic conversational Portuguese, I would probably be able to have conversations with friends, but I wouldn’t be able to have a professional conversation in Portuguese.
That means my Portuguese would be light, funny, and experimental, like a kid learning to walk or learning to ride a bike.
Since I know my Portuguese is still developing, speaking the language enables me to express a more playful part of my personality. I know I’m not able to express myself as fluently as I do in Spanish, or as naturally as I do in my native English.
(For another interesting perspective on how personality can change between multiple languages, you can read this very interesting exploration of a polyglot’s shifting identities.)
Who Are You When You Speak English?
Now I want you to take a moment and consider these questions again:
- What’s your personality when speaking English?
- Does your personality in English need to be the same as it is in your native language?
Even if you’re interacting in professional environments in English, the way we talk at English-speaking workplaces may actually be different than the way you talk with your managers, colleagues, and coworkers in your native language.
Remember, this enables you to express different aspects of your professional personality.
This should encourage you: you may not actually need to express your intelligence or your professional characteristics the same way you do in your native language.
In fact, they may not even be as relevant in English-speaking organizations.
This insight can help you lessen the pressure on yourself to perform at a certain level in English.
You may be able to be better at having friendships in English and be able to have better professional relationships in your native language.
Or you may be able to express more philosophical ideas in your native language, but you may be able to express more relational ideas in English.
Once again, it really depends on the language and it depends on your goals when you’re speaking English.
Now it’s your turn! Leave a comment and let me know what your personality is in English. Then share how it differs from your personality in your native language.
Understanding that it’s not necessary to express yourself precisely the same way in English as you do in your native language can help you feel more confident as you continue along this language learning journey.