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Culture — Think in Spanish – Change Your Identity

by Brandi

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March 10th, 2010

This week’s newsletter topic is a very interesting one for me; it is one that I will request your feedback and participation on so we can see more data on the subject.

As I was learning to speak Spanish, I went to a two-month intensive training course, then went straight to Latin America and lived among native speakers. It was quite a challenge to immediately communicate only in Spanish after arriving, but it definitely helped my language progression. After about two or three months of living in the country, I found I was able to understand about 75-85% of what was being said. Around that time, as I was becoming more fluent, I decided I was going to try to think in Spanish. If any of you want to get to that point, it can very intimidating unless you think of Spanish as just different vocabulary words used to express the same ideas.

In other words, it can overwhelm you to try and think in a different language, however if you just try to think using different vocabulary words (ones in Spanish), it becomes a lot easier. Anyway, I was surprised that after a few weeks, I could actually do it and didn’t slip back into thinking in English that much.

I found that when I hit the point where I was pretty good at thinking in Spanish, my personality in Spanish changed. I tended to express things with more emotion and pitch in my voice. I was able to joke with people in ways I couldn’t in English. However, there were certain things that were harder to express in Spanish and took a lot of work to try and master. In other words, I became better at expressing certain things and not as effective at expressing other things.

I love to talk to Latino people and joke around with them. They’re great people and fun to talk to. My theory is that we become a little more uninhibited when we become fluent in another language. We’re able to talk to others more freely because we know they don’t expect us to speak their language perfectly since we’re foreigners. We also start out with no mental blocks (socially) in the new language and country.

I don’t have any hard evidence to support my theory, but I do have a lot of empirical evidence (gained by observation and experience.) I have talked to many people who have become fluent in a foreign language and just about everyone I’ve talked to states the same thing—that their personality changes when speaking in their second language.

Now, not everyone becomes more uninhibited. I know of a few people who have done just the opposite. For example, one of my friends that came here to the U.S. from South America became more reserved and serious after becoming fluent in English. In Spanish he was a fun-loving, joking person with a lot of charisma. Now people see him as more serious and less personable.

Moral of this week’s story: To me, learning a new language is almost a magical kind of experience where you seem to enter a new world. I believe that learning a new language helps you gain brain capacity and also helps you think in a whole new way. A while ago, I read some research where people had problems and by thinking through the problems in different languages, they were able to come up with different solutions they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

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