blogging gobbledygook and such

At college, am presently part of this programme/project about the varieties of English that involves the participation of colleges and universities around Asia. We congregate on specific dates via teleconferencing to discuss issues about the varieties of English. The title of this post was one of the questions posed during the first teleconference.

On a superficial level, you might say yes, you feel like a different person when you’re not speaking your mother tongue due to the differences in the nuances of the language. Also, your proficiency in a foreign language plays a big part on how well you are able to express yourself; therefore, if you can’t speak English well the chances are you’re not able to use the language to communicate well. Factors like these can hinder you somewhat from being able to express yourself as naturally as you would in your mother tongue, which may then lead to your impression that you don’t feel like yourself when you speak a foreign language.

On a deeper level, you may argue that how can language determine your identity? After all, language is just one tool of communication – paralanguage is another way a person can communicate. The person you are does not change simply because you are unable to express yourself the way you could with your mother tongue. You’re still you whether you speak English, Malay, Cantonese or Tamil. Language is ultimately just a tool you use to communicate and express yourself, but it does not mould and shape the person you are.

On the note of the previous sentence, then what about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that a person’s world view is shaped by the language he or she speaks?


Heh, lovelyloey and self are having a syok sendiri session over at the comments section of this post since we just discovered we’re involved in it. Totally self’s Singaporean counterpart, girl!

Comments on: "Are you a different person when you speak a foreign language?" (19)

  1. lovelyloey said:


    sulz: you’re the one in pink yes or not! your lecturer introduced you but i couldn’t catch your name so wasn’t sure if it was you. but looked like you haha!

    and by the way you didn’t get to see self because was strategically out of the camera’s view, hoho!

  2. lovelyloey said:

    Anyhoos, think that Prof from the Hong Kong side explained it quite well, that each language we speak will contribute a different facet to our identity.
    (Oh, and I didn’t speak up during the thing cos I just didn’t know what to add.)

    sulz: yes he elaborated very well, so did your professor pakir. couldn’t understand the japanese lecturer-cum-facilitator, her accent is so strong!

  3. lovelyloey said:

    Yes, I was the one in pink. Was trying to evade the camera as well, but lecturer was too enthusiastic. -bleah-
    I couldn’t understand the Japanese lecturer either. Had a hard time trying to catch what she was saying.
    And I thought the discussion on countable and uncountable nouns was quite a waste of time.

    sulz: hah, was dozing off by quarter to one okay! :mrgreen: next session talking about manglish among other types of english – eeps!

  4. lovelyloey said:

    Oh, I thought Singlish also? Heh. I’m only going for 2 more sessions, the Manglish/Singlish one, and the one on Philippines in 4 weeks’ time. After that is my exam period. 😦

    sulz: yeah, be prepared to be asked difficult questions about our varieties of english next session! we can’t join the third session because it’s deepavali that day.

    of the dozen of self’s classmates who are participating 3 will be selected to go to that conference at your place. am not holding self’s breath because lecturer in charge said she’d pick the most active ones. not the kind who hides from cameras. πŸ˜›

  5. […] am I talking about this? BECAUSE SULZ, WHO IS IN MALAYSIA, IS INVOLVED IN THE SAME […]

  6. lovelyloey said:

    Well. If you get picked you need to go get your passport. But that’s just a little minute detail. Come over! Haha.
    Deepavali. 7 November? Funny. No one said anything about that over here.

    sulz: already plan to apply passport even if can’t go singapore for this, because want to go to thailand after graduating!

    will try self’s best to go lor, but if you noticed self’s classmate is quite erm, vocal… πŸ˜›

  7. lovelyloey said:

    Thailand! Fun. Food is cheap. The last time I went was … 14 years ago. Am definitely going back one of these days! But apparently don’t bother to count on buying clothes cos Thailand girls are very skinny. Shoes good though. People buy like 10-15 pairs back. Crazy people.
    I’ll put up a sign that says “Let [sulz] talk” the next time πŸ˜€ Haha Kidding. Am so excited over I-don’t-know-what (maybe spamming your comments. Haha)

    sulz: wah, if that cheap better buy as many as possible!

    hehe, feel a bit sam pat also right now. :mrgreen:

  8. lovelyloey said:

    Oh ya. Just realized accidentally put real name in. Opps. πŸ˜›
    Ok. Shall stop spamming from this post on. Yay.

    sulz: yeah, know you’re too excited already! πŸ˜€

    spam lah you want. how often people meet their blog buddy this way huh!

  9. Great post… both points are very true and about the second one, I think the person you “are” does not change when you’re speaking a foreign language, but the person others perceive you as might be different from who you really are due to some inadequacy in your use of a non-native language…

    I really like what you said about you don’t “feel like” the same person due to “the differences in the nuances of the language”. That’s especially true when the two languages are as different as Chinese and English… It’s actually quite fascinating when you think of it, using a different “tool” could make you “feel” different about yourself…

    sulz: good point re ‘perceive’ because that’s what one of the professors said during the discussion.

    well, it’s a bit like clothes isn’t it? if you wear something sexy, you’d feel sexy and if you wear something frumpy, you might not feel as sexy. yet, you’re still you underneath the clothes! πŸ™‚

  10. One of the interesting issues that arises goes beyond translation. Because different nationalities tend to talk about different subjects and in different ways. Even when one person is fluent in another language eg A Japanese who speaks English, the dialogue can still be stilted because the 2 peoples seem to think so differently and express themselves so differently. Now here’s the thing. If you get beyond that into the zone where you can start to think like say A French person – are you changing? I think you are.

    sulz: so it’s like if you weren’t a sexy person to begin with, and as you start to wear sexy clothes, you eventually become sexy? πŸ˜‰

  11. Things can be so wonderful sometimes can’t they? You would never have thought you two would have seen each other like that would you? Life is so amazing sometimes!

    Back to the topic now, Yes I think you can be a different person when you’re speaking a foreign language. For example even though I know I’m very good at English, I would not be able to express myself as freely as I can in my native language(The slangs in English are nowhere near those compared to Hindi and Punjabi!). Also I don’t think I’d be able to express my emotions equally in both the languages and hence I might appear like a different person. Doesn’t happen with everybody though because at the end of the day, the brain and thinking is the same, it’s only the comfort of expressing it.

    sulz: haha, you sound so happy for us it’s sooo sweet! *hugs*

    am thinking about this different and same bit, and have sort of come to this idea that you are different and yet still the same person when you speak a foreign language.

  12. yeah! i’m glad about you and lovelyloey too!

    as for languages, well, yes, i feel like i display different personality traits when i speak a different language. but then, the threshold of language is just ONE of the thresholds. for example, i feel different when i am with a teacher as opposed to with a friend, when i dress up in western dresses as opposed to in local costumes, involved in an online activity as opposed to an offline activity. hell, i feel like i’m a diferent person online. but then, come to think of it, my online language is a foreign one πŸ˜€

    i wouldn’t wish to look at language as a different phenomenon unrelated to what’s happening in our brains when other parameters are involved.

    sulz: sho schweet! (see, lovelyloey, am imitating your idiolect already!) πŸ˜€ oh, totally agree about feeling like a different person online and offline. perhaps different modes of communication allows you to display different facets of your personality – which is interesting because you get to know yourself better in a way!

    man, your last sentence is too profound for self!

  13. I’d say yes. A language is a road. You might walk in the same direction, but it’s definately not the same road…

    sulz: hey you. πŸ˜‰ hmm, a poetic perspective…

  14. […] Do you and your students feel β€œdifferent” when you speak a foreign language? […]

  15. Konstantinos said:

    I was born in Greece and I have been living in the UK the last 3 years.
    When I speak in English, I feel less concentrated as I would feel when I speak in my mother tongue (Greek).
    When I speak in Greek I feel I more excited about my thoughts.
    So, speaking in English and being in a different country is a completely different case of using English in your own country, since that probably happens when you are in need of communicating with tourists or foreigners. So, my conclusion after my life’s experiences from travelling and living in foreign countries is that the “Cultural Shock” is what changes yourself, and not the language itself. When you compare your self’s way of thinking to the rest of the people living in the foreign country you are visiting/staying makes you somehow loosing yourself. Since you’ve got to change/adjust/settle yourself in the environment to survive and become socially accepted in the community. Believe me , this is a very difficult task. Especially when you are experiencing it without having any contact with people from your own country. Because, socialising with people of the same country as yours doesn’t make you feel any difference, compared to how you were feeling about yourself in your home country, since you will be using your own language and create a little world within your imagination. That would be “Your world” ..your own little world… and as a result you will be closed in yourself from the rest of the people within the society….and this is how the national groups are created , and we see foreigners of the same country being ALWAYS together.

    sulz: hmm, that’s an interesting perspective and quite valid to me. thanks for commenting! πŸ™‚

  16. I think Konstantinos gives the most interesting response here but it’s still a little short. Leaving out the existential side of who you are being defined by who you are seen to be there are two major contributors to the who you are question:
    Firstly the fact that you are speaking in a different language makes you concentrate harder on trying to express yourself and leaves your brain less time to hide the person you really are which is something you tend to do as second nature on a constant basis so you are more of yourself if anything. It also means that despite the language problem and the stress this can involve you are actually able to relax more and try other sides of yourself as you are by definition surrounded by people who do not know the you that you have createded and livced with for the rest of your life. This freedom again leaves you at ease doing and being something closer to the person you possibly are.

    Should you be fluent enough with a language to not actually be consciously processing it then you start thinking in that language and your thought structures are directed by that language. You think differently. You are a different person.
    Obviously the same but FAPP a different you.


    sulz: thanks for your interesting perspective! πŸ™‚ food for thought.

  17. Frederika van Beilen said:

    I am not a different person when I speak English, but I as a teacher of English, which is not my mother tongue, I am experiencing an increasing amount of stress, because:

    – native speakers are here, eager to take over my job
    – some students are disappointed when they notice I’m not a native speaker
    – I will never reach a native speaker level, no matter that I’ve tried for the past 25 years
    – I don’t have a specific British (or other English-speaking nation’s) accent
    – I cannot use the witty stuff. I know far more colloquial idioms in my own language than in English. So I am tempted to translate Dutch idioms directly into English, but I don’t because I know it is wrong. Which is a pity, because that could spice up my English.
    – When I speak English I am constantly painfully aware of the mistakes I make. I try to correct myself all the time, I am cautious of what I say, and thus ruin the spontaneity and fun of the language.

    Just a few things that have been bothering me on a daily basis the last few years. I was looking for a term that would describe this all, hoping to find companions in misfortune. ‘Foreign language stress’? ‘Non-native English speakers inferiority complex?’ And one more thing: many native speakers I know do not really help to make me feel more comfortable about it. They try to make the most of their advantage, without realizing that I have actually shown to be able to master a foreign language to a very high level.

    Thanks for reading this, who-ever you are,


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