What is a second language

The psychology of multilingualism

Speaking a second language means having a second personality ... doesn't it?


Knowing another language is like having a second soul. “- Charlemagne

This quote is criticized almost as often as it is quoted. Many agree with regard to an expanded (or perhaps even different) personality, but the broader interpretation with regard to a second soul is often rejected.

What did Charlemagne mean by that anyway? His statement is interpreted in such a way that you can express yourself very differently in another language than in your mother tongue, and thus develop another soul, so to speak, through a completely new worldview. Things that can hardly be put into words in German, for example, are easier for many in English - but the other way round also applies, since terms such as “Wanderlust”, “Weltschmerz” or “Schadenfreude” only exist in German. With these completely different expressions in other languages, completely different thoughts can be formulated and, as a result, the speakers of these languages ​​also think differently. This also means that, as speakers of several languages, we penetrate much more into the culture of the respective language. After all, languages ​​are based on conventions (“table” does not mean “table” because it is a “table”, but because someone called it that), and these conventions convey a supposedly deeper understanding of traditions - the existence of words You are welcome to imagine how “Weltschmerz” says about Germany. This point is debatable, and so do many - but it has been proven that one can have a slightly different personality in another language.
In addition, Charlemagne is not the first or the only one to have made such a statement: "Another language is like a different view of life“Said the film producer Federico Fellini, for example.

Studies have already shown, among other things, that the language we speak and the origin of our conversation partners have an impact on how we are perceived in conversation. However, this perception is also actively influenced by ourselves (the speaker), because according to behavioral research, we try to approach the cultural background of our interlocutor. For example, this means that we talk to the Chinese in a completely different way than we do to Americans. According to studies, the Chinese language is associated with reticence, while speakers of the English language are considered extroverted.

You may have noticed this in yourself. Do you speak faster and higher in dialogue with American friends or business partners? Do you behave more calmly when talking to Chinese people? Do you gesticulate more when you speak Italian? This is the case for a large number of speakers of these languages, depending on how well they know the culture of the respective country. For example, if you have lived abroad for a while, this effect will of course be far stronger than if you only know the other cultures from sporadic contact within your home country. But don't worry - it doesn't mean that you suddenly become a different person just because you speak a different language. Rather, they adapt to the tone of the foreign language and the foreign culture, and will thus leave a good impression on your counterpart. This generally happens quite unconsciously - and of course the results of such studies are all the more interesting.

Take care of it yourself the next time you talk - and don't be too frightened if you suddenly notice that you are actually behaving differently.