The path of learning a foreign language, especially when self-taught, is fraught with many challenges and difficulties, and one should always expect a minimum of several years for any reasonable level of fluency.
Fortunately, all the hard work is (eventually) rewarded with satisfaction in this great achievement, better appreciation of another country’s culture, and increased opportunities for careers and life in general.
In my study of Japanese I’ve come to realize there is one more hidden bonus in getting proficient at a foreign language. It’s that you have a chance to rewire parts of your personality, in essence create a new ‘you’.
This may sound crazy, but think of it is way – When you are learning your native language, you learn a variety of expressions from your surroundings and gradually build up a set of phrases that make up who you are linguistically. We all have our own unique ways of speaking, and I am sure you’ve had the experience where you hear a phrase and think “this sounds like something so-and-so could have said”. In addition, these linguistic influences may go deeper than you might guess, as there are some theories that language can have a major effect on how we think and act.
This process of personality-creation also applies to a second language. Initially, all of us will have experiences where we struggle to translate some set phrase from our native language since it’s the first thing that comes to mind, but the more we are surrounded by native speakers of this second language, the more we will pick up new expressions, many of which have the potential to carry nuances not present in our mother tongue.
Depending on our age and how linguistically endowed we are, some of us may struggle to make complex sentences in a foreign language and as a result end up with a much simpler personality when using this language, as we strive to minimize mistakes.
But we can also make active choices about how we direct our foreign language studies. For example, we can strive to improve our descriptive ability, or promise to ourselves to improve expression of our own feelings. While in theory we could do this in our native language, starting from linguistic scratch provides a more convenient opportunity to get rid of our old habits and sculpt a new self word by word, sentence by sentence.
This idea came to me one day when I had realized that there were some things I could say with more ease or in more detail in Japanese, despite the fact it is my second language. I’ve noticed there is a lot of ’emotional baggage’ associated with words in my native language which can actually act as barriers to expressing myself fully.
I’m curious to hear if any of you have noticed personality differences when speaking in a second or third language.