Diary of a Move: The language of foreignness
Ever felt like your IQ slips 30 points when speaking a foreign language? Sometimes you can only feel 'authentic' in your own language says Katia Vlachos.
Last week I read an article on how our personality changes when we speak different languages and it reminded me of a conversation I had years ago. A good friend and I were talking about our 'mobile' life and the challenges of adjusting to different environments every time we moved.
I asked her how she felt about having to function in a language other than her native one – she is a Spanish speaker in a German-speaking country. “I get by fine,” she said, being quite fluent in German, “but I am only an adapted version of myself in that language.” Somehow, switching to German managed to turn this lively, assertive, energetic Mediterranean woman into a much tamer, quieter, shy person. I thought of my own French or German persona and how different it was from my Greek one.
The image we project in different languages differs – especially when our level of proficiency differs among those languages. It is not unusual to be more reserved than our usual self when we don’t feel confident enough to express ourselves in a foreign language. My husband often says that his IQ drops by at least 30 points when he speaks French. I feel intellectually challenged when I try to function in a language that I haven't mastered. While I struggle to make a point and get frustrated when I can’t, someone who does not know me may assume that I don’t actually have a point to make.
Katia Vlachos researches and writes on cross-cultural adaptation and expatriate life. A Greek by birth and a perpetual foreigner by choice, she has lived in eight cities and seven countries in the last 20 years. The Diary of a Move is a story about crossing borders and cultures, and her blog explores the challenges of finding and sustaining home amid the chaos of nomadic life.
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