9 In Korean learning journey (:

My different language selves

Seriously, I have been meaning to blog about this for ages and Samier blogged it about it the other time too!

Different personalities associated with different languages – me and my alternative language selves

For Samier:

For example, when I speak Korean, I’m not so shy and I feel really brave, when I speak in Chinese I feel more outgoing and talkative, and when I speak Japanese I feel very polite and collected.

I need to stress that it’s not saying that we associate these traits to languages and people who speak them. It’s about how our own personalities kinda change a little when we speak in different languages.

For me, I have come to realize that I’m a much nicer and subtle person when speaking in Korean. Perhaps because of my cultural knowledge, I subconsciously respect elders a lot more, show more deference, speak politely to people, be conscious of the age hierarchy. I generally sound a lot nicer (tone wise), more agreeable and a lot more face-giving.

For example, I won’t directly disagree or rebuk a person (especially a senior) unless it really really really pisses me off. I will choose to smile politely and keep the conversation light. And most of the time sound agreeable. Although there are times that my honest and direct personality still come out in Korean, it’s very toned down.

It’s a total different story when I’m speaking in Chinese or English. It’s not about the proficiency. Believe it or not, I can still argue or sound sarcastic in Korean. ^^ When I’m speaking in English or Chinese, I tend to have a more direct personality and I’ll tell you what I really feel about things. Of course I’m still super nice when you are nice and polite, but I don’t take digs / thinly veiled criticisms quietly and if I see a need to rebuke, I will. No caring if you are a senior or not. Not that I’m going to be impolite, but I believe in voicing out what I feel too, in a polite way. But too bad if  you really pissed me off, I can get pretty sharp. And I generally have no interest in exchanging fake pleasantries with judgmental people. I generally have little patience with them, since I met too many of them. D:

I generally dislike it when people try to go the roundabout way of saying things. For example, ‘I’m not saying this to criticize you.. / I’m not saying it’s a bad thing’.haha I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt but once you say that a little too many times I’ll start to wonder what’s your true intentions. #justsaying Why don’t you say ‘it’s a great thing, but why don’t…’. I think that sounds a lot nicer. #language peeves

It’s interesting how I’ll not pay that much attention to hierarchy when speaking in English, perhaps because there is less of a cultural emphasis on that in English. It’s like how I am used to calling a Korean Professor by her first name in English but if I ever happen to talk to her in Korean, I’ll definitely use 교수님 instead of her name. I think I’ll be mortified if I slipped and call her by her first name in Korean. ><;; And I think the conversation will be more casual in English and more formal in Korean XD

There are so many tiny ways that I think my personality/tone etc differ across language selves and it’s interesting to reflect and think about them.

As for Japanese, I think I’m still too much of a beginner to start thinking of a language self. Perhaps I’ll develop one in the future 😀

Generally I’m a very carefree kind of person, and I like to do things that I like and am passionate about. ^^ I think that doesn’t change across my language selves.

What is your personality like and how do you think it changes as you speak in different languages? I’m really curious! 

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  • Reply
    29 September, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    I’m not sure about different personalities when I’m speaking English or Korean – although like you, I think I’m probably more polite in Korean. But I certainly notice I feel very different talking to people I know well in Korean or English. For example a 형님 of mine I met when I first came to Korea helped me out a lot and we became very close. We started off speaking English and I feel very comfortable and quite equal talking with him. The problem is if I speak Korean to him these days, instantly I feel our relationship change – I suddenly become much more deferential, find it hard to state strong opinions (let’s go here, let’s do that, let’s eat this…) and just generally feel more uncomfortable and aware of the senior/junior relationship. So because of this I generally keep speaking English where it feels much more like a Western-style friendship on an equal footing. But we’re always just the same people! Strange, ahy, how language is so powerful?

    • Reply
      29 September, 2012 at 12:17 PM

      language is really subtlety powerful (haha if there is such a term). A lot of people are probably not very conscious of its ‘powers’ especially for those who are just normally speaking in their one native tongue but once you start using other languages or dealing with other cultures, you start to be more conscious of all these stuff. I can relate to your example too! I feel a little awkward when Koreans 20 years older than me tell me that I can treat them like friends and even speak to them in banmal if I want to. I was like OMG I CANT DO THIS. One way is to try telling your 형님 about this and maybe he will suggest to drop to banmal and be comfortable. 😀 But I do agree that even so, the senior/junior relationship is still there. >< interesting issue to think about. thanks for sharing!!

  • Reply
    29 September, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    All I know is that I nod alot when I speak Japanese. Like the Japanese. I can’t speak Japanese without nodding. I realise that my trilingual boss does it too. The nodding only kicks in when he uses Japanese. Weird. 🙂

    • Reply
      30 September, 2012 at 12:41 AM

      haha that’s interesting xD I shall see if I pick up next time when my Japanese gets better!

  • Reply
    30 September, 2012 at 12:08 AM

    Awesome post, Shanna!

    I’m glad you mentioned that these ‘personality changes’ are not really changes… they’re more like different tinges of our personality with a variety of tones thrown in. For instance, I’m have a very outgoing/carefree personality, so I feel like these languages add a different variety to this personality haha

    Ah~ The joy of speaking foreign languages >:D

    • Reply
      30 September, 2012 at 12:40 AM

      that’s a really good way of putting it! 😀

  • Reply
    Hana S
    4 October, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    For me my native languages are Russian and English.. I have been studying Korean for three years but it has been… passive made for like 1 year: (* toxic school schedule*

    -English I grew up in Canada and still live here so this is the primary language that i use for most of my school life and social life with friends…. I feel pretty mutual when I use it… feel Like I can get intelligent points across/ decent debates and deep convesations…I feel pretty average though

    Russian- another native language that I grew up using at home.. I feel a lot more comfortable using it to get straight to the point.. or to get my point across… it is quite awesome for making Insults… I feel clever with and chromatic when I use Russia

    Korean–i feel Luke my personality is more reserved and sweet when I use it

    • Reply
      4 October, 2012 at 8:49 PM

      thanks for sharing 😀 i feel a lot more reserved and subtle in korean too 😀

  • Reply
    15 May, 2015 at 12:42 AM

    For my part I know I’m shy when I speak in English and other language because of accents or type of words for how to tell words.
    But I have not this problem with Japanese where I’m comfortable.

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