Can learning a language really change your personality?

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I think so. But the funny thing is, it does so naturally. So that we don’t notice, unless we’re paying really close attention. Blink and you’ll miss it. I had never noticed this before a couple weeks ago.

I went to the ‘siirtolapuutarha’ (this big garden near my house made up of many plots, rented out to people) to soak up some sun and meditate for a bit. After sitting there for awhile and basically not managing to think about anything else, other than how silly I must look to a bunch of people sitting nearby, I heard a voice which seemed to be talking to me. So I opened my eyes and one of those guys was standing near me:

me: Anteeks mitä? (Sorry, what?)
him: Haluatko heitellä frisbeetä meidän kanssa? (Do you want to play frisbee with us?)
me: *looks around* ai… minä? (umm.. me?)
him: Joo (Yes)
me: Ei kiitos. (No, thank you.)
him: Ootko varma, että et halua heitellä frisbeetä meidän kanssa? (Are you sure you don’t want to play with us?)
me: En kiitos, haluan vain istua ihan rauhassa täällä. Mutta kiitos. (No, thank you. I just want to sit here quietly. But thank you.)
And so he walked away…

I went back to my meditating, cheery that for the first time living here, someone had invited me to play with them and at the same time, thankful that I could go about my business without having to explain why I didn’t want to play or having to make any sorts of excuses. Or worse, feeling obliged to have to go play, just because he asked.

I thought this episode through a number of times because it seemed so odd. For those of you who know me, I am – to say the least – a person of many words. So when I said ‘ei kiitos’ the first time, my mind was buzzing with other things I could add: to explain, to make excuses. But I came up blank: in Finnish, the most appropriate thing, for me, was just to be quiet after that. Anything else would’ve felt insincere. I added sincerity at the end by using ‘mutta kiitos’ to thank him for the offer; and I really meant it.


Blast from the past (2006). How many words of Finnish did I speak here? Exactly zero. Was I a different person? Perhaps.

I’ve tried this conversation in my head in English and it would’ve gone totally differently. Does this mean I have a different personality in Finnish vs. English? Was this proof of an internal shift? I don’t know; all I know is I would’ve done it differently in another language. At the very least, the outcome is flexible.

Do you think your personality changes when you’re speaking English or Finnish? Or any other languages? Have friends ever pointed this out to you? Let us know in the comments below!


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Hi! I’m Irina.

I’m a multibelonger to Finland, Canada and Romania, without ONE language or culture to call my own – I have several. My intention is to be present where I am and find inner peace and harmony where ever life takes me. I’m embracing the gems of the ongoing cultural and linguistic transition which is my life and hope to inspire others interested in doing the same. Read my story & more about what I do here.

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