Does your personality change when speaking another language?

July 6, 2023

In this coaching questions series that is inspired by our coaches, Heikki Rekilä is thinking about different topics around our work personality, careers, and motivations.

Does your personality change when speaking another language?

Working with a coach or coaches as a client comes with meeting a lot of questions and trying to come up with answers to them, sometimes being unable to come up with anything, let alone having time to figure out if your answer is right or wrong. Most of the time you are left wondering for a long time and are bound to do either soul-searching or good old-fashioned research to get answers to those questions presented during your session. Well, working with a coach as a colleague, you are never safe from a conversation that spirals into an impromptu coaching session with lots of hard-hitting questions without answers. In a recent conversation I’ve had with our coach we strayed into the realm of language and personality.

A dangerous topic to walk into and start comparing our own experiences, especially the dreaded question of does your personality change when speaking another language? Now being fluently bilingual and knowing other languages one might easily assume that I would have an answer. In my experience though no matter how many languages one does speak, it won’t change the answer. So what is the answer to this question? In true academic fashion, the jury seems to be out, still debating this issue, but at an elementary level one’s true personality doesn’t seem to be affected by the languages one speaks. What can be affected is one’s personality traits and expressions which can be highlighted more in one language than the other.

Obviously, cultural norms play a massive role in how one shapes their communication style, which in turn has an impact on our cognitive processes. How we think and perceive the world around us is massively influenced by the language we use (did you hit something with your car or make contact with something), differing from politeness norms to taboo word combinations. A personal pet peeve of mine is the overuse of the word love, you can’t truly love pizza or a song and a car all within five minutes.

So what are you supposed to do to get to know what your team members' “true personalities” are and how to best utilize them, while being aware of their cultural norms? Luckily help is available for decision-makers and business leaders in helping to get an understanding of this is possible. Psychometrics has come a long way and especially in the work environment the big-5 personality traits seem to give us a good, consistent, read on one’s true personality (No secret that I do like the Big-5). Mazhr has made it easier to understand and unpack the results of it. They’ve even shown the personality traits that are being expressed and how much. Something that allows everyone to work at their own strengths and to let their personality thrive and get started on an upward cycle of well-being or boost it if they were already on it (Linley).

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? It may seem that personality does change when speaking another language, but I agree with the current literature that it is just your true personality showcasing parts of your true expressions in a way that you’ve found limited in the other language(s) that you speak. Traits can be worked on and developed, your core personality stays the same. After all, you get excited and mad about the same things, no matter what language is spoken. To help optimize it all and get the most out of your team, I would recommend giving Mazhr services a try, whether it's the psychometric testing, coaching, or both, they are more than happy to help.

If you’ve found this topic interesting and want to dive deeper into the literature, I recommend looking for the following terms  in google scholar or your search engine of choice:

  • Code-Switching and Communication Styles
  • Cultural Differences and Language
  • Language and Personality
  • Linguistic Relativity: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

I, however, feel like I have achieved a small moral victory over a coworker, despite him being right about there not being any definitive peer-reviewed proof that language changes your personality. I have become cemented in my stance, having done the battery of psychometric assessments in both languages and having only a slight difference in my results, which can be attributed to cultural differences that stem from the two different languages.


Heikki Rekilä

Customer Success Specialist, Mazhr Oy

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