On your "First Language" vs. english - please add your insights

If english is not your first language, please read the following article:

The Strange Persistence of First Languages

Quick overview - the author discusses how he relearned his first language - Czech, and it changed how he viewed his history. Basically when one speaks the native tongue of a land, it brings back different memories. It’s almost like when he discusses his past - in english, its like he is talking in the second person but relearning Czech brings back a flood of memories and feelings.

The author writes “When a childhood language decays, so does the ability to reach far back into your own private history. Language is memory’s receptacle. It has Proustian powers. Just as smells are known to trigger vivid memories of past experiences, language is so entangled with our experiences that inhabiting a specific language helps surface submerged events or interactions that are associated with it.”

So here is the question - for those of you who have a different first language other than english, when you speak in that language, does it trigger different feelings and memories?

I can relate somewhat. I was born in the USA but my ancestors emigrated from Prussia (as it was called then), and France.

I can understand the spoken word from both languages in a small way, but have trouble speaking it. I should take lessons, that would be cool. :wink:

I don’t know if I qualify - I was raised fully bilingual - but no, when I speak Afrikaans, I’m still the same person, same memories and emotions.

I wouldn’t say that, although, paradoxically, I’m more outgoing and lively when I speak English than my native French.

The opposite. There are some things I can do in Spanish but not in English, some things I can do much better in English. I hate whomever thought it was a good idea to translate Excel functions: do I need VLOOKUP, BUSCARV or RECHERCHEV? Apparently I’m not the only one, since the last editions of MSOffice let users change the language of functions and menus. I learned MSOffice in English; I learned to cook in Spanish with some Catalan spicing; I can do chemistry in any of those three languages. There is also the usual problems with translation: only because two words look/sound similar it doesn’t mean their meanings are, and only because the dictionary claims two words mean the same that doesn’t mean they do. For example, the Spanish pariente means “relative”, not “parent”, and our meaning of familia tends to be a lot less nuclear than the whitebread-American’s notion of “family”.

I’ve met many bilingual people who like me did a lot of domestic stuff such as cooking in their “home” language but were accustomed to having a different language in work contexts. I’ve met children of immigrants who thought they didn’t speak a word of their parents’ language: turns out their food vocabulary was more “mother’s tongue” than “official tongue”. Also, many people revert to our native language when upset, tired or emotional; even people who haven’t spoken it for years.

Thanks for the insights.


What reason could there be that this question would possibly be limited to people who learned English as a second language and not apply to people who have English as a first language and became fluent in another language?

A Spanish/Catalan guy I used to work with said the same; more outgoing and also with a much more childish sense of humour in English than in either of his other languages.

Personally, I’ve never managed to learn any other languages to have any personality other than ‘bumbling nonsensical idiot’ in them…

Your right!

Lets say a person was born in the USA or UK or Australia but then moved to say Japan or somewhere and Japanese became their major language. When speaking english again would their personality change?

I remember once we were in Mexico talking to some missionaries and their teen daughters went to a regular Mexican school said that when talking about school with each other, they would just automatically start using Spanish whereas when talking about their parents and family life they would speak english.

Now its nowhere near to that extreme but I remember having a rural drawl and when I am in a rural area I sometimes find myself using it again.

So I’d like to ask, do people have any insights where their first language is english and how they feel different after they move away?