New research shows that the way bilingual people think about things actually changes from one language to the other. Even when we know things to be false, we defend them in our secondary language to make ourselves feel better.
Many people are able to fully converse in more than one language. People often use each of their languages for different things – maybe using one when relaxing with family, and using other languages in their professional lives. For many people who speak more than one language on a daily basis, this can impact upon how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people tend to think more emotionally in their native language. There is research that shows that people whose mother tongue is English might not be as emotionally responsive to the words ‘Je t’aime’ in French as they would be when they hear ‘I love you’. Both clearly mean the same, but the English version would make them more weak at the knees, as the phrasing has more emotional resonance and a lifetime of meaning behind it.
It used to be thought that people who speak two or more languages would think the same across all of them. That is to say that the meaning of something wouldn’t change, regardless of which language was being spoken. New research shows that this might not be the case, suggesting that people might change their views in one language if it makes them feel good or bad about their preferred culture, and that they might defend whichever culture they feel more emotional towards.
In a test, bilinguals were presented with several positive and negative statements about their native country (Wales), both in Welsh and in English. When all the statements were true and positive and read in both languages, they agreed. When the statements were negative, however, they defended them more when they were read in English than in Welsh. The conclusion was that humans are more emotive in their native language and therefore honest. Conversely, they are more rational and distant in their second language and, therefore, find it much easier to distance themselves from the truth when it isn’t to their liking.