I’m a different person in a different language

The other day I had a moment where I thought to myself “I’m a better version of myself in Portuguese”.

In English I talk too much. I have a strong tendency to go on rants. When you get me going, it’s hard to get me to shut the hell up and listen.

In Portuguese however, I don’t have the vocabulary to be able to do that. I don’t have the same variety of words to express myself. My vocabulary is limited, so in turn I speak less.

As a result of speaking less, I ask more questions instead. I listen more. I ask people for clarifications to make sure that I understood what they said to me.

Learning a foreign language has helped me to overcome some of my nastiest bad habits. Speaking less and listening more has been a goal of mine for YEARS, but if I’m honest with myself I’ve never taken concrete steps to make a change.

By immersing myself in a language where I literally don’t have the ability to speak, it’s forced me to tackle my worst habits head on. It’s given me no other option. Improve your listening skills or don’t improve in Portuguese and become another gringo with no ability to communicate. FUCK THAT!

I like to think that I have a different personality in Portuguese as a result of this. I’m a calmer version of myself. A nicer, more understanding, less intense version of myself.

I’ve also noticed that this same effect on other people as well.

My buddy Adam is, like me, a very intense guy. I often tell him that he needs to be more gentle. Be more aware of his tone when talking to people.

In English, he’s like the strict teacher who is slapping the ruler at you. He has no grace or gentleness when he tells you something. It often feels like he’s debating with you even when he’s not.

In Portuguese however, he’s a different person altogether. He becomes a Carioca. He becomes a Brazilian. He’s more fluid, more animated, and…more gentle. He doesn’t have the same quality of intensity. The intensity is still there, but it’s taken a different form.

The other day I thought to myself, “I like Portuguese Adam better than I do American Adam!”

Different languages bring out different sides of our personalities. They help us to explore sides of ourselves that lie dormant. New words and pronunciation and styles help us to discover nuances of speaking that we don’t have in our native tongue. Nuances that help us to become better versions of ourselves.

If nothing else, it’s been a fascinating learning experience seeing these experiences in myself and others. I’m happy that there are benefits to learning a language outside of the language itself.

In the end though, the first step to lasting change is awareness. Noticing that I’m a better version of myself in a different language is a great moment of awareness, and I look forward to seeing how this principe can continue to help me in other areas of my life.

What has your experience been like? Have you ever found the same? Do you notice different personalities in yourself and others when speaking in different languages? Tell me about it!  

Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!

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Also published on Medium.

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