If you know a foreign language, you have probably noticed that when you speak, you become a slightly or even a completely different person. And languages don’t just change your personality. They can also change the way you think, as different cultures have their own way of seeing the world.
For example, there is a language that will not bother you with the confusion of “left” and “right”. Instead, the people who speak it use the compass directions. We love exploring other cultures and their languages. So, this is how your thinking can change if you learn more about them.
It Affects What Colors We Can See
Different cultures perceive colors differently. Some languages have only 2 words to describe colors, such as light and dark. “Dark” is used for cool colors, such as green, blue, and black. “Light” is used for warm colors, such as yellow, red, and orange.
There is also a language that does not have a term for the word “color”. Instead, they use other words to describe objects based on their texture and what they are used for.
Throughout your life, it is even possible to change the way you see colors. For example, the Greeks have 2 different words to describe light and dark blue, while in the UK, “blue” is used to describe these two colors. However, Greek speakers may start to see these 2 colors as more similar after spending a lot of time in the UK.
It Affects The Way We Talk About Directions
In the English language, we use terms like “left”, “right”, “forward” and “back” to describe where someone should go or where an object is. This sometimes creates a lot of confusion because one person’s left can be another’s right.
But there are some cultures where language helps them avoid this kind of confusion because they use compass directions, such as north, south, west, and east. It would be difficult for an English speaker to tell where north and south are immediate.
But in some Australian Aboriginal languages, for example, it’s as easy as knowing where the left and right sides are. Probably because it was important for them to orient themselves well in space and that influenced their language.
There was an experiment to show how people who speak different languages think. Participants sat at a table with an arrow in front of them pointing north to the right.
Then, they had to rotate 180 degrees to face another table with 2 arrows, one pointing north, to the left of the person; and one pointing south, to the right of the person.
The participants were then asked to choose the arrow pointing in the same direction as the first one. For English speakers, “the same” means “pointing to the right.” On the other hand, speakers of a particular Mayan language chose the arrow pointing to the left because “the same” meant “pointing north” to them.
It Affects The Way We Think About Words
Languages can have natural genders. Sometimes nouns can be divided into animate and inanimate objects, like Japanese. If there are classes of nouns that describe men, like boys and fathers; women, as daughters and mothers; and non-living objects: these are also natural genera. In English, we use “he”, “she” and “it” to describe these objects.
There are also grammatical genders, which can be found in German, Spanish, and French. This means that they can also use “he” and “she” to refer to inanimate objects. And that can influence the way they think about these objects.
In one experiment, participants were given a key and asked to describe it. Spanish speakers tend to use adjectives that fit female stereotypes to describe the key, such as “tiny” and “beautiful” because it is “female” in Spanish.
In contrast, the word “key” is male in German, so German speakers used words that fit male stereotypes, such as “useful”, “heavy” and “strong”.
It Affects How We Understand Time
English speakers view time in blocks, as a group of objects, such as minutes, hours, and days. This may be why we think of time as “things” that can be saved, wasted, or lost. In contrast, the Hopi language does not have tenses as we know them, and they view time as a continuous cycle.
In addition, English speakers think about time horizontally and use words that refer to the front and the back to talk about the future and the past. For example, you may be “anxious” to see someone and want to “go back in time.” Mandarin speakers, on the other hand, refer up and down.
Do you know of a similar example of how cultures differ in their way of thinking? If you speak a foreign language, did you notice if that made you think or behave differently? What do you like most about learning languages?