Are We Different People in Different Languages?

I’m not sure if this article has been posted here before (sorry for the repetition if it has been), but I remember a recent comment (possibly on the bootcamp thread but I haven’t time to go through it now) about “feeling like a different person when speaking in Welsh” and then I saw this…

… an interesting read for anyone, but perhaps especially so for authors.
@elizabeth_jane @aran @CatrinLliarJones


I remember Milla’s mother saying, with extreme love scrawled across her face, how much of a completely different person Milla is when speaking and experiencing Welsh. (sorry, perhaps I should let @Novem speak for herself :blush:.)

I’m also a wholly different person in my new language, don’t really want to go into it here but I can fully function in Welsh. :blush:


I was actually writing about this today in my math notebook :smile: (it was a boring lesson)

I’m much more anxious and shy in my other languages. I’m not the kind of person who would ever go to a party or talk when there are many people around. But that week in Wales all of those things felt completely natural and nice. I didn’t worry about what people thought or about how I should phrase something or about what I should and shouldn’t say. :grin:

I noticed at the party that as soon as I started speaking English I started feeling nervous about the amount of people in the room. Before that I was just happy about there being so many people I could talk to. I feel weird writing this in English now since I know I will start worrying about it for no reason at all… :sweat_smile:


Since I only really know you through the medium of Welsh, it feels very hard to imagine you as anxious and shy…:slight_smile:


I’m glad! I don’t like anxious and shy me so much :smile:

I think Welsh-speaking me has made normal me a bit less anxious and shy, though, so that’s nice :stuck_out_tongue:


Interesting interesting! I was a biy of a shy mixed-up student in english, and that was a conscious part of why I decided to learn German and go to Germany for post-grad study. It worked, too - I had a very happy time trying out a new me in the new environment and language. It was an antidote to life in London in every way. (I only ended up back in Britain by a series of accidents.)

I kind of wondered if something similar could happen when I put my mind to learning Welsh, but that has been a bit more complicated. In some ways it felt as though I’d had that thrill already. And partly because my Welsh life is so fragmented, and different with different people, I kind of forget where I was at the last time! I’ve been lucky enough to make a couple of good friends in Welsh though, who it is a treat and a joy to talk to. I’m sure the “Welshness” of those conversations makes it particularly special. And I get such enjoyment from reading in Welsh… sometimes I wonder whether somebody really is such a great author, or whether it’s just the Welsh effect!

Then there’s the ongoing challenge of speaking Welsh with the kids. My 10 year old has always loved Welsh, and after we went away for a very special weekend in February, she continued to speak Welsh to me for ages. She was clearly getting the same kick out of it as I was. But the effect has mostly worn off now, although she still likes to have a little chat in Welsh at bedtime. I feel very wary of forcing Welsh on the kids though, as I want it to be special and joyful - otherwise what’s the point?!


I’ve just remembered - the early Roman playwright Ennius apparently boasted that he had three souls, because he could speak Latin, Greek, and Oscan. (Interestingly, he didn’t count his own native language, Messapic - possibly because it wasn’t a language of culture…)


I love talking Italian and really appreciated the few minutes we had in Italian at the party and - yes, it did make me feel different. Grazie o galon. :smile:


To me, @Novem , you came over as confident and outgoing when you were talking Welsh (at the party)


Hi, This is an interesting topic but I fear that I may have a discordant view. English, the Scots variant, is my mother tongue and I find that I appear to be different when I have conversations in Welsh. I become hesitant, tongue tied and quiet. My range of topics becomes circumscribed and my expressions become simpler and more hackneyed.I lose many of my debating (or perhaps better described as arguing) skills when I am in my second tongue. Perhaps as I improve in fluency these effects will lessen but I think it unlikely I will ever be able to match my abilities in my first language - I don’t have enough time left living, to compete with the half a century I’ve spent immersed in my English culture.

Sometimes I think it odd that new friends I have made, in my Welsh speaking life, do not know the real me. They know someone quieter, less expansive in speech, less argumentative, less witty and less cultured. Often it is a surprise to me that they bother.

I suppose I do not think that there are different me’s, I am the same person in whatever language, but this may be more or less visible because of the effect of language on behaviour, communication and understanding. Clearly we all change and develop over time and our experiences alter us; moving to a different country, learning a new language, meeting different people all help us change and develop. New experiences are overlaid on old ones but don’t cancel them out, the person we are will hopefully change but we will always remain the same, single person.


Three souls! What a lovely way of putting it. I have two souls - or maybe three (not sure if you count Aussie English/and just plain English). They feel different to me because I lived my first five years in England and then moved across the world. I laugh more in Welsh. It wrote a blog about it after Bootcamp. Maybe that is what you have remember Siaron? Here is the link:

Doesn’t seem like that to me… just a different stage of the journey, where you’re more conscious of the normal linguistic differences in a second language (which are still making you feel restricted) than of any possible personality differences.

I don’t feel particularly conscious of different senses of identity depending on whether I’m talking Welsh or English… although there are areas of discussion that I tend to have more in either Welsh or English, where switching the language while remaining on topic would feel pretty awkward.

1 Like

That might depend on whether or not Aussie English counts as a language of culture… :ducks and covers:

1 Like

Ah, yes, that could be where I remember it from! Scheduling a film shoot in France & Belgium is scrambling my brain a bit at the moment! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

That might depend on whether or not Aussie English counts as a language of culture… :ducks and covers: :joy:

Not culture, in the sense implied in the quote. But Aussie culture is different, more casual. How I speak and relate in Australia is different for me, primarily because it is familiar turf. In England, I don’t know quite how to operate (I’m not nearly polite enough) and because of my Aussie accent people treat me like a visitor. I feel like that when I speak English in Wales too. However, Cymraeg belongs to this place. When I speak it, no one knows where I’m from. They mostly think I’m a Hwntw, a label I claim with pride. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Hello @gerpsych

I didn’t find any discord in your interesting post. Like you I have a strong link with Scots/Doric having been brought up, schooled and universitied in Aberdeen as an immigrant Taff (1948-67).

I referred in a post above to a brief conversation in Italian. I certainly claim no fluency in that language - just enough to chat to friends and colleagues. When I do talk Italian, however, I do feel that I am adopting a different “persona” with respect to things like food, family, music and life in general. I don’t think it’s affected - it just seems to come naturally - extravagant hand gestures and all. :smile:

In English I’m a very conventional retired physicist. In Welsh I become SiwperHuw. :laughing:


One reason I am bad at speaking Welsh is that I am quite incapable of becoming quiet and of limited vocabulary for very long! So, on Skype, I shut up for a bit, try in Welsh for a bit, and then give up and let loose in English, or say, “mae rhaid i mi mynd rwan!” And flee!

I remember reading these thoughts from our Liz and sharing them. It’s quite a complex and fascinating thing. An interesting answer would be to speak to someone who has been bilingual for a long time and ask if they do feel different in another language without it being circumstantial. If someone works in one language and has a social life in another, then they would feel different in the two languages.
My thoughts are that bwtcamp and the no other languages rule, forced us to play with Welsh, to find new ways of saying things, even if grammatically dreadful. I think that we could play and have fun because we threw off lots of shackles and became more like our child-like selves. Perhaps the biggest shackle was fear of using our Welsh, fear of being judged for the poor quality of our Welsh. However it’s other shackles and habits we have ended up with, the roles we perform as adults, sometimes we act a part and move away from being our true selves for quite a lot of the time. So , when we are allowed to play in Welsh, we rejoice in being so much closer to our true selves, we can become like children again exploring a new world. For example we get excited about successfully ordering food in Welsh and we are many years past that first time we ordered food by ourselves to a stranger when we were quite small. A new language presents the opportunity of a new start, to allow ourselves to play in ways we have lost the habit of as adults, to explore things we never get around to exploring in our 1st languages. We can revel in small pleasures, that sometimes we suppress, as surely we are grown ups and should have more sophisticated responses to things. People still tell me off for jumping in muddy puddles though.
As I said to Liz at the time, we feel differently and behave differently, but we are still the same person. Perhaps it’s simply that sometimes we can live slightly different lives in our second languages.


That’s a very good point about being on bootcamp and feeling free and unburdened. Away from work and other stresses, enjoying the feeling of exploring.

I don’t think I do feel like a different person when I use Welsh. My Welsh is still developing so I understand where @gerpsych is coming from, I’m quieter when I’m using my Welsh but only in certain situations. When I’m one-to-one I’m not and when I get into a flow in a group I’m not. I still don’t have the vocab to fully discuss the things I do in English, but I feel like, as my vocab is growing, I will discuss them as freely one day.

I understand why people feel differently in other languages, I haven’t experienced it myself. My Welsh self on bootcamp wasn’t different to my English self, just had more gestures to bridge the vocab gaps.


I’m glad it’s not just me! I’m quite certain I’m at least two personalities now.

The Welsh me didn’t have the childhood the English me did. I’ve always thought that’s why it has far fewer hangups and generally cares a lot less what other people think.

One definition I came across described an extrovert as someone who is energised by interactions with other people while an introvert tends to feel drained and need some “alone time” to recover afterwards. By that token I am an extrovert in Welsh, very much an introvert in English. I found the contrast quite extraordinary at first but it has enriched my life hugely.