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The Psychology of Bilinguals Thinking in Different Languages

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“People who speak two languages can accept a fact in one of their languages, while denying it in the other” says Ceri Ellie, a research associate from University of Manchester. According to Ellis, individuals who are bilingual tend to have a different concept and interpretation of true or false statements.

An individual who can speak Arabic and English fluently, for example, can hear the same phrase, yet inhibit different emotions. For instance, if one was to utter the words “Habibi” to a person who speaks Arabic, he or she might just feel butterflies in their stomachs, but if one was to say the same phrase (“My love”) to the Arabic speaker in English, it may not elicit the same emotion even those the person in fluent in both languages. This is because emotional experiences can differ due to how one experiences two different languages as a child.

“The perception of truth is slippery when viewed through the prism of different languages and cultures,” explains Dr. Manon Jones of Bangor University’s School of Psychology. Scientists have conducted studies that test the accuracy of the idea that bilinguals believe a statement is true in one language and false in the other. The mind and the way others think all relate back to our emotional occurrences. A bilingual person who speaks in their first language can be emotionally affected, therefore being more sensitive and vulnerable, which enables them to speak the truth. As for speaking in the second language, it involves more thinking about what to say, and so it is easier to lie because it does not hit the speaker emotionally.

The way bilinguals think is mostly culturally based. The way individuals interact influences thier judgement. Studies suggests that bilinguals tend to be biased towards a general statement if they were to perceive it differently in both languages because of cultural influences.

Olympic Heights students Luiggi Nunez, a Peruvian-American, and Momina Karapetyn, a Russian born civilian who moved to America at the age of two, both shared their insights on speaking and thinking in two languages.

The Torch: Do you answer differently in your second language then you would in your first language?

Nunez: It really depends on the question. It would be 0/50; like for some questions I would answer the same way, but for other questions I would answer differently.

Karapetyn: Yes, because it’s the culture, like the certain things you say in English are different from what you would say in Russian.

The Torch: Are you more emotionally affected by your first language or your second language?

Nunez: My first language, Spanish; it’s the language of love [laughs]. I grew up with my mom saying, “I love you” in Spanish, so it like implanted in me. If someone were to say, “I love you” in English, I’d be like “Oh, okay, cool.” But, if someone were to say “te amo,” then I’d be like “Oh, wow!” because I grew up with it.

Karapetyn: Second, because I was raised in America and I spoke English my whole life.

The Torch: Which language do you put more emphasis on?

Nunez: That’s hard. I think both because in English I would be so hype for like a basketball game because it’s more Americanized, and in Spanish I would be hype for the World Cup that’s coming up because it’s more outside of America.

Karapetyn: English, because I speak English more Russian.

The Torch: Which language do you think is easier to lie in?

Nunez: English, because I learned to lie in English more than I did in Spanish. Hispanic people have the tendency to spot lies, which makes it hard for us. I never met anyone who’s Hispanic be good at lying. There’s more hesitation in Spanish; as for English you can just give a simple answer.”

Karapetyn: “Definitely English [laughs] because in English you can say a lot of different things in different ways, and in Russian, it’s kind of hard for me to express many things.”

 

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The Psychology of Bilinguals Thinking in Different Languages