Have you ever noticed how you adjust your language based on your situation? When you’re sitting in the park, the pub, or the cozy terrace with a group of friends, you speak casually, quickly, and with a comfortable level ease. If you are in the office, you will use professional tones, and your colloquialisms will be pushed to the side. If you are meeting someone new, you will choose your words more carefully and wait until you have an understanding of them before you release your natural language and conversation tones.
The same thing happens when you switch between languages. Language can be an insight into the culture. Every language has its own personality and mannerisms. German speakers, for example, will rarely interrupt each other mid sentence. In a German conversation, the sentences may feel longer, and peppered with long compound nouns, and each person will still wait until the end to respond. This may be out of politeness, but it is also strongly influenced by the fact that the German language simply does not lend itself to be interrupted. German sentence structure forces you to wait patiently for the point, since the verbs are at the end! English on the other hand, has the verbs up front, with the less fundamental aspects of the sentence at the end. It is easier to understand the point of the sentence before it’s completed, making it easier and more common to interrupt and bounce between speakers quickly.
You can even find cultural cues and identifiers within the same language, but from a different country, or within different dialects. For example, Spanish in Spain uses an extra conjugation, “vosotros.” This is a formal conjugation for ‘you all.’ You won’t hear this used in Mexican Spanish. This slight difference in the Spanish languages can be felt in the culture as well. Spain will have more of a formal undertone in the culture than you may find in other Spanish speaking countries.
Once you understand the cultural intricacies of a language, you can immerse further into the culture and feel less like a foreigner even in a foreign country. Language creates a sense of unity within its speakers. English speakers will migrate towards other English speakers, even if they are not from the same country or speaking with the same accent. There is a sense of comradery and understanding. This breaks down even farther when you move into dialects and accents. Each language group shares something in common, but they still have differences depending on which dialect, accent, and regional version of the language you speak. These commonalities and differences between languages reflect the culture of the location and the people. When a speaker switches between languages, the cultural characteristics switch with them. You may not even notice that when you switch between languages, your personality can shift as well.
I leave you with some food for thought…when traveling, speaking to colleagues, or going through your daily routine, take a moment to think about how your languages influence your interactions. Take a moment to enjoy the new cultural intricacies and insights that appear once you switch into a new language.
“A language is not just words. It’s a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is. It’s all embodied in a language.”
by Samantha K. Giovino, Recruitment Consultant