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Double Talk

Toby Vogel

We often think of a second language as something useful to know, a handy ability to converse with more people. But using your non-native tongue can have far-reaching ramifications, altering your behavior and decisions in surprising ways.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When American-born Chana married Uri, an Israeli, she called on her Bais Yaakov Hebrew skills to communicate with him. It worked for them, at first. But when she had her first baby, she didn’t feel natural cooing and cuddling with her little one in Hebrew. Mentally, she couldn’t see herself as “Ima” — she felt more like a “Mommy.” “My in-laws, though, couldn’t get past referring to me as ‘Ima,’ ” Chana shares. “As my daughter got older and started speaking, whenever she’d spend a whole afternoon with them, she’d come back saying ‘Ima.’ It irritated me to no end. Who was this ‘Ima’? I felt like she was talking about someone else, not me!” Like Chana, many bilingual people feel like a different personality when they speak in their second language.Jean-MarcDewaele — a professor in applied linguistics and multilingualism at Birkbeck University in London and a multilingual himself — studied how people feel when switching languages. He asked more than 100 people who speak up to five languages to rate five specific feelings they may have when they switch languages. He combined the data with answers to open-ended questions to paint a complex picture.

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