More recently, my roommate and I had several groups of friends come by our apartment in quick succession. Again, we found ourselves switching from one language to another, depending on the needs of the group. I was amused to see my roommate’s personality go through several drastic variations as we switched languages – she became more playful, childlike, or sarcastic depending on the language being spoken. She was more than happy to point out the same kinds of variations in my communication styles.
After everyone had gone home, we thought about the possible reasons for our communication schizophrenia – was it that each language has a preferred style of communication? Were we mimicking our favorite teachers? Were our own insecurities leading us to act or speak in ways we wouldn’t in our native language?
It’s something that I continue to ponder as I tutor several local students in English. It’s possible that the tone and style of English that I teach them will reflect my personality more than theirs – that they will come across as shy, or cautious, or indirect because of my style of communication, when in their own language, they wouldn’t choose to speak that way at all. And of course, it’s also quite possible that the person I think I’m getting to know in English isn’t the real person at all; just layers and layers of learned vocabulary and grammar habits.