English and German: Two languages, two ways of looking at the world

Do you speak more than one language? Does your worldview change when you use one or the other? A study by Panos Athanasopoulos (published in Psychological Science) examined how German/English bilinguals and also monolinguals responded to a number of questions in order to see how they perceived reality.

Bilingual participants were shown video clips of events with a motion in them (i.e. a woman walking towards a car or a man cycling towards the supermarket) and were then asked to describe the scenes. It is important to note that, according to Athanasopoulos, in general, monolingual German speakers tend to describe the action but also the goal of such action. So, they would say something like “A woman walks towards her car” or “a man cycles towards the supermarket”. Monolingual English speakers, however, will describe those scenes as “a woman is walking” or “a man is cycling”, without mentioning the goal of the action. Athanasopoulos explains that this is because the worldview assumed by German speakers is a holistic one (i.e. they tend to look at the event as a whole), whereas English speakers tend to zoom in on the event and focus only on the action.

So, how did German/English bilinguals perform? According to the researcher, “they seemed to switch between these perspectives based on the language context they were given the task in”. He also adds that these findings are in line with other research conducted on different language pairs that also looks that distinct behavior in bilinguals depending on the language of operation.

Do you feel like a different person when you speak each of your languages? Let us know in the comments.


For more information about the study visit: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/27/world-view-learn-another-language


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