Who do you become, when you are deprived of speaking your native language? When you can´t fully express yourself the way you use to do?

And who do you become in that new language you have to learn? Are you the same person, or does your personality change when you change language?

I have spent two weeks studying English in Cambridge, and I have been thinking a lot about these questions. At EF Executive school I met students from all over the world, of different age and from different parts of society. Most of them had very successful careers: they were CEO:s, lawyers, managing directors, senior staff.

Some were on an advanced English language levels, some were more or less beginners. Arriving in Cambridge, most of us were a bit scared. Even if you are not a beginner, you often have a feeling of discomfort the first time you have to present yourself to others in a language that is not your mother tongue.

The anxiety comes in many shapes: some people became very silent, others talked a lot (sometimes without knowing what they said), a third group of people were frustrated, complaining about their frustration. But the beautiful thing about the situation was that at one point, sooner or later, people understood that everyone else in the room was in the same situation.

And this is how it is: language is about communication. The will to communicate is more important than language skills. The moment when the desire to communicate overhauls fear the learning process can start.

We are all depending on each other, and during these two weeks I could see how people stretched themselves to help each other every day. I saw people trying hard to understand

The long and winding road to learn a new language... (Cambridge, late Sunday afternoon).

The long and winding road to learn a new language… (Cambridge, late Sunday afternoon).

other students even if those students had accents that made things more than difficult…

But then again: do your personality change when you change language? I personally believe it does, to some extent. And what would be the reason? Well, try the business of translation, and you will understand: languages are not like mathematics. They differ.  You can´t express yourself in the exact same way in different languages.

Also, other´s perception of you might also change!  A French woman who heard me speak English, and then one day also French, said to me that she was so surprised about hearing me speaking French. “I thought you were one type of person, but now that I heard you speaking French, I think totally different about you”.

Isn´t that strange? What are your experiences? And what about the circumstances when you learn a language? How does it affect people to be forced to learn a foreign language they might not even want to learn? What about refugees and immigrants, who have to learn a foreign language in a very difficult time in their lives?

Many questions. I will return to this topic.