However, a person who grew up in a multilingual environment or an adult who is constantly exposed to a multicultural environment, will link his emotions, behaviour, and cultural reference points to his languages. Bilinguals state that they have a need to switch between languages depending on the topic and their emotions.
Moreover, you may have noticed that rich vocabulary and correct syntax doesn't make a speaker sound like a native. It feels like they have little personality while speaking, as in the case of a dettached business professional.
And here we run into the notion of a linguistic personality. 20th century linguist Karaulov described this as a combination of abilities to generate and perceive verbal works. In other words, when you are born and start to speak your native language, you form your native linguistic personality.
And quite often people transfer their native personality to other languages, which creates a cognitive dissonance and confusion among interlocutors. In order to achieve rapport a speaker must match his linguistic personality with his new language in order to be considered truly multilingual.
All these factors constitute the idea of secondary linguistic personality that I have been studying in theory and practice since 2009. I still have a lot of questions to answer, in particular how this technique can help us to fully understand each other regardless our origins.
When you take up a new language, you start by picking up words and phrases. You go for the list of the most common words, try to learn them, then compose phrases with them and turn those phrases into stories. Soon you start growing your vocabulary, trying to find more synonyms and antonyms. And then you come to idioms and set phrases in your pursuit to sound like a native.
That is one of the methods I used to learn my first languages, trying to cram or memorise some words and phrases that made no sense to me at all.
Whenever I would ask my teachers, why was it that way, not the other way around? I would simply get an answer: "Don't ask why. That's how it's said." Apparently, teachers didn't know or had little interest in the history of the languages they taught. Does that ring the bell with you?
I had a lot of questions like, why is an orange orange? How can you be as cold as cucumber? Or why do you call a spade a spade? Or why is the difference so subtle between the meanings of modal verbs in German or English? Why is "shall" so powerful? Or why in English there were only light blue and dark blue when in other languages there were grades of difference between these two colours? Did they have just 6 colours in the rainbow? Why do the Americans have a coin for a quarter? Is it real money if we don't have it in our currency?
I was labelled with another untranslatable Russian word, "pochemuchka", which means a very curious person always questioning things. I was a frustrated "pochemuchka" until I got to attend classes of "the history of linguistics" where I discovered that different languages had their own words for colours or natural elements, or everyday life activities that were native just to their culture.
Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt (yes, that was the name of the guy the Humboldt University in Berlin is named after) stated that our worldview reflects our language and culture. Speaking a foreign language gives you a new perspective and allows you to see the world from another point of view. The richer your vocabulary, the wider are limits of your world, and the more you experience and perceive. This is the "X factor" that is added to a person if he is multilingual/multicultural. And, here, an expression "beyond words" is a great example. We all at least once in our lifetime have experienced this state of mind, when we can't find the right word to describe a feeling or a situation, as this never happened to us before and we are unable to link it to any of our existing expressions. In this case multilingual people switch between languages if they find something similar in another language. Perhaps, you even recognise yourself in this kind of situation.
Excerpt From: Ekaterina Matveeva. "Language Alter Ego." iBooks.