Does Language Affect the Way We Think?

By Stacey
Oct 29, 2015 · 3 min

People who start learning a second language often comment that, when they speak in their new language, they feel as if they are taking on another personality.

Does Language Affect the Way We Think? | One Hour Translation

People who start learning a second language often comment that, when they speak in their new language, they feel as if they are taking on another personality. Perhaps it’s the non-native accent or their uncertainty in their new language which leads to a lack of confidence.

Research over the last few years has found that languages themselves may affect us in the way we think, and the way we perceive the world around us. This means that an English speaking person may understand something quite differently, or react differently, than the same Spanish-speaking self would.

An Interesting Experiment

It’s interesting to note that cognitive scientists have discovered evidence which reveals that language does actually affect the way in which we see things around us.

An example of this is shown in the research conducted by social scientists, Lera Boroditsky and Alice Gaby. These two scientists travelled to Australia where they studied the people of the Aboriginal Pormpuraaw community. Pormpuraaw is situated on the West Coast of Cape York, approximately 500 kilometres from the tip of Australia. It's the home of the Wik, Thaayorre, Yir Yoront and Bakanh people.

In this community, instead of simply using ‘right’ and ‘left’, these people only refer to space in terms of absolute cardinal directions. Boroditsky and Gaby conducted an experiment by showing people pictures of time progressions; images such as a human ageing. They were then asked to arrange the pictures in the proper order. English speakers would arrange time from left to right; Hebrew speakers arrange time from right to left; however, the people in this community arranged time from east to west. This means that they arranged the pictures from left to right when facing south, and right to left when facing north.


Language also affects our way of thinking when switching from one language to another by way of causality. This means that, when describing an accident, an English speaker will generally assign an agent who carries out the action. For example, ‘John broke the cup’; whereas Japanese and Spanish speakers would most likely say ‘the cup broke’.

The Stanford Study

It’s been shown that these different structures have important consequences when it comes to remembering certain situations, and blaming others. A study was carried out at Stanford where English, Spanish, and Japanese speakers were all shown videos of people breaking or spilling things. The Spanish and Japanese speakers were less likely to remember who caused the accidents, compared to the English speakers.

It’s Vitally Important to Use Language Experts for Translation

This research has some important implications in the fields of language and linguistics. Specifically it offers further evidence of the very many differences in the languages of the world, and just how important it is to use language experts for any translation.

One Hour Translation only employs the services of highly experienced and professional translators, guaranteeing satisfaction to all our clients. Please contact us regarding your next translation project and we are more than happy to provide an obligation free quotation.

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