I’m a different person when I speak French.
I don’t mean that my personality has changed or that I’m a transformed person, like after a spiritual search or a really good haircut. It’s just that the way in which you present yourself to the world evolves when you live in a language that isn’t your langue maternelle (a French phrase that means “native language.” I had to look up the English translation for that because French is slowly seeping into the English parts of my brain and causing me to forget basic words. But that’s a blog post for another time.)
French isn’t my native tongue, so my speech is more stilted. It takes me longer to think of responses in conversation, so I fall back on a few choice French phrases way too often and don’t express many ideas that are too complicated. When speaking with a group of French people, they talk so quickly that it makes it difficult to comprehend what they say, think of a response, and then say it in French before the conversation has moved on. That means I’m quieter. Lastly, I don’t grasp all the nuances of the language, so I can’t be as humorous as I would like to be.
For all these reasons, I’m convinced that people who interact with me on a daily basis in French may have a different interpretation of my personality. Perhaps they think I’m more straightforward, quiet, and serious than I truly am; perhaps I’m a different person in French.
This led me to a whole other realization. When we English speakers meet non-native speakers who aren’t yet fluent, the person’s personality may be a toned down version. In short, my respect continues to grow for people who move to another country for a long period of time, especially when you need to speak a language that isn’t your langue maternelle.