Study Shows: People Who Speak Two Languages Experience Time Very Differently

Do you speak multiple languages?

If so, do you dream in multiple languages? Do you think in multiple languages? Can you switch languages mid-sentence, mid-thought?

Do you feel like you see the world differently because you speak multiple languages?

New research suggests it isn’t just a feeling—people who speak multiple languages actually do see the world differently.

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, courtesy researchers at Lancaster University and Stockholm University has just proven that bilingual individuals see the world differently, particularly in terms of time.

Even more astonishing? The language in which they are thinking changes how they view time and how they estimate the duration of events.

Professors Panos Athanasopoulos and Emmanuel Bylund were the lead researchers. They say that among true bilinguals, it’s not uncommon to move between languages, both consciously and unconsciously.

And this affects how we view time. For instance, in both English and Swedish, speakers might refer to a break in terms of a physical distance, say “I’m going to take a short break,” whereas in Spanish, speakers might use phrasing that refers more to physical volume, such as “I’m going to take a small break.”

And that translates across languages, that the language in which we are thinking also affects how we view time.

For instance, as part of the study researchers asked Swedish participants who were also bilingual in Spanish to gauge how much time had passed while watching either a line grow on their screen or a container filled. Participants were then asked to use either ‘duracion’ (Spanish, meaning duration) or ‘tid’ (the Swedish equivalent).

When using ‘duracion’—the Spanish word—participants based their answer on the container, using a physical volume indicator for time. When using ‘tid,’ however, they referred to how the line grew, referring to physical distance as a measure of time.

As Athanasopoulos notes, the study proves that the language in which we think also shapes how we see time, and as such, likely affects every part of our emotions and perceptions as well.

“The fact that bilinguals go between these different ways of estimating time effortlessly and unconsciously fits in with a growing body of evidence demonstrating the ease with which language can creep into our most basic senses, including our emotions, visual perception, and now it turns out, sense of time,” he said, showing that bilinguals are, as a result of their ability to think in multiple languages, more flexible thinkers.

“There is evidence to suggest that mentally going back and forth between different languages on a daily basis confers advantages on the ability to learn and multi-task, and even long-term benefits for mental well-being,” he said.


*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.


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