Tammy Broccas November 28, 2018
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Identity is the way in which we see ourselves and how we think others see us. For most people, it evolves and changes throughout their lives. For some, these changes are just small variances. For others, they are life-altering. One could argue that bilinguals go through drastic changes in self-identity as they move through life. The typical roles of society like identifying as a student, professional, parent, or boss can be even more extreme for bilinguals, given the different values and expectations that different cultures associate with these roles. Just as professional translators write in more than one language, bilinguals think, feel, and express their emotions in two different languages.

Cultural Translation: How Being Bilingual Affects Identity

Bilinguals represent roughly 43 percent of the world’s population. It is thought that because language is a main component of identity formation, they may have a harder time navigating the complexities of identity. Every individual has a core identity that is formed by their values, beliefs, family, community, and more. But character is also shaped by language and localization, and our self-identity is based largely on the way we interact with others.

A bilingual individual will internally translate and behave or speak differently depending on the language they are using. They will instinctively present themselves in a different way when they communicate with various groups, much like how a monolingual communicates during a job interview as opposed to a night in with the family. There are differences in word choice, gestures, tone and fluctuation.

Social cues, traditions, symbolism and more come into play when learning another language. Most monolinguals identify with the culture in which they learned to speak. While they may have to hire a translation agency or an interpreter if they need to conduct business in another language, it generally doesn’t occur to them how bilinguals are different. Essentially, many bilinguals are also bicultural and are always experiencing a shift within themselves from one culture to another, even if they aren’t consciously aware of this.

Growing Up Translating Two Languages

Enculturation refers to the process of learning and adopting the values and norms related to a particular culture. These dynamics mold an individual from birth onwards, and are mostly unconscious. If a child is raised in an environment where two languages are spoken, it allows them to translate the two…

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