I came across this interesting article about some studies on languages used by multilingual third culture kids (TCKs) to express various emotions in different situations.
Language is strongly tied to identity and when we speak more than one language the one we chose to speak is often very specific to certain contexts and the sociocultural environment. When I was based in Japan, I have been intrigued to see French siblings speaking Japanese while playing together at home even if there were in a French school with Japanese students but with French parents
As far as emotions is concerned I have not observed any specific language pattern in my son to express emotions and feelings. My son will often speak to me in English when it is about a story he is reading or a movie he is watching or to tell what happened at school but Interestingly he has certain movies that he watches exclusively in French and others exclusively in English without apparent specific rules except the obvious ones like watching “Harry Potter” in English because the story is based in England and because he reads the books in English. Also movies that mock the French accent like in the Pink Panther series.
When he is with French adults he uses sophisticated vocabulary with few grammar errors and with younger French children he will show a lot of non-verbal empathy. With English speakers he will use exclusively English both for facts or expressing emotions. At home with us, when arguing or upset he often switches to English but not always.
Since he has been in a bilingual environment from birth to now, 10 years later, his brain has probably been developed differently than mine who acquired bilingualism later as a young adult. Some researches in neuroscience have shown that when learning two languages almost simultaneously there is one unique zone in the brain that is activated for language perception and interpretation while when the second language is acquired later as adults there are two distinct parts that are activated for each language.
In my case, I think in English for work and I prefer to write in English too. I read business or self-help books in English but read novels, thrillers and other form of non-professional literature exclusively in French. However interestingly I write in my personal Facebook profile mainly in English unless there are specific jokes I can’t translate from French to English that I will share with my circle of fiends who speak French. I use Twitter and Linkedin exclusively in English because for me they are professional tools and I can’t share emotions on those platforms.
According to François Grosjean, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. it is too simplistic to suggest that late bilinguals have emotional ties only with their first language and no ties with their other language(s). In his article “Emotions in More than One Language“ he mentioned many cases of people who don’t use the first language or mother tongue to express emotions but may use one language or another based on their emotional experiences in various languages.
In sum, expressing emotions in more than one language follows no set rules; some bilinguals prefer to use one language, some the other, and some both-Francois Grosjean
What about your experience as bilingual or raising bilingual children ?