I have had interesting discussions with linguists and intercultural coaches after publishing an article, “You Are What You Speak: How Language Influences Behaviors”,. The debate was mainly around words and cultural context.
The most recurrent question was: Is it the cultural context or environment that impacts the way we attribute meaning to words and then produces thoughts that trigger certain behaviors ? or is it actually the language itself that makes us think and react in a certain way ? I would say both based on differences between regional variations of the main language such as English spoken in UK or American English or Spanish from Spain and South America.
Nobody really found a satisfactory answer as there are too many factors involved in a communication process including personal preferences. However some interesting comments highlighted the differences between native speakers and non native speakers.
I just experienced something quite typical for a non-native English speaker. I use a “curating” tool: “ScoopIt” that helps compile different articles and blogs organized by specific topics. You can use ScoopIt to automatically quote an article in a WordPress blog then make your own comments, edit text, add images or links to additional resources.
For my previous post I found an article from “Fast Company” about networking and I kept the original title without feeling that something was wrong. One word I did not know sounded “soft” slang to me. The initial title was : Yes, It’s Possible To “Network” Without Being A Scumbag … Yes, I know now, that is a really, really BAD word ! Probably you were shocked to read that in my blog ! Hopefully I have an American friend who is also a regular reader of my articles who suggested that it was maybe a word I would never use in my language, especially in writing (Thanks Barbara !). So I look at the translation for this word in French and I felt it was disgusting, obscene and vulgar. Yet when I read the title again in English I do not feel that bad, the word doesn’t trigger any emotional reaction that probably native speakers learned when they were little boys and girls watching the faces of their parents and other adults with a horrified look after they said it.
So English might be the most common language in the business world but I guess few people learn slang and profanity in their English as Second Language (ESL) classes. In every cases I would recommend to learn some slang and other swearing words to understand fully a conversation between natives but would not use them especially in writing.
Back to language and behaviors, many expats report that they behave differently when they think with words from their mother tongue or think and speak using their second language, unlike true bilingual people who learned two language simultaneously. It is clear that emotions and feelings linked to a sound or a word are learned very early in the development stage of babies and young children. It is also true that people who are exposed to technical and international business English feel much at ease in a professional environment than some native language speakers who do not know specific jargon and didn’t learned leadership skills in English for example