One morning, an Asian student came into the cafe downstairs of the library and said timidly to the clerk in accented English: "Hello, I want a cup of capocino."

"Excuse me. What do you want?"

"Capo. Chino."

The blond young clerk still didn't understand, and turned to call an older colleague from the back room. Obviously, this colleague had no idea to figure it out. He picked up a menu card in the corner and spoke to the Asian students very slowly: "We only have these three types of coffee here: light coffee, black coffee and decaffeinated coffee. Coffee. Which one do you want?" He pointed at Light, Dark, Decaf on the menu, moving one by one as he spoke. The espresso machine next to it is quietly placed on the stage, and the simple American drip coffee machine is working dedicatedly behind the clerk.

The student also gave up his plan to repeat the cappuccino (cappuccino), pointed to the weak coffee and said, "I want this."

"Room for cream?" the clerk asked.


"Any room for cream?" (The literal meaning of this sentence is to ask if I need to give some space for the cream? In fact, it is to ask if milk should be added to the coffee?)

"I just want a cup of coffee..." the student answered timidly.

The clerk took one from the top of a stack of eight-ounce paper cups, filled it with coffee, and handed it to him neatly.

"Oh my God. I didn't add anything to such a dark coffee. How can I drink it?" The student took the coffee, muttered in Chinese, and left in confusion.

This kind of embarrassment is not uncommon in coffee shops abroad. Many international students and immigrants may encounter it. Before participating in various examinations and trainings in China, preparing for various essay writing, after passing five passes, he will finally be accepted by foreign universities. I thought that relying on my excellent language test scores, I would be able to show my talents here, and then have a bunch of foreign friends who can put my heart to heart. But the reality is not like this. The words and sentence patterns that were once memorized are not only difficult to use, but some life slang that has never been heard is often filled with ears. The unknowing room for cream may unknowingly deprive the sense of control of the unfamiliar environment, and the nostalgia for familiar things in the country secretly breeds.

Second language, no matter what it is, is a very important part of life in a foreign country. It is a door to another world and an insurmountable hurdle. While giving generously, it also brings some unexpected constraints. Here, I want to talk about the love and anxiety about the second language.


Let's start the story from the coffee shop.

Rice, an American girl from the northern suburbs of Washington State, came to the University of Washington to study linguistics a few years ago. During my studies, I often did odd jobs in cafes near the school, and went there to help out from time to time after graduation.

When telling the story of the cafe, Rice is always full of interest.

"The University of Washington has accepted more and more international students and visiting scholars in recent years. About one-third of the customers I receive in a day are foreigners. When the local students leave the campus during the summer vacation, the peak travel period begins. There are wave after wave of tour groups and student summer camps from various countries. At the end of the day, most of them are foreign tourists. For my background in a language course, it is really a good place to do foreign language and sociological research. The number of samples is large enough. Haha!" The cheerful girl opened the chattering box easily while holding the coffee cup.

"What are the common characteristics of Asian students? What impression do they leave on you?"

"East Asian students are particularly easy to recognize. Even though they have completely different accents, whether they are Chinese, Korean or Japanese, they are very shy and can not speak much. Sometimes, I will take the initiative to talk to them. , Ask them how they are today. They always use the shortest language, sometimes even a implicit nod that doesn’t want to look directly, to end all conversations. Such situations always appear, and I gradually gave up to understand Their thoughts."

"Is it the same for international students from other countries?" I couldn't help asking.

"Oh. Of course not." Les took a sip of coffee and began to generalize in a positive tone. "European students are generally at two extremes. Either they are very enthusiastic, and talk to you endlessly. Or they take the snobbish characteristic of Europeans, order a good coffee in accented English, and then leave with a coffee cup. And the Middle East People are not the same. Middle Eastern women wear turbans due to religious requirements, and they are particularly reserved and speak very quietly. Perhaps to complement them, Middle Eastern men are generally a bit machismo reckless."

"Which type of foreign customers do you locals prefer to deal with?"

"To be honest, although many Middle Easterners are a bit arrogant, at least they can insist on expressing their demands clearly. In contrast, the implicitness of Asians makes us unable to figure out. What my colleagues worry most is to entertain Asian students because they are afraid They didn’t understand what they wanted and made the wrong coffee. So once Asian faces appeared in the store, they would subconsciously step back and ask me to entertain. Over time, American shop assistants were cold towards Asian customers, and Asian customers saw We retreat and become more nervous in the vicious circle. In fact, both parties should relax and not be afraid of communication barriers caused by language."

Shy, reserved, and introverted, these words often used to describe Asians are no strangers to those who have lived overseas. But the fact is, this does not represent the character of Asians. There are many Chinese friends with personalities around us. They can be witty, humorous and witty at the party, and they can also speak up and down, have a deep insight into various social phenomena and point out the current ills. But once in a foreign country, when speaking a foreign language, most of them are shy and not active. How many of these stem from language barriers? How much is due to character?


A year ago, Xiao Zhang came to this city for exchanges. In private, she is enthusiastic and outgoing. She likes to chat with Chinese people, and soon she has a group of Chinese friends. But Xiao Zhang at work is not so happy. There is almost no communication with American colleagues. At the group meeting, because I could not understand, I rarely spoke. If someone tells a joke, everyone laughs, but she always looks blankly in the corner, not knowing whether to laugh or not. During a unit dinner, colleagues sat around the dining table, enjoying the food while sharing their own interesting things in life. She usually likes to talk about these kinds of topics, but she didn't say a word, eating the dishes on the plate silently. Afterwards, asked if she was having fun, she told me that she was not happy at all. "I can't speak at all. I don't know why. Once in an environment where English is needed, I feel like a different person. The extroversion and initiative before that are gone, I can't be fully engaged."

"When I speak English, it feels like a different person." "When I communicate with locals in a foreign language, I am no longer who I am." "No matter how hard I try, I can't express my feelings clearly. When speaking English It seems to be far, far away from the real self, not as easy as in Chinese." To write this article, I specially conducted a small survey in the circle of friends. The kind of confusion they describe is believed to be experienced by many people. In a strange cultural environment, I met a strange self. And none of this is as easy to control as the original growth environment. The fading of this sense of familiarity and control makes many international students and first-generation immigrants lack initiative and ownership in social situations.

Why can't you express your true self when speaking a foreign language? If this question is explained from another angle, will different languages ​​make individuals show different personalities? This issue is constantly discussed by linguists, psychologists and even neurologists, but there has never been a consistent conclusion. Some people believe that foreign languages ​​can form different worldviews, leading to changes in personality; while another group of scholars insist that changes in external behavior stem from different social occasions and etiquette, after all, foreign languages ​​are spoken in foreign countries. But these controversies still cannot explain the strangeness and alienation brought by foreign languages. To this end, I consulted a lot of literature. Several of these behavioral findings may provide clues to answers to a certain extent.


An economic behaviorist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, Daniel Kahneman mentioned a set of behavioral tests in his outlook theory:

政府要应对一场预计会令600人丧命的罕见疾病。目前只有两种方案:1. 如果方案A通过,200人得以获救;2.方案B若被采纳,1/3的机会救活这所有的600人,2/3的机率600人都无法获救。

Among the doctors who participated in the test, 72% chose the A plan with definite results, and only 28% chose the risky plan B. Then, the test questions were changed to the following:

If plan C is adopted, 400 people will die; if plan D is adopted, there is a 1/3 chance that no one will die, and a 2/3 chance that everyone will die.

In this round of selection, only 22% of doctors chose plan C, and 78% chose plan D with risk.

The two sets of plans express the same meaning, but because of the different ways of expression, they have completely different choices. In this regard, Kahneman’s explanation is that people are more sensitive to losses than gains. Facing profit, people prefer conservative and precise options. For example, the specific number of rescued persons provided in Plan A. In the face of losses, people will instinctively avoid them, so they are more inclined to take risks to minimize losses. This kind of thinking bias in decision-making is called loss aversion.

Explaining this economic concept is to pave the way for the following experimental findings. University of Chicago psychology professor Bolz Kossa repeated the experiment in a group of testers. The difference is that in addition to their native English, these testers also speak fluent Japanese. They were divided into two groups and tested in English and Japanese respectively. It was found that the English test group still showed misunderstandings of loss avoidance, while the Japanese group had no obvious preference. The proportion of A and C options are close to 50%. To further confirm that this change stems from the use of foreign languages, Xhosa and his team convened a group of local students at a Korean university to repeat the experiment in their native language (Korean) and a second language (English). The result was that the native language group showed loss aversion, while the foreign language group did not. Corsa published these two sets of experiments in the journal Psychological Science with the paper titled "Foreign Language Effects: Thinking in Foreign Languages ​​Can Reduce Decision Bias." But why do foreign languages ​​cause different thinking?

Coincidentally, Catherine Cadwell Harris, a professor of psychology at Boston University, tested the skin conduction response of local students and found that when the language of reprimand was a foreign language, the tester's mood swings were not as strong as those of the native language. Therefore, Harris believes that mother tongue as the dominant language is more likely to arouse emotional resonance.

In recent years, more and more young people choose to study abroad. How to use foreign languages ​​proficiently and how to integrate into Western society has become a hot topic now. Various language exercises and etiquette training courses emerge one after another. How to learn English by watching American dramas, how to become a party master, how to chat with Americans, these kinds of posts have always enjoyed a high click-through rate on various social networking sites and forums. But even with such abundant resources, many young people still experience embarrassment, loneliness and cramps in a foreign country.

These resources are like the kung fu of various sects, and they only teach the moves. When the other party says this sentence, how to answer it seems natural; what slang can be used to amuse the other party; what topic to talk about can make one look high-end and high-end. In fact, this is all external.

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