What you’ll say shapes what you see
The rules and structure of the language you speak shapes the way you observe the world. Ideas or concepts, like ongoing action, for instance, that are stressed in a language like English lead English-speakers to focus on actions when describing a situation. Germans, however, lack this point of focus, and more often describe the whole scenario with more interest in possible outcomes. These conceptual preferences aren’t completely hard-wired into the speakers’ brains though, as bilingual people will switch focuses depending on what language they happen to be speaking at the time.
Tests for these ideas included looking at photos or videos of simple scenes and asking test subjects to describe them. When the bilingual subject was thinking and speaking in a German context, they described the scenes consistent with German-only speakers, and vice versa for English. The language being relied on seemed to set the mental context for how to observe events.
Tying up multilingual multitasking
These perceptions could be manipulated too. Bilingual subjects were asked to repeat numbers in one language, which seemed to tie up that part of their thinking. While repeating the numbers, they then perceived the scenes according to the preferences of the unspoken language. So while repeating numbers in German, a speaker would end up describing the scene according to English perceptions. This could be switched on the fly— switching the language of the numbers while the test was in progress caused an immediate reorganization of the test subject’s thinking.
This limber yet structured thinking seems to afford bilingual people a number of interesting and helpful traits. They are better at thinking rationally about economics in their second language. Emotions carry different resonance depending on what language they’re thinking in. They even seem to fend off symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s longer than monolingual people.
Source: How the language you speak changes your view of the world by Panos Athanasopoulos, The Conversation