Bilingual People Perceive Time Differently
What language do bilingual people think in? Or, for that matter, in what language do their dreams take place? These questions, just like others similar to them, do have a lot of merit, as it turns out since bilingual people also experience time in a different way.
According to a study from the Lancaster University and Stockholm University, bilingual people think about time differently, depending on the language in which they estimate a duration. Their findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Professor Panos Athanasopoulos and Professor Emanuel Bylund say that bilingual people can and will go back and forth between their languages, both consciously and unconsciously. Moreover, different languages refer to time differently. For instance, while Spanish speakers talk about time and refer to it in volume: ‘Taking a small break’, English and Swedish speakers say it like: ‘Taking a short break’. So, while Spanish-speaking people refer to time passing as a sort of quantity, English and Swedish speakers refer to it in terms of distances.
The testing revolved around Swedish citizens who also spoke Spanish. The participants were asked to say how much time has passed while watching either a line growing across a screen or a container slowly being filled.
The interesting part was that they were asked to use the words “duracion” (duration in Spanish). or “tid” (its equivalent in Swedish). And everytime the participants used the Spanish word, they referred to time passing by pointing to the container, whereas when they used the Swedish equivalent, they gave the estimates in distance rather than volume.
“The fact that bilinguals go between these different ways of estimating time effortlessly and unconsciously fits in with a growing body of evidence demonstrating the ease with which language can creep into our most basic senses, including our emotions, visual perception, and now it turns out, sense of time,” Professor Panos Athanasopoulos said.
“There is evidence to suggest that mentally going back and forth between different languages on a daily basis confers advantages on the ability to learn and multi-task, and even long-term benefits for mental well-being,” he continued.