How the language we speak shapes our brain

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

In these turbulent times, with so many examples of the difficulty we human beings face relating to each other, I end up asking myself why it is so hard for people to understand and feel compassion for each other.

Often, when people think differently about a subject, they find it difficult to understand each other, and then, given presumptions on what they understand, things escalate to a fight.

In a TED talk entitled, “How language shapes the way we think“, Lera Boroditsky inspired me to reflect on how the language we speak can interfere with our thoughts – and shape them. The same expression (or the same word) may have a different meaning for a person who speaks another language. In fact, certain words or expressions may not even exist in a different language.

For example, some languages are built on diverse relationships with space and geography – these factors combine to create a variety of thoughts and ways to express them. (This is extremely interesting! Take the time to listen to Lera Boroditsky… I assure you, you will have a different point of view on the role of language in human communication.)

After listening, I immediately imagined the dynamics of a conversation between two people using two different native languages; and then that of two people who use a third common language to communicate… How many times, when we speak with a person coming from a different culture or speaking a different language, are we aware that what we say may have a totally different meaning in the listener’s brain? Are we aware that the thoughts forming in our mind while listening could be very different from the meaning intended by the speaker?

Developing this kind of awareness is key: it’s like opening a door to a completely different approach for communication amongst cultures. Lera leaves us with the following questions to bring with us for our next interlanguage/intercultural conversation:


Why do I think the way I do?
How could I think differently?
What thoughts do I wish to create?



Cristina Baldan
July 2020


Photo by Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash