How do language and language exchange affect perception?

How do language and language exchange affect perception?

We all speak different languages and we learn one or more languages to communicate with each other. But is the way we think in one language the same in another? Does the language we are born speaking influence the way we think and live our lives?


A hypothesis put forward in the 1930s that language influences the way we perceive the world around us.

Although there are still many grey areas concerning the subject, there is a growing body of research trying to discover the exact role of language in the cognitive activity of each individual. With the arrival of new technologies we now have new tools to study this phenomenon.

The most effective one is still the studies carried out on young children because when they have not yet learned the language we can test their cognitive reaction to stimuli such as colours, shapes etc...


Long before babies learn the words blue and green they are able to differentiate between the two colours, which does not happen when it comes to two different shades of the same colour. This has been observed through accurate cognitive activity.

For the colours red, yellow, green, blue and violet they are acquired biologically at the level of vision. But studies have shown that with language the perception of colours changes, we learn different shades of the same colour for example.

It would seem that biology gives us a global guideline containing the bases of understanding of the world around us on which culture builds to diversify the range of our abilities.

Depending on the nature of the mother tongue the perception of colours is not the same, in fact, when in English you speak of a blue colour no matter what its hue it will always be blue whereas in Greek for example they have different words to express different hues. There would thus exist a difference of perception on the world which surrounds you for example the colours according to the language which you speak.

Same study concerning cups and mugs which are distinguished in English but not in Spanish, once again the unconscious shows that the brain activity of English speakers is faster and more active than that of Spanish speakers.


It is therefore possible that, depending on the language you speak, you may only be able to distinguish between things for which there are words in your language.

Let's take colours again as an example, in the Russian language there are 12 words to describe colours, whereas in Dani there are only 2 words for cold and warm colours. However, when people speaking Dani are shown different colours, they are able to differentiate them even if they only have two groups that categorize them. So it seems that languages do not limit our ability to see the world but focus our perception on certain aspects.

Some languages have facilities in certain areas depending on their origins, in fact the Chinese have a greater and faster capacity to learn numbers because their language system is simpler for them, when we say eleven in English they say ten one, which is more logical.

Australians, on the other hand, are more inclined to orient themselves with spatial measurements such as North-South-East-West because they need to distinguish between them in order to understand distance and direction exactly.

There are two different aspects:

Lexical: refers to the fact that we have words to express something, a fact, an object in such a way that you don't need to describe what you want to convey e.g. to say "this water falling from the sky" you just say "rain".

We don't have all the words to express everything we want, that's why there are many lexical differences between different languages.

Grammatical: according to the method of grammatical classification it can be really difficult to understand a language, for example Dyirbal a language spoken in Australia classifies words into 4 categories men and animals are category 1 women, water, fire and weapons of war are category 2 edible plants are category 3 and the rest are in the last category.

While you might think that birds are in the first category, they are actually in the second category because in the culture birds were seen as the spirits of women. That's why it radically changes the way of seeing the world and understanding others.


Indeed, we understand here that language in a certain sense and in a certain way affects our perception of the world, our ability to understand it. But it is not the only determinant of this function, culture also comes into play with regard to language, as we saw earlier in the example of the Dyirbal language.

There are many languages that focus more on the spatial orientation of objects or people to describe an action, or that focus more on the origin of information than on the time at which it occurs, again when some languages have invariant names others have created words like "cup of" to differentiate the plural from the singular.


There are situations, thoughts that do not require specific words to describe them because they are related to our senses, such as the smell of a dish, the shape of a fruit, the melody of a music. In the same way that there are no words for every shade of colour in the light spectrum, even though some languages have more words than others when the shade is very weak, such as between two light greens, it is difficult to separate them.

Learning a new language will therefore not really change your basic way of thinking as it has been created by many factors that are unique to you but it will teach you a lot about the culture and way of life of other countries. In a way it will increase your ability to think because you will have more reference words.

If you want to discuss how your language works and explain to people who do not have the same way of thinking as you why you are different you can go to our Studenz site and talk to people from all over the world in the language exchange section.

Written by: Lisa Lambert, Staff Writer

Language Exchange