It’s official: Learning languages makes you smarter

October 6, 2011, Newcastle University

New research has shown that learning a language may subtly change, and possibly improve, the way we think.

Academics from Newcastle and York universities say that Education Secretary Michael Gove’s statement that languages makes people smarter has a sound scientific basis.

The language we speak represents the world in a certain way. For instance, the English language teaches us that pink is not the same colour as red, and grey is not the same as black, whereas blue is just one colour, regardless of its lightness.

But different languages represent the world differently. For instance, in Italian there are two colours corresponding to the English blue: celeste is light (literally: sky-coloured) blue, and blu is dark blue, similar to the distinction between pink and red. So when an English speaker learns Italian he must learn to think about colours differently in order to use the correct word.

Professor Vivian Cook, Newcastle University (pictured), and Dr Benedetta Bassetti, University of York, are editors of Language and Bilingual Cognition (Psychology Press, 2011) and have spent several years investigating the benefits of knowing two languages.

“We already knew that learning another language improves our knowledge of our mother tongue, and thanks to the work of Professor Ellen Bialystok and others, we also knew that bilingualism has positive effects on the brain at both ends of life,” said Professor Cook.

“Young children develop theory of mind earlier if they know two languages, and in older people, bilingualism can postpone the onset of dementia.”

However, the researchers wanted to take this a step further to see if knowing two specific languages could actually be a form of ‘mind-training’, and discovered that much research shows that being bilingual did literally change the way people see the world.
 
Early last century linguist Benjamin Whorf was the first to say that western languages make us see reality in a set way, and therefore learning other languages could be beneficial because it would free our minds from such linguistic constraints.

The positive effects of bilingualism are largely due to the fact that learning a new language involves embracing new concepts that are not represented in our own mother tongue, or are different in the two languages. “If I ask you to think of ‘lunch’, you’ll probably think about a sandwich with crisps,” explained Dr Bassetti. “If I ask an Italian to think of pranzo - Italian for ‘lunch’ - he’ll think of a dish of pasta followed by meat and vegetables.”

So what would you think if you were an English speaker and you learnt Italian? Probably something in-between, such as a dish of pasta with some crisps.

“There is a lot of evidence that bilinguals think ‘in-between’ monolingual speakers of their two languages, somehow merging the two views of the world represented in their two languages,” added Professor Cook. “But sometimes they also create new concepts that do not come from either of their languages such as pasta with a cup of tea, which neither an English nor an Italian speaker would think of.”

Just minimal exposure to another language can change the way people think, even about time. In the 1970s, researchers discovered that for English-speaking children, time goes from left to right. By contrast, Arab children think in the opposite way, and those just learning English represented time in both directions.
 
And the positive effects are not limited to children. “It is a common preconception that languages should be learnt early in life, as early as possible,” said Dr Bassetti. “But research shows that learning a can change the way people think at any age.”

She found that Italian speakers consider foxes prettier and softer than German speakers, whereas Germans consider mice prettier and softer than Italian speakers. This happens because the fox is grammatically feminine in Italian and masculine in German, and the mouse is masculine in Italian and feminine in German. Those who knew both languages had no bias, as their perception was not based on grammar.

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rawa1
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
Maybe just the more clever people are more willing to learn another language. http://www.portis...litu.gif
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
Maybe just the more clever people are more willing to learn another language. http://www.portis...litu.gif


Ok, think of it this way, if a person knows and is familliar with two different computer programming languages, then that gives them more tools to express algorithms and implementation on different machines or platforms. Some languages may be better for expressing the same concepts and algorithms.

The same may be true for human spoken and written languages.

To be honest, in high school, language arts, and especially hand writing, was not my strong point. In college, for some reason, it reversed and I did best in language arts, BUT I never learned a foreign language even after years in French and Spanish classes, other than a few vague memories of some stray words and conjugation rules...

However, from reading the Bible, I know older forms of english and "outdated" english conjugations and forms...
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
So what I'm saying is even though I did not become fluent in a second language, I am fluent in multiple dialects of English, I suppose that counts, since most people (at least in my experience) don't seem to understand Elizabethan English due to differences in conjugations and tense...

I know enough about other languages that I recognize how their grammar and syntax could provide a framework for thinking that is "better" in some contexts, that is, giving a person multiple frameworks from which to build, organize, understand, and communicate knowledge.

Maybe I just had bad teachers, because I have allegedly a "verbal I.Q." of at or above 122, so based on statistics, I "should" be a hyper-polyglot if I had decent teachers and was around the spoken language enough...To some extent, it's true that you cannot learn something if you aren't taught properly. What they did in high school and college foreign language classes was a waste of time, IMO...
Callippo
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
.. if a person knows and is familliar with two different computer programming languages, then that gives them more tools to express algorithms and implementation on different machines or platforms..
Well, we are touching the definition of intelligence by now. Is it of social or genetic origin?

With your approach we could say, every knowledge and experience would make you more smarter. But would it make you more intelligent?
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
Hush1:

I am only recently discovering, thanks to some work with psychologists and some other events, that one of my "problems" is I have a photographic memory for visual components.

Text and language are actually my weakness. I can visualize and rotate 3rd and 4th dimensional platonic solids in my mind, etc.

My visual long term memory is so good that I can play back the visual component of movies in my mind which I have only seen one or two times, even 5 or 10 years ago.

My auditory memor is very bad, UNLESS it's tied to a specific related visual component, such as a movie or video game dialogue, etc.

Anyway, if it happens in the "suspension of disblief" or "hyperfocus" mode, then I don't forget it, and cannot forget it even if I want to, as long as there is a unique visual component involved, or a very unique and distinctive voice.

My memory for written text is terrible, which is probably why I can't remember mathematical formulas. I just re-derive them on the spot..
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
My math is much better than verbal, I just don't memorize formulas. I used to derive formulas for some series and sequences, etc, before I was taught them.

I admit that in person I am very introverted, so maybe that's why I'm online so much. I find it easier to type than to talk.

But to give you an example of how a photographic memory is both a good thing and a bad thing, last time I went to watch a movie, it was playing over and over in my mind for the next several days. It was actually the x-men: first class movie.

Whenever this happens, it's extrememly hard to concentrate on anything.

If you can imagine your mind cataloguing, understanding, rating characters based on perception of how well or poorly they were represented compared to past versions, etc. "They made this guy different in such and such a way compared to previous versions," etc.

Like another example:

Last night, I dreamed of Alien: Resurrection movie, which I've only seen twice long ago...
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
Now the dream wasn't exactly about Alien: Resurrection, but was involving some similar creatures derived from that plot line.

Matter of fact, I've never actually seen the movie all the way through except one time, the other time I only picked up on it somewhere in the middle...

The point is, after I woke up, my mind was on that movie, which again I've only seen twice, and last time was like 5 years ago.

Entire scenes automatically played back in my memory, in some cases with the dialogues at least partially in tact.

I can describe specific objects and events, the dialogue of the genetic experiments (bad science,) etc.

So you can imagine that when a person like me has a negative experience: my fault, someone else's fault, nobody's fault, it can be pretty damn hard to deal with, since I usually cannot forget it. I remember almost every damn practical joke or word that anyone ever spoke negatively of me, in many cases exactly who and where.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
My sister and cousin told me I might have Aspergers syndrome, so I went to some psychologists...

The psychologists told me that I do not have aspergers syndrome nor adult ADD/adhd, even though I appear to have many "symptoms".

So then what the hell is it?

Apparently, they are just going to prescribe me anti-depressants for "type 2 primary generalized anxiety disorder" and "slightly OCD".

I disagree with his diagnosis, because I remember things I don't even care about. It has nothing to do with OCD.

You can't help but think about it when you can't forget...

---
Yesterday, I was at the doctor's office, getting a prescription for some medicine for my high blood pressure, and another patient there was talking to someone about weak bones or whatever, and they didn't know the word.

Well, figure me, I'm going to explain the word is osteoporosis, and what it means "condition of having porous bone" and what the symptoms are, etc.

I'm not a doctor, but I know this too
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
I don't know why I decided to write so much about this issue on here, except that I'm trying to find some answers and I'm tired of counsellors, parents, friends, and now psychologists not giving the right advice or asking the right questions.

I know that a few years ago, I first heard of Daniel Tammet, and I knew then that there was something similar between him and me. He has higher functioning savant syndrome.

I know that I'm not anywhere near as pronounced as him, but I knew when I saw that program that there was some connection.

I can do 2 digit numbers in my head to the 6th and 7th power. Not quite as fast as him, but I can do it.

I can factor prime multiples in my head and square roots of 4 and 5 digit numbers, apparently, but not to as many decimals as him, and I do tend to make a 1 digit mistake about 1 time in 5 or 10 attempts: typically carrying a 1 or something.

Would be nice to find a job where any of this would be useful...no clue what that would be though.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
It was annoying though, when I was at the psychologist, because he didn't even do any real tests that could actually test my limits on the good and bad ends of things. I was with him for about 2 hours or so, but nothing we did was the sort of things you saw on Discovery when they were testing Daniel Tammet.

I'm normally bad with names, so I memorize the names of people, on like job interviews or something like that. So I have the names for this one job interview, 8 people's faces memorized and still have 6 of their names. The other 2 are still in there somewhere, I just can't think of them at the moment. More than likely, I'll never see any of them again.

I also feel a connection to Mr. Data from star trek. I don't "get" people, and they don't get met.

No, I don't believe I'm a robot, lol, nothing like that.

What I'm sayng is I feel completely alone and mis-understood, and I know I totally mis-understand other people as well.
Callippo
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
in person I am very introverted
..why not to behave naturally?
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
in person I am very introverted
..why not to behave naturally?


Yes, good question.

The answer is I don't know, and I TRY to behave naturally, but don't.

I have been working on this issue for years, but it doesn't work well. I'm not as bad as I used to be, but if "10" is where I used to be I'm like still a 9 or a 9.5 or something.

I don't know what "normal" is. I always feel like I have nothing in common with other people. And then they either hate me, or their interest in me is purely specious.

I try to treat everyone well, but people do not like me because I know "everything" and can't help it. Of course I don't know "everything" and don't claim to, but people hate me anyway. When I go to school, I already know most of the material and correct the instructors mistakes, and get an "A" without studying...

They said I should be a teacher. How? I don't know how to "teach" what I do. I got marks off in school because I couldn't show my work...
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
I used to consider my own memory as being bad before a few days ago.

And my short term or sensory memory actually IS very bad if I'm distracted.

I do forget things, usually text or verbal, and it annoys the hell out of me and confuses me when it happens.

I never understood why other people used flash cards or took notes. I always found that actually made me have a harder time learning: If you are writing then your attention is divided, so you obviusly aren't listening as closely, so I didn't bother.

But yes, when I do forget things it absolutely frustrates and confuses the hell out of me. I get upset that I can't remember a calculation that I did a year ago or more, or if I have to look up a word, formula, or article, etc, that I "should" know.

Above, when I talk about the recall of a movie or any similar thing like that, do you realize how distracted and useless I am when I'm in that "mode"? It can happen at any time.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
But do you know what it feels like to have a situation where you are like.

Me: "excuse me, that's wrong."
Expert: "No it isn't".
Person 1: "Don't correct her. She's an expert. She's been doing this for 30 years."
Me: "Well, it's wrong, and I know it's wrong." *Gets text book or encyclopedia and shows it.*

If I say nothing, everyone "learns" the wrong thing.

If I say something, everyone hates me and is jealous or whatever.

So you're screwed either way anyway.

And on another occasion, when I got an "A" on a test, the teacher is like, "He missed one question, and he knows exactly which one it was."

You're damn right I did. I marked it off myself. Know what you know and know what you don't know.

If you were paying attention, you should know what you don't know too. What did the other people study when they were studying anyway, since half of them got a D or worse?

Then the Dean delete my work off the computer and made me do it again, because I helped others!!
Callippo
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
I'm afraid, to ventilate anxiety at places, when the readers don't expect the whining about personal problems is not the best idea, how to get rid of fear of people. People will get upset, ironic and aggressive instead.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
Think of that, when the teacher and the dean complain or even punish you for doing well in a class, something is screwed up.

I know I probably hurt one of the teacher's feelings on one occasion, because I told her she probably could not have handled the class without my help, but I think it was true.

Maybe that class was a lot of people with little knowledge or something, I don't know, but everyone asked me for help because the instructor could only help one person at a time anyway, and so the Dean had the teacher delete my work and make me do it again so I couldn't help others.

I guess I'm used to a work environment where you are expected to help other people when they can't handle their load or something.

How is any of this relevant? I don't know. I guess it just shows how learning more stuff isn't the answer to everything.

People want life to be simple, I guess, and they apparently somehow find meaning and contentment in mystery and ignorance.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
The analogy here is music. One, or at the most, two notes are needed to recognize the entire score before the score is played. Some music scores are hundreds of pages long.


Now here's something else.

I understand what you're saying about one or two notes identify the entire piece.

I don't "know" music, because I've never "really" been interested in it.

I suck at lyrics. And I also don't remember the names of songs well either.

In spite of everything I said above, this is one of those "achilles heels". I cannot learn lyrics of a song to save my life, even after dozens of tries.

But I do memorize music, but I don't know how to read sheet music, and never could understand it.

I didn't take a music class ever, but maybe I should. I was thinking about this yesterday, that even though I'm not really interested in playing an instrument, maybe if I knew how to read sheet music and learned an instrument, then it might help with the lyrics. Another language...
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 06, 2011
I can remember the music of a video game or movie, and every sound effect and every dialogue, but that is a video component tied to it.

I do not remember the lyrics of a song on the radio, even if I like it.

Pick something even highly repetitive and easy, and it's not easy at all.

Why am I like that?

I realize that is irrelevant to the thread, but it is also relevant because it's about learning.

So why is it that things like the lyrics of a song, which would be nice to learn, people interact through music, why don't I learn it no matter what?

YOu say that the self examination is anxiety.

You are right, but what about "know yourself and seek self improvement"?

People can't help me, apparently, but I don't know how to help myself either.

I'm not saying your responses haven't been helpful. They are appreciated.

My life didn't get this way in a vaccuum. I've been dealing with this for like the past half of my life
RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Oct 07, 2011
For instance, in Italian there are two colours corresponding to the English blue: celeste is light (literally: sky-coloured) blue, and blu is dark blue..


And when thick suburben English speakers shake the mud off their boots and mix with the intelligent people they must learn that azure, azulene, celecte, cerulean, cesious, cyaneous, hyacinthine, indigo, pavonate, periwinkle, perse, sapphire, slate, turquoise, violet and watchet may all be used to describe 'blue' things.

In my gap years I sold things door to door and was introduced to the reduced vocabulary in the 'burbs. For instance paintings, prints and other art works were all referred to by many as 'photos', they making no finer distinction than that.

Thus it may be observed that with higher intelligence a larger and more descriptive vocabulary follows regardless of the language used....
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Oct 07, 2011
I have to agree that being bi/multilingual opens the mind. However we should distinguish between languages we learn and languages we actively use.

Having learned french and latin in school didn't do that for me. But, as a student, being thrust into an english speaking environment for a number of years (which essentially amounts to a learn-or-die situation) has had the effect described in the article.

As someone else mentioned there are also various archaic forms of english which I picked up along the way (e.g. the artificial theatrical language used by Shakespeare). But that didn't seem to have that much of an effectas the difference in in thought pattern to modern english isn't that great - even though the vocabulary and sentence structure may suggest this to the untrained eye.

Intelligence seems more of an inclination to get atand communicate a finer detailed picture of things - and this does require a larger vocabulary (wheter you use one or many languages)
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 08, 2011
Hush1:

I think you mis-understood my choice of words.

I was not saying that I refuse to learn the lyrics.

I wanted to learn them, but could not in most cases.

For some reason, lyrics in many songs seem to blend together and my mind does not seem to "parse" words to recognize them and remember them.

I have had this problem on a couple occasions even with ordinary speech, where words merge to something the speaker did not intend to say. It is not a "hearing" problem, as my ears work fine. It seems to be a sensory memory problem.

I have a very interactive learning style. I am the person who is always commenting on the teacher's statements, rehashing, re-stating, questioning, clarifying, etc. This interaction helps me focus, but unfortunately, it admittedly disrupts others on some occasions.

If I am in a large lecture invironment (unfortunately like universities,) where such interaction is difficult, then it is very, very hard for me to focus.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 08, 2011
But on the "hearing" or sensory memory thing...

I have had some recent, shameful events happening regarding absolutely not even knowing a person said something to me.

On two recent Occasions, I was asked to do something, while I was doing some other simple task, and then later the person was like, "Why didn't you do this?"

I say, "I never heard you tell me that!"

My ears are fine, well all things considered. I haven't had an actual "hearing" test since 2005, but nobody has ever caught me in a situation to prove my ears are "that" bad.

It's true that I can't have background noise from like the clothes washer or something while I'm watching television or something, but the point I'm getting at is I don't think its an "ear" problem.

It seems to be a concentration issue.

Have you ever seen the television show "The Sentinel" where the guy has the sensory issues, and if he was really concentrating he wouldn't hear what someone was saying? That's what I'm describing.
Nanobanano
not rated yet Oct 08, 2011
Now that meets the description of "hyperfocus" and "zoneout" in adult ADD, but the psychologists say I do not have it.

Do you realize how big an issue that is for me at work?

Or resolving moral or ethical conflicts, where like my conscience says one thing, but my boss or my job description gets changed to say something else, and I get "stuck" feel like there is no right choice in life. I do tend to take things too literally, and I don't know how to deal with that. Other people seem to either not care, or they don't think about it, or they are somehow able to resolve such situations and live with themselves. I've quit two jobs in the past because of that, because employers, or at least immediate managers, seemed to have unethical sales practices and manipulation of the customer, which from my perspective violated my conscience and at some point I just couldn't handle it any more.
RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Oct 18, 2011
hush,
languages evolve like everything else and they adapt in a utilitarian manner. If more expressions are needed then they are borrowed from other usage eg 'spam' (initially a comedy sketch about a particularly heavily advertised product ie 'spam'), or created afresh eg 'blog' (initially from 'web log').

Thus the Inuit have three root terms for snow ~ falling snow, snow on the ground, and melting snow from which many compounds can be made. In English, skiers borrow terms from other usage to build up an elaborate vocabulary to describe snow eg 'powder', 'slush', 'ice', etc initially from 'powdery snow', 'icy snow' etc.

Thus standardising languages is a bad idea, however, using one language as the international language is a good idea, similar to the concept of using the US dollar as the universal trade currency.

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