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Research Finds That Bilingual People Are Smarter, More Creative And Empathetic

Research Finds That Bilingual People Are Smarter, More Creative And Empathetic

Language is the soul of a culture. Think about the old anecdote about how the Inuit people have multiple words for “snow”. Or think about how the ability to understand a language is a crucial prerequisite for historians, and those who study international affairs. Those people focus on language because they know that without the language, they cannot truly understand the cultures they study.

But those who learn more than one language are not just more knowledgeable about the world around them. Bilingual speakers are better thinkers, more creative, and are better at understanding people. It is a valuable gift that every person, no matter what stage they are at in their lives, should attempt to master for themselves.

They Are Smarter Than Average

It may seem obvious that a person who speaks two languages is smarter than a person who speaks one. But the results can be surprising. A medical study showed that bilingual children were better at solving puzzles compared to monolingual children. Also, in a study of elderly people conducted by the University of California, bilingual individuals proved to be more resistant to the negative impacts of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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The brain is a muscle, and it is theorized that the effort of learning a language strengthens it, in a manner similar to how swimming and running can improve a person’s lungs and heart. As the New York Times declared in their report on these studies, being bilingual “can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.”

They Have Unique Ways Of Looking At The World

Bilingualism does not just improve a person’s ability to solve puzzles. It also improves their creativity and grants them new ways of seeing the world that they might have never thought about before.

As someone who speaks English and Japanese, let us use one of the simplest words in a language – “I.” The Japanese language possesses over 100 variations of the word “I,” though about only half a dozen are used today.

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So, what is the difference between all of these variations? Some of these variations are only used by men. Some of them are used only by women, and some are used by both genders. Some are used by only young children, or by those speaking to their superiors within a particular hierarchy.

But the key thing is that each “I” is only used by a certain social group, and to use one “I” or another shows where you belong in the social hierarchy. In Japanese society, which can often be hierarchical, language helps to reinforce this hierarchy.

It is one thing to read a book which talks about the Japanese social hierarchy and how it is part of everyday life. It is another thing to experience it for yourself. Understanding how pervasive that hierarchy can be cannot be fully grasped without understanding the language.

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They Are More Creative

As shown above, bilingualism can help your brain to think in different ways, using different perspectives. These ways of thinking can help liberate one’s creativity. As Psychology Today observes, bilingualism is a great way to access “new experience, new thought, new vision, and new solutions.” Moreover, a medical study conducted in 2012 showed that bilingual children were both better problem solvers and creative thinkers.

Bilingualism is a wonderful gift. It improves a speaker’s mind, both when they are young and old. It encourages them to see the world in a different light, and understand cultures in a way which just reading a book could never accomplish. There are also practical benefits of knowing two languages from a business and career perspective.

If you are not bilingual, it is never too late to learn. A person does not need to be completely fluent to earn the benefits of bilingualism, just as a person does not need to be an Olympic-class athlete to gain the physical benefits of a good diet and exercise.

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Featured photo credit: Joseph McKinley via flickr.com

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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