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Science Says Bilinguals Are Smarter

Science Says Bilinguals Are Smarter

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”- Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher

Did you know that 56% of all Europeans are bilingual, while Americans and British are at the bottom of the league with only about 20%? Actually, Bill Gates feels “pretty stupid” because he is monolingual, but that certainly did not prevent him from becoming a billionaire!

Numbers and anecdotes aside, being bilingual makes you smarter, according to many research studies. Basically, your brain is more active and your cognitive skills improve as you learn new languages. As an added bonus, you may actually be able to delay the onset of dementia in old age. Here are the main points from the most important studies on the advantages of being bilingual.

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Bilinguals are sharper thinkers

Samuel Beckett, the great Irish playwright, is a superb example. Although a native English speaker, he decided to write all his first drafts in French, as he was bilingual. He then translated them back into English. He explained that this forced him out of his usual, predictable writing style habits. Using the second language forced him to be much more critical and aware of what he was writing.

Researchers at the University of Chicago wondered if Beckett was an exceptional case or if bilinguals really are sharper thinkers. Their research showed that bilinguals were indeed less biased in making their decisions and were sharper when having to make choices as to style and selection of vocabulary. They were, in a way, forced to think outside the box. They were also better at making more rational decisions.

Bilinguals have better working memory

Ellen Bialystok is a researcher at York University, Toronto. She and her colleagues set out to show that bilinguals have certain advantages in mental processing. They found that bilinguals are better at switching their attention when multi-tasking and are also better at paying attention in general. It did not matter whether the tasks were connected to language or not.

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This type of mental processing is known as executive control. This control plays a vital part in childhood academic achievement which in turn benefits overall health and well-being. The researchers also noticed that bilinguals are better at sifting out irrelevant information since they frequently have to deal with interference from other languages.

Bialystok conducted another study which showed that this great advantage extended well into old age and was a factor in helping to stave off dementia. The faster reaction and better memory of the elderly participants was a marked feature of the bilinguals in the study.

“We have even found that bilinguals with Alzheimer’s disease maintain surprisingly good ability to access names in a non-dominant language.” – Tamar Gollan, University of California, San Diego

Bilinguals have more gray matter

As we know, the more gray matter we have in our brains the better, as it helps us process information we receive, especially for intellectual activity. Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC also found that bilinguals (Spanish/English) had more gray matter in their brains than those who were using English/ ASL (American Sign Language).

“Unlike the findings for the Spanish-English bilinguals, we found no evidence for greater gray matter in the ASL-English bilinguals.” – Dr. Olumide Olulade, lead author of the above study.

The management of two spoken languages was regarded by researchers as being a key factor in the growth of gray matter. It is generally accepted that our brains adapt as a result of new experiences.

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They also observed that London taxi drivers have more gray matter too, although that has more to do with their spatial navigation skills rather than knowing two or more languages.

Are you ready to start learning another language?

Most of the research studies indicate that you do not have to be bilingual from childhood. Even learning a second language in later life can give you many of the advantages cited above. It is time to start talking to the world.

“We seem to be on a constant quest to keep America a country of citizens who can only talk to one another.” – Kari Martindale

Featured photo credit: One brain, two minds/ Gwydion M.Williams via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach

The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach

In business, in social relationships, in family… In whatever context conflict is always inevitable, especially when you are in the leader role. This role equals “make decisions for the best of majority” and the remaining are not amused. Conflicts arise.

Conflicts arise when we want to push for a better quality work but some members want to take a break from work.

Conflicts arise when we as citizens want more recreational facilities but the Government has to balance the needs to maintain tourism growth.

Conflicts are literally everywhere.

Avoiding Conflicts a No-No and Resolving Conflicts a Win-Win

Avoiding conflicts seem to be a viable option for us. The cruel fact is, it isn’t. Conflicts won’t walk away by themselves. They will, instead, escalate and haunt you back even more when we finally realize that’s no way we can let it be.

Moreover, avoiding conflicts will eventually intensify the misunderstanding among the involved parties. And the misunderstanding severely hinders open communication which later on the parties tend to keep things secret. This is obviously detrimental to teamwork.

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Some may view conflicts as the last step before arguments. And they thus leave it aside as if they never happen. This is not true.

Conflicts are the intersect point between different individuals with different opinions. And this does not necessarily lead to argument.

Instead, proper handling of conflicts can actually result in a win-win situation – both parties are pleased and allies are gained. A better understanding between each other and future conflicts are less likely to happen.

The IBR Approach to Resolve Conflicts

Here, we introduce to you an effective approach to resolve conflicts – the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach. The IBR approach was developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their 1981 book Getting to Yes. It stresses the importance of the separation between people and their emotions from the problem. Another focus of the approach is to build mutual understanding and respect as they strengthen bonds among parties and can ultimately help resolve conflicts in a harmonious way. The approach suggests a 6-step procedure for conflict resolution:

Step 1: Prioritize Good Relationships

How? Before addressing the problem or even starting the discussion, make it clear the conflict can result in a mutual trouble and through subsequent respectful negotiation the conflict can be resolved peacefully. And that brings the best outcome to the whole team by working together.

Why? It is easy to overlook own cause of the conflict and point the finger to the members with different opinions. With such a mindset, it is likely to blame rather than to listen to the others and fail to acknowledge the problem completely. Such a discussion manner will undermine the good relationships among the members and aggravate the problem.

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Example: Before discussion, stress that the problem is never one’s complete fault. Everyone is responsible for it. Then, it is important to point out our own involvement in the problem and state clearly we are here to listen to everyone’s opinions rather than accusing others.

Step 2: People Are NOT the Cause of Problem

How? State clearly the problem is never one-sided. Collaborative effort is needed. More importantly, note the problem should not be taken personally. We are not making accusations on persons but addressing the problem itself.

Why? Once things taken personally, everything will go out of control. People will become irrational and neglect others’ opinions. We are then unable to address the problem properly because we cannot grasp a fuller and clearer picture of the problem due to presumption.

Example: In spite of the confronting opinions, we have to emphasize that the problem is not a result of the persons but probably the different perspectives to view it. So, if we try to look at the problem from the other’s perspective, we may understand why there are varied opinions.

Step 3: Listen From ALL Stances

How? Do NOT blame others. It is of utmost importance. Ask for everyone’s opinions. It is important to let everyone feel that they contribute to the discussion. Tell them their involvement is essential to solve the problem and their effort is very much appreciated.

Why? None wants to be ignored. If one feels neglected, it is very likely for he/she to be aggressive. It is definitely not what we hope to see in a discussion. Acknowledging and being acknowledged are equally important. So, make sure everyone has equal opportunity to express their views. Also, realizing their opinions are not neglected, they will be more receptive to other opinions.

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Example: A little trick can played here: Invite others to talk first. It is an easy way to let others feel involved and ,more importantly, know their voices are heard. Also, we can show that we are actively listening to them by giving direct eye-contact and nodding. One important to note is that never interrupt anyone. Always let them finish first beforeanother one begins.

Step 4: Listen Comes First, Talk Follows

How? Ensure everyone has listened to one another points of view. It can be done by taking turn to speak and leaving the discussion part at last. State once again the problem is nothing personal and no accusation should be made.

Why? By turn-taking, everyone can finish talking and voices of all sides can be heard indiscriminantly. This can promote willingness to listen to opposing opinions.

Example: We can prepare pieces of paper with different numbers written on them. Then, ask different members to pick one and talk according to the sequence of the number. After everyone’s finished, advise everyone to use “I” more than “You” in the discussion period to avoid others thinking that it is an accusation.

Step 5: Understand the Facts, Then Address the Problem

How? List out ALL the facts first. Ask everyone to tell what they know about the problems.

Why? Sometimes your facts are unknown to the others while they may know something we don’t. Missing out on these facts could possibly lead to inaccurate capture of the problem. Also, different known facts can lead to different perception of the matter. It also helps everyone better understand the problem and can eventually help reach a solution.

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Example: While everyone is expressing their own views, ask them to write down everything they know that is true to the problem. As soon as everyone has finished, all facts can be noted and everyone’s understanding of the problem is raised.

Step 6: Solve the Problem Together

How? Knowing what everyone’s thinking, it is now time to resolve the conflict. Up to this point, everyone should have understood the problem better. So, it is everyone’s time to suggest some solutions. It is important not to have one giving all the solutions.

Why? Having everyone suggesting their solutions is important as they will not feel excluded and their opinions are considered. Besides, it may also generate more solutions that can better resolve the conflicts. Everyone will more likely be satisfied with the result.

Example: After discussion, ask all members to suggest any possible solutions and stress that all solutions are welcomed. State clearly that we are looking for the best outcomes for everyone’s sake rather than battling to win over one another. Then, evaluate all the solutions and pick the one that is in favor of everyone.

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