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How Speaking A Second Language Affects The Way You Think And Feel

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The role of inhibition in language, thought, and emotion.

A brilliant article shared on Psychology Today reveals an amazing comparison of how speaking a second language affects the way you think.

Nearly 50% of this planet speaks a second language in their lifetime. In some countries, as in Switzerland and Singapore, everybody speaks at least two tongues. Even in the huge sub-parts of America, many citizens speak languages other than English.

It is a common misconception that a ‘bilingual’ human being is one who is well-versed in two languages. Complete accuracy in diction is very hard to achieve. A Great number of studies reveal that ‘bilingual’ entities speak one language smoothly, and the others with some difficulty. This result was observed by Costa in ‘Current Directions in Psychological Science’.

This research, based in Barcelona, is situated in a hub of ‘bilingual’s speaking Spanish and Catalan. Does speaking another tongue affect your ability to take decisions? One would say ‘yes’ since it consumes so much stamina. But that’s wrong.

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This isn’t restricted to one particular language. Psychoanalysts believe that contemplation is a silent conversation. Every language understands the universe differently; and thus affects your mind. This is ‘linguistic determinism’ and there are several myths surrounding it.

So, does expanding your language base, change your thought-process? Yes.

Three criteriums have been covered:

  1. Losses, gains, and risks.
  2. Cause and effect.
  3. Moral issues.

Most decisions concern these areas, and language affects it deeply.

Losses, gains, and risks

If I hand you $2 for a coin-toss bet. Defeat (heads) takes the money, victory (tails) fetches you $3 more. Most people would bail. They prefer the security of the $2 over the probability of the $5.

Theory of ‘risk aversion’ observes how we take the deeper pain in losing than happiness in winning.

When the researchers brought the same experiment to those speaking the second tongue, ‘risk aversion’ dissipated and they accepted the bet. They were using logic, instead of emotion, and made a better decision from that perspective.

Cause and effect

We like connecting things, even where no connection exists. Religion uses this as a base for Superstition. Somebody who hugs the stage before climbing up to stage a play is convinced that it will have a positive effect.

Within the research facility, subjects were quick to believe that they were influencing the flashing lights. In reality, they were following a pre-set frequency.

We often make poor assumptions about ’causes’. But if you’re using your second tongue, you’re most likely to avoid some blunders.

Moral issues

Sensitivity and the sixth sense are the kings of this. A famed riddle goes like this: You are stationed on a bridge above some tracks. 5 workers stand beneath, with a trolley chasing them. There’s a huge man on the bridge above them. If you push him, the trolley stops and the workers live. But he dies. Would you?

Some relent. Society is more important than a single human being. Some reject the proposal, saying no death is justifiable. The latter think from a moral point of view.

Most subjects, while using their second tongue, took the first option, because it is logical.

In all these criteriums- judging the risk-factor, causal theory, and moral tendencies- the second language commands more logical thought. It was surprising because to combine logic and second language seems very hard to the brain. Yet, the results are far from bad.

Why is it tough, though?

A second tongue requires us to consciously subdue the language we are more used to. Similarly, thinking logically requires us to keep away from emotional thinking which is much more natural.

The ‘brain imaging’ branch of studies reveals the same region of the brain is utilized for both the purposes. When you switch off the intuitive first-language side of you, your emotional responses also go out the window.

References: Costa, A., Vives, M.-L., & Corey, J. D. (2017). On language processing shaping decision making. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26, 146-151.

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