English Savvy Learning

Learn a language, get smarter?

There are many different reasons for learning a new language. Meeting new friends, experiencing a different culture, socializing with and by extension having a greater understanding of people from different countries, studying or living abroad, improving career prospects, easier travel experiences, and developing confidence are some of the more common reasons. Additionally, much past research has shown that people who speak more than one language tend to score better on standardized tests, particularly in math, reading, and vocabulary. They are also better at solving puzzles and performing better with any mentally demanding tasks. But did you know there are other beneficial reasons for learning a new language, reasons which could be of benefit in your everyday life? I recently read an article which reminded me of these wonderful advantages and wish to share them with you.

 

Improve your ability to make decisions

 

One common trap that many of us fall into, is that when we’re weighing what we could gain or lose from making a decision, we place more importance on what we lose than what we gain from the decision we have to make. Let’s use finances as an example: our decision may us lose 1,000 rubles, or give us an extra 1,000 rubles. Are we placing more importance on losing 1,000 rubles or on making 1,000 rubles more? If think more about the money we could lose, we are suffering from what is called ‘loss aversion’.

aversion:

a strong feeling of not liking somebody or something.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Loss aversion, as defined in wikipedia:

“loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains”.

In other words, we become more likely to make less risky decisions, even if the gain or cost is the same.

A study from the University of Chicago found that people who think in a foreign language are more likely to take favorable risks and not be so ‘loss averse’. Thinking a problem through in a non-native language resulted in people making more rational decisions than those who did not.

Although the study concentrated more on economic decision making (which is of great benefit to business people), I can certainly see how this could also be useful in general decision making in our everyday life.

 

Cumulative Learning (or, how I can get smarter)

 

Did you ever study hard for an exam one or two days before, pass the exam with great marks, then quickly forget everything you studied? If yes, you exercised your short term memory skills, but not your long-term memory skills. It is well known that each of these require different actions from the brain, so being very good at one does not mean you will be good at the other.

Long term memory can be well exercised by what is called cumulative learning.

cumulative:

having a result that increases in strength or importance each time more of something is added.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

With cumulative learning, you build on what you have learned before, one on top of the other. Think of how a building is constructed and you can understand the idea. Learning a new language requires cumulative learning – the new grammar and vocabulary we learn is built on the previous grammar and vocabulary we learned. These in turn are repeated many times as we get better at the language. And because we are better able to remember what we’ve learned before, we can more intelligently process new information and add that to our ‘memory banks’.

In my opinion, these are abilities which are not only useful from a professional perspective, but also for everyday life, since we constantly have to use our decision making skills and our reasoning abilities to solve life’s problems, from the ordinary to the very important.

So if you’re thinking about learning a new language, you can add these very positive reasons to the list of “why I should do it”!

What do you think? Please feel free to comment below.

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