Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bilingualism and Intelligence

As we suspected, being bilingual makes you smarter: Why Bilinguals Are Smarter. With the dramatic increase of Spanish speakers in this country -- the number has doubled since 1990 and we now have the fifth largest native Spanish speaking population in the world -- we have a marvelous opportunity to make ourselves smarter: just learn your neighbor's language. And what of the anti-immigrant, English-language-only people? Well, it turns out, predictably, that they are more simple-minded than the rest: Conservative Politics, 'Low-Effort' Thinking Linked In New Study.


James R said...

Yes, language is so important for thinking. It is pretty obvious that greater facility in language grants greater intelligence.

Other activities that make you smarter:
• Have confidence (and the Pygmalion effect)
• Be curious
• Read
• Learn a musical instrument
• Sleep
• Lent (i.e. do things differently: take a new route to work, brush your teeth with your other hand, play a new video game or any kind of new game like one on In Progress)
• Hang around intelligent people
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol stronger than wine

Big Myk said...

Since we think in language -- and here is a plug for Departments of English everywhere -- the more precisely and clearly you can use language, the better you can think. More vocabulary means more varied thoughts. Its difficult to think about life's vicissitudes if you don't know what vicissitude means.

Knowing two languages is like seeing the world from two different perspectives: it gives you a depth of understanding not otherwise possible.

Finally, the native Spanish speakers in this country are way ahead of us Anglos in this. Fully half are bilingual.

Mike said...

The problem with other languages for us Americans is that they are pretty useless and largely a waste of time. Perhaps you'll have a quirky job where you can use a language other than English, but for 99.999999% of what is in front of you, English is all you need. In fact, having just come back from Guatemala, I search out ways to use Spanish, and I'm hard-pressed to find anything.

One reason for this is that we are victims of our own success. The rest of the world is busy learning English. We don't have the impetus to learn other languages, because it isn't intellectually or monetarily worthwhile. The internet is in English, the best education is in English, business is in English. The world defers to English.

The other issue - putting to rest the canard that Americans are more intellectually lazy than Europeans because they only speak one language - is that we have a big, English-speaking country, whose largest border is another big, English-speaking country. Should we really expect Americans, of whom just 30% even own passports (and I'd imagine just half use them more than once), to pick up a second language? The very idea seems crazy to me.

On the other hand, if you are living in Paris, London is a quick chunnel-trip under the channel, Frankfurt, Milan and Barcelona are just over the border, and all within the Eurozone, making travel and work in these other countries worlds easier. Honestly, how do you not learn 5 other languages? Shame on the trilingual Parisian... But you monolingual Americans, really, don't sweat it. Europeans HAVE TO learn all those languages. For you, it's a waste of time. Go read a good book and improve your English.

Big Myk said...

Mike, I don't disagree with anything you say. I was just taking a swipe at the English-only people. As you point out, not only is there no threat to the dominance of English in this country, but its damned difficult to even find anyone who will speak to you in another tongue. My son Tom's fiancee is a native Spanish speaker and she is actually losing her Spanish because, as she says, she doesn't know anyone who can speak Spanish with her. (Maybe I should put her in touch with you.)

I wasn't blaming Americans for not being bilingual. My only point is that we should welcome Spanish speaking immigrants because they off us a chance of becoming smarter -- they are doing us this huge favor. And, while we're at it, lets beef up New England tourism that draws all the French speaking Québécois.

Mike said...

I completely agree with you. More than anything I was setting up a straw man to beat up on Europeans.

Perhaps Tom's fiance can gauge my Spanish level for me. Though if she speaks Spanish from Spain, we might be in trouble.

Big Myk said...

Not to worry, she's a Latin American Spanish speaker all the way.