You Think More Critically in a Foreign Language. Wait, What?

We come across choices and decisions on a daily basis. But what if you were told that you actually think clearer and more critically in a foreign language? Enter a new study from the University of Chicago that claims exactly this. Read on to find out more…

Nowadays it seems like there are studies for EVERYTHING. Every possible myth, rumor and belief is put to the test with “studies” from “researchers”who are constantly debunking one another. But a recent study from the aforementioned University of Chicago has renewed my faith in our data-crunching friends. Its conclusion: bilingual individuals are more likely to make more rational decisions when they think in their non-native tongue.

Huh? The study and its results were published in a journal called Psychological Science. Comprised of several experiments, the study went as follows: in the first experiment, 121 American volunteers who knew Japanese were subjected to a classic decision-making conundrum where they chose to either save 1/3 of the population from a deadly plague, or apply a medicine that had a 1/3 probability of saving the entire population.

Researchers found that almost 80% of the test subjects chose the safer option when the question was presented in English; the numbers dropped to a mere 47% when the question was framed as “losing” lives rather than “saving” them. The question was then presented in Japanese; surprisingly, the safer option was chosen only 40% of the time regardless of how the question was framed. The researchers then conducted the same experiment using multiple variations and continued to achieve the same results, even among tested populations for whom English was the second language.

So what’s the conclusion here? Well, IF you are already fluent in a second language, you are more likely to think clearer and more critically in it than you do in your native tongue. As a Colombian I can attest to this – Spanish is my native language, but when I’m thinking about something or talking to myself to make a choice, I do so in English! Also, I’ve found that when doing calculations and math in my head, I opt for “plus and minus” instead of “mas y menos”. So should you go and learn another language in order to think more critically? No, that’s just twisted logic. ¿Y ustedes que opinan?


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