Why listen to a single speaker, when you can have surround sound?
So you thought you were talking with fellow students from all over the world just for fun? Well, it seems that speaking different languages influences not only the functioning of your mind, but also your perspective on things. Meaning: being bilingual, you’ll get the best of several worlds.
Germans, in the way they construct their sentences, are more inclined to focus on the possible outcomes of the actions they are talking about. English speakers, on the other hand, pay more attention to the action itself. It is a difference that not only pops up in their conversations. Recent research done at Lancaster University shows that the same dissimilarity is present in the way they look at the world.
But if you speak both languages, you will be able to shift between the two ways of thinking, thus getting a more complete view of what you see. ‘You can listen to music from only one speaker, or you can listen in stereo. It’s the same with language,’ researcher Athanasopoulos says. ‘Another language gives you an alternative vision on the world.’ And, just as you want your favourite music in surround sound, you want your vision of the world encompassing, don't you?
So when earlier research suggested that Russian speakers are quicker at distinguishing shades of blue because they have different words for light blue and dark blue, Japanese speakers tend to group objects by material rather than shape, and Koreans focus on how tightly objects fit together, speaking these languages gets you to combine all those different qualities. Wow, would that not make you a totally complete human being? A superman or superwoman?
It's For Fun After All
Unless that sounds too good to be true. And indeed it does a bit. Rolf Zwaan, Professor of Biological and Cognitive Psychology at EUR, tempers our enthusiasm with some authentic Rotterdam down-to-earthness. He points out there is other evidence. ‘And that shows it’s not the language we speak which determines how we see the world. When we use a language, we process information about the world in a way that is specific to that language. And if we are prevented from using language, as has been tested in some experiments, we all perceive the world the same, regardless of language.’ All right. Apparently it is not so easy to become superhuman after all. In that case let’s just stick to using other languages to share our views of the world with international friends.