29 November 2017

Languages, thinking, and superstition

The Germans did the study about bilingualism and superstition. Turns out that bilingual people are less likely to believe in superstition if they think in their second language.
I found the study quite interesting because I am bilingual. Actually, I speak three languages but only two of them quite good. English is for me Second language. And it does feel good to learn there is an additional benefit for all that struggle to learn the second language.
But I cannot confirm this study from my own experience. I did my graduate studies in English. In essence, I learned how to be a scientist in English. So I cannot tell is the lack of superstitious beliefs in my case consequence of learning how to be a scientist or because I'm thinking in non-native language.
The subject itself is very fascinating and makes me wonder what about persons who speak multiple languages? For instance, New Guinea has around 1000 different languages. It is not unusual to find New Guineans capable to speak fluently around 25 different languages. But visitors never reported a lack of superstition beliefs in New Guinea. Quite the contrary, the country is flourishing with superstitious beliefs.
So maybe the Second language has something to do with the lack of superstitious beliefs, but I doubt it causes the observed effect. I have a hunch that it's more likely connected with the different way of thinking. And to get that particular benefit one needs to learn a language that is actually from a different culture.
See, different languages require a different way of thinking to present a thought. Once I found an explanation about the logic behind the syntax of different languages. In English one presents an idea in a straight line, i.e. one goes straight to the point. In my native language, it's more like a zigzag line, you don't go straight to the point your sort off dance around it, allowing the listener to get to the point him or herself. In Chinese, the logic is like a spiral, your sort off circle around the point. And, for each language, you need to think differently to get to a point.
For me personally, that was the hardest part to learn. See when I go directly to the point I thought I was offending the person I'm talking to, treating him or her as a stupid child that needs to be told directly what to do, what to think. It took me a long time to realize how wrong I was.
Another interesting example is German. Their syntax is weird. Sentences can be long and complex. And the worse part of the language is that if one puts simple 'nein' at the end of the sentence (negation) then the whole sentence means the opposite. As a consequence Germans will rarely interrupt people when they speak. If you do not allow a person to finish you cannot know does that person agrees or disagree with the statement. I've seen interesting arguments between German and Spanish colleagues speaking in English. Spanish people love to interrupt others. 

Anyway,  now I'm capable to switch from one thinking to another at the same time when I switched languages. And maybe because I know more than two languages I can actually tell that it catches not in what language you're speaking but what kind of thinking you’re using.
And yes, when one speaks a second language, or third language, or fourth language, the more thinking is required than when one speaks in a native language. Not only that you have to think differently but you have to think more. My guess is that is the reason why there is less believe in superstition's when one speaks and thinks in a second language.
But, this is just my opinion. I hope that researchers will soon tackle this particular point. Especially because there are other researchers which emphasize that's critical thinking is crucial for lack of superstitious beliefs. It will be neat to learn how does critical thinking relates to the extra thinking one needs to do while speaking a foreign language.

No comments:

Post a Comment