Creativity and Language Learning

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. – Maya Angelou

Can learning a new language increase one’s creativity?

The idea of creativity is complex. According to “Human Motivation” by Robert Franken, creativity is defined as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others or entertaining ourselves or others.” To be creative you need to see things from new perspectives and from this generate new possibilities.

Creativity results from two types of thinking: convergent (focused, attention driven thinking narrowing solutions down to one) and divergent (the opposite, open thinking that considers all possibilities). Cycling between these two processes results in creative solutions.

Much research has been dedicated to the correlation of bilingualism and creativity. Children and adults raised as bilinguals perform better on measures of divergent thinking than monolinguals.

The bilingual’s participation in two cultures influences the way they see the world through different cultural and social contexts changing representations in a bilingual’s brain. These new representations promote cognitive flexibility through creative ways of encoding.

Bilinguals develop strong convergent skills as well. Juggling two languages forces them to concentrate on the language currently in use and filter out interference from the language not being used at that moment.

So much of the bilingual advantage comes from cultural immersion. Can acquiring a second language where the interaction is in the student-teacher school environment versus being immersed in everyday bilingual cultural interactions have the same impact?

A 2012 study from the Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, entitled The Effects of Foreign Language Learning on Creativity says yes. Researchers found mastering a foreign language in a classroom context dramatically increases the four components of divergent thinking (fluency, elaboration, originality and flexibility).

The question is why? Could it be those willing to learn a foreign language already exhibit characteristics of adaptability and willingness to change – characteristics of divergent thinking. Were these people already prone to creativity?

Could it be the exposure to new cultures, customs and beliefs distinctive from their own force them to view the world from a new perspective boosting divergent thinking and creative expression?

Tolerance of ambiguity is another aspect of divergent thinking. Is it possible nuances in language structure and culture teach mental flexibility in the face of ambiguity?

In school environments, convergent thinking is prized. Educational systems with prescribed courses of material to cover, discourage divergent thinking. Language classes tend to be more non-conformist in nature and divergent thought-friendly. Is this a contributing factor?

Deciding whether these creative characteristics are brought on by the experience (as in bilingualism) or already existed to spur the experience of learning a new language is like trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg.

The answer is, does it matter? Isn’t the creative boost and the ability to speak fluently in two languages, worth it?

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Want To Become Smarter? Enroll In Language Classes

Ever seen the classic movie Witness for the Prosecution? Let me quote a dialogue from it between Sir Wilfred Roberts, the defense lawyer and Leonard Vole, the murder accused.

Roberts: Mr. Vole I must tell you I’m not putting her (Mrs. Vole) in the witness box.

Vole: You’re not? Why not?

Roberts: Well one thing she’s a foreigner, not too familiar with the subtleties of our language. The prosecution could easily trip her up.

Even if one is not in the position of Mr. Vole and one’s life does not depend on it, the above quote still demonstrates the importance of language and language classes. If you don’t know a language properly and have to interact with the people who speak it, you’re going to have a hard time and will often be misunderstood.

There are many advantages in learning a second language. Below I describe one such benefit which was published in The New York Times.

A study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee found that bilinguals – people who know two languages – are more efficient than monolinguals – people who know only a single language – at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles.

In the study bilingual and monolingual preschool children were presented with red squares and blue circles on a computer screen. They were then asked to sort them into two digital bins, one of them was marked with a blue square and the other was marked with a red circle.

Yes the colors and shapes of the markings on the bins were deliberately reversed.

In the first task, the kids were told to sort the shapes by color i.e. they were supposed to place the blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and the red squares in the bin marked with the red circle.

Despite the fact they had to put squares in a circle and circles in a square, both groups of children did this quite easily.

But the difference between their thinking showed up in the next task which shows a crucial point for language classes.

Now the children were asked to sort by shape, which was a little more difficult because it required placing the figures in a bin marked with an opposite color.

The study found that the bilinguals performed the task quicker than the monolinguals!

In fact many other studies only confirm such findings. They suggest that learning a different language improves the brain’s command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems, and performing various other mentally demanding tasks.

Have you learned more than one language? Do you feel it made you more intelligent? Drop in a comment below.

Three Reasons Why Language Teaching Is Important

“All art is quite useless.” So said Oscar Wilde and stirred a great debate which continues even to this day.

Even if art is useless, it’s certainly not worthless. It may not solve great riddles of quantum mechanics, but it’s still necessary.

Languages form an important part of the arts, and in this article I intend to show you why language teaching is important; why it’s more than merely a method to communicate.

Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Each of these diseases concern loss of memory; particularly in old age.

Many studies have been conducted on this topic, and the results are consistent.

For adults who knew only a single language, the mean age for the first signs of dementia were found to be 71.4.

For adults who speak two or more languages, the mean age for the first signs of the disease was 75.5, 4.1 years more than the former!

And this was no accident. Studies took into account other factors, such as education level, income, gender and physical health, but the results remained the same.

Makes You More Open-minded

A good novel of any language captures the essence of the culture, of the time-period, and the location where the novel is set.

That’s why Yann Martel once said, “There is no greater representation of reality than a great novel.” And Hillary Mantel concluded, “The historian tells us what happened, the novelist tells us how it felt while it was happening.”

This is a strong basis for why language teaching is important. The more languages you learn, the more literature of different languages you can read; which opens yourself up to different cultures and histories.

Seeing the world from a different perspective and understanding that different societies have many common emotions and desires is an eye-opening experience.

To Better Understand Our Thought Processes

Our very existence depends on language. And no, I don’t mean it in a poetic context.

Philosophers say consciousness cannot exist without language.

“I’m sitting at my desk.” “I’m writing this article.” “After I finish this, I’ll go have dinner.”

I can call myself conscious because I can think these thoughts, but I’m thinking them in a language, the English language.

So, if a species has no language, then most likely it will lack consciousness because consciousness is dependent on language.

You see the argument?

To understand the true roots of our thought processes a knowledge of several languages may be necessary.

I hope this article will help you realize why language teaching is important because it is not some frivolous activity, as some people might imagine it to be.