In our increasingly interconnected world, the ability to communicate in multiple languages has become a valuable skill.

Beyond the obvious benefits of linguistic proficiency, a recent article in The Guardian sheds light on an intriguing phenomenon known as the “foreign language effect”. Research shows that thinking in a foreign language can actually improve decision-making skills, making individuals more rational, flexible, and open-minded. So let’s explore the fascinating insights from this article and delve into the ways learning a foreign language can shape our cognition and broaden our perspectives.

What is the “Foreign Language Effect”?

The “foreign language effect”, as discovered by psychologists, goes beyond the influence of linguistic determinism – the belief that language shapes our perception of the world. Rather, it focuses on the general experience of switching from one language to another. Studies have shown that this mental transition can lead to a variety of positive effects, including improved financial decision-making, enhanced moral reasoning, and better coping with traumatic memories.

Improved Decision-Making

Researchers found that when faced with moral dilemmas, individuals who think in a foreign language are more likely to make utilitarian choices – ones that prioritise the greater good over personal emotions. This finding suggests that using a second language may enable individuals to approach decisions with more rationality and less emotional bias.

Reduced Cognitive Biases

The “foreign language effect” also appears to lessen cognitive biases that can impair decision-making. For instance, individuals tend to exhibit myopic loss aversion, where they are reluctant to take risks and prefer guaranteed small gains over potentially larger but uncertain rewards. Interestingly, this bias is reduced when decisions are presented in a foreign language, suggesting that second-language thinking can help individuals embrace ambiguity and make more informed choices.

Enhanced Memory and Emotional Processing

Language learning can also impact memory and emotional processing. It has been observed that recalling memories in a second language can lead to reduced emotional distress related to traumatic events. Additionally, thinking in a foreign language reduces the possibility of forming false memories and promotes more careful and accurate recollection, potentially improving overall cognitive functioning.

Personality and Tolerance of Ambiguity

The “foreign language effect: may extend to shaping elements of an individual’s personality. Studies have shown that using a second language can increase tolerance for ambiguity, fostering flexibility, adaptability, and creative problem-solving. This trait is especially valuable in today’s ever-changing, globalised world, where individuals who embrace uncertainty thrive and perform well.

These findings encourage us all to embrace the opportunity to learn new languages, opening up a world of possibilities and broadening our perspectives. So, let’s encourage our students to embark on this linguistic journey, enriching their minds and transforming their decision-making abilities for the better.