Being multilingual develops cognitive skills that are ideal for top managers.
Professor Antonella Sorace at the Universtiy of Edinburgh has done extensive research on the cognitive skills of multilingual people. Her research has shown that speaking (or reading) other languages offer not only effective communication advantages, but also have cognitive benefits. Her message to business is: “Hire more multilingual employees, because these employees can communicate better, have better intercultural sensitivity, are better at co-operating, negotiating, compromising. But they can also think more efficiently.”
What does that mean?
- Bilingualism does not mean perfect, balanced fluency in two languages from birth. Bilinguals are people who know, and use regularly, more than one language.
Either speaking or reading more than one language is useful. I don’ speak my native Swedish or English every day, but I read a lot! Cognitive development is not limited to speaking. If you read a lot you will be able to develop your other language skills and your brains cognitive (thinking) facilities.
- Early exposure to two languages does not disadvantage children and may bring benefits, such as flexible thinking. The cognitive benefits apply from childhood to old age.
My children speak four languages: Swedish, Hungarian, German and English from early age. Both are gifted in languages and capable of seamlessly switch from the one to the other. However, there are differences, more based on personality than intellect. My older daughter is quicker to speak and my younger reads a lot more. What both have in common though, is an obvious trait of being able to “think outside the box”.
- No languages are “more useful” or “less useful”: what matters is having more than one language in the brain.
True. Swedish and Hungarian are not exactly the world’s most important languages. Still the beneficial effect to their minds is obvious.
- Starting early is good for developing cognitive ability, but proficiency and number of languages matter more than age of first exposure to the second language.
By now, my older daughter also speaks French and Spanish. These two and her English, where added later and not at birth. Being able to speak a few languages obviously helps with getting ahead in any further language as well. Some people say it gets easier the more languages you add.
- “Late” bilinguals who are proficient in their second language also have cognitive advantages.
Using my BrainRead Method, I read a lot using speed reading myself. The idea for this Blog came from an article in the Financial Times which I read in English. Even if I don’t get to speak English today, being able to read in English every day furthers my skills and helps me not to “lose it”. I also try to follow Swedish media and do scan the headlines of Dagens Nyheter or other online papers almost daily, again a great advantage for my cognitive skills.
Reading – and especially Speed Reading – is a great tool for developing once language capabilities and cognitive skills together. As you read faster than you can speak your minds voice (Subvocalizing), you force yourself to conceptualize the written words into thoughts immediately, using your cognitive capabilities to the maximum. I would love to see Prof. Sorace do a study on Speed Reading in secondary or tertiary language and how that affects the mind!
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