Personally, I have always found the world of languages exciting, due to their ability to provide us with a new understanding of things and the possibility of opening up new worlds in front of us.
This led me to a World Economic Forum post that caught my attention, and led me to ask how is language learning related to intelligence?
Perhaps we could fall into the simple idea that more “intelligent” people can learn other languages more quickly. However, in this publication by Rob Smith, interesting information is shared about how the mind works when it comes to thinking, and therefore, to develop our cognitive abilities that give life to what we can understand by intelligence or also , the reason.
The idea put forward by Smith is essentially that when we think, we do so using our language, based on the language we have learned. By incorporating a new language, with a large number of terms, we associate them with images in our mind, which allows us to pass on the abstract concept of “shoe” or project within ourselves the graphic representation of what we know as such, as well as the use that we can give to this everyday item.
To put it “easy”, we associate words with images that help us incorporate new concepts and representations of the world and, therefore, help us think.
When we learn other languages, we don’t have the same graphical representations of these new words, so we need to associate the words of the new language with any new (or old) graphical representations we may have of those terms. This is the explanation of why people manage to think better and in our mother tongue, because we have more associations of meaning in that language than in a new language.
Does language learning impact intelligence?
But how is language learning related to intelligence?… it works like this.
By incorporating a second (or third) language, we are expanding our mental representations for these new terms, which helps us to give a broader interpretation to the concepts we learn, which more than making us “smarter” actually allows us to think more broadly with new conceptual associations and mental images that help us complement our current meaning of things.
So the next time we ask ourselves, if intelligent people can learn a language faster or slower, we should rather understand language learning is related to intelligence, as it helps us enrich the cognitive ability to interpret the world through words and the representations we associate with them.