Foreign language increases rationality

As I’m playing from Europe, “English speaking” guild means mostly “international with people speaking second language”. I found these guilds much more mature and intelligent than those which spoke my native tongue and most likely included people talking in their native tongue. I assumed this is because everyone has a native tongue while having a second language means that someone learned something, so he is probably smarter or more educated than those who didn’t.

This assumption turned out to be wrong, or at least insufficient. This research found that people performed more intelligently and rationally when they were using a second language. They calculated chances better, they were less likely to use heuristics and they solved moral dilemmas in a more utilitarian way.

The reason is that native tongue usage is automatic, while second language needs conscious effort. You need to suppress your automatic reaction of using your native tongue and by doing so, you also suppress heuristics and ingrained mental schemes.

You can test this by trying to say threatening or embarrassing statements to someone (like “I have a small penis so I’ll never find a woman and men will laugh at me”) in your native tongue and in a second language. The second will elicit much less emotions, showing that if the statement was true, you’d be more likely able to rationally deal with it in a second language environment.

This explains something that I didn’t understand. During the medieval times, the few educated people spoke Latin, a dead language that had no practical use. I mean there was no native Latin speakers, everyone had to learn it, why didn’t they use Italian or Spanish or German instead which would save the millions of native speakers and help the others to use the language when dealing with laymen or peasant. In light of this research we can understand that speaking in Latin helped all intelligent people to act intelligently instead of using their emotional/cultural automatisms which were many back then.

Author: Gevlon

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6 thoughts on “Foreign language increases rationality”

  1. In the case of Latin I’d say the network effect of a common language would have been the more important factor. It allowed relatively separated communities to share knowledge. Also, the act of writing stuff down filters out a lot of nonsense (compare the information density in the average blogpost over the information density in the average video).


  2. I have to admit that I usually make worse comments while arguing on the Internet in my native language, than I do in English (nothing too trashy, but sometimes I get carried away, just a bit). To reach the same level of brevity and precision, I often have to rewrite my comment like 3-5 times. In English, 1-2 times are enough even in the worst case.

    That’s one interesting lifehack – to try switching to English while working, for instance.


  3. In the case of Latin there is also one more factor, it was uniform. German, for example, varied a lot from province to province (it still does) and this still applies to some languages today, like Arabic. Latin was the language the bible was written in and it was dead (not evolving through speech is a huge advantage for that age) and additionally all educated people had to learn it to be able to read the ‘Word of God’.

    Of course it had the beneficial side effect that you describe.


  4. No, its cos all the books were written in latin. Wanted to read? yeah… latin. A huge part of the enlightenment was when people started to write in languages OTHER then latin.


  5. So, basically… people are stupid and do better when forced to actually think about what they are doing. Ok.

    Latin: People trying to communicate with others who have a different base language need a common language. The way I understand it, when Rome fell, and the Renaissance was getting ready to start, a lot of educated people still spoke Latin.

    Back to the first part. You don’t need to learn a different language to “do better”, just be disciplined to learn the language you natively speak better. Of course, if you’re from a place that speaks a language no one else understands, you have another problem. If you’re smart, and rational, you’ll essentially ignore your native language in favor of the one with the greater coverage.

    So in a nutshell, the difference isn’t the second language, but people simply being “lazy” with language at all. A luxury they can get away with when using a very comfortable native language, but not when using a second language or simply using discipline to speak their native language correctly.

    As such, it would seem that the way to get people to “act more rationally” then, is to have an official language for your country and not only insist on it’s use (No foreign language signs or interpreters, you are expected to learn the official language if you are an immigrant.) And at the same time, insist on the proper use of the language at all times. Do not tolerate slang, swearing, etc. Of course, what if your country is a tiny postage stamp and the rest of the world speaks a different language? Then you have to bite the bullet and teach that language too. The “rational” people in your society will gravitate towards the more commonly used language of the world instead of the native one.

    Me? I only speak English, but I work hard to do it right. I try to use proper punctuation and spelling, and not to use slang, obscenities, etc. I’m sure I could do better, so I’m always on the lookout.


  6. I think you didnt explain the reason very well in the end so I will try to explain it better. Words are wired to emotions. When you learn new language, the new words are not wired as strongly to your emotions. If someone calls you a moron in your native language it triggers your ego easily due to strong emotion. It works the other way too. When you get really angry you will curse in your native language because of the stronger emotions behind it. The other person might not understand those words and in that case they wont get offended as much or at all even though they understand you are cursing at them because they have no emotions wired with those words.


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