The author explores how learning a new language can help us change our mindsets and live more in the present.
Most of us speak 2 languages or more, so how does this affect the way we think? Does it create a conflict within us, or do the two languages or more work in a perfect harmony? As we saw in my previous article, the language we speak can affect the way we see the world around us. It can influence our way of thinking, our behavior and our personality. So let us explore what happens when we speak another language, and how this adds to the mix.
A study shows that people will answer differently depending on what language the question is asked in. Japanese-English speakers were asked to complete the following sentence: “When my wishes conflict with my family…”. A participant wrote in Japanese: “…It’s a time of a great unhappiness.” When the same participant was asked to complete the same sentence in English, they wrote: “…I do what I want.”
A study by Yale Business School analyzed data from 76 countries; the study focused on general habits such as, smoking, exercising, general health and saving money. They found out that in countries where the majority of the people spoke languages without a future tense, people were 30% more likely to make better health and money decisions. Because in these languages they see their lives as a whole, not as a timeline, and they live better and can acquire better wealth. Unlike the English language, for example, where the future seems like a place in the distance, so the decisions tend to swing towards the betterment of now rather than the distant off future.
So according to that study, it would be a very good investment if you learn another language, one of those weak future tense languages, like Mandarin, Finnish, Estonian or German.
Plus, it’s actually very helpful to think in your non-native language anyway. A study shows that people will often make the right decision when asked difficult or tricky questions, simply because it I will give you more time to think because it’s not your go-to language. More time to think before you blurt your answer is always a wise choice.
The languages you speak have direct influence over your personality. A lot of people can notice that their personality would change depending on which language they speak. This has many reasons, but one of those is that when you speak a language you try to emulate very often the culture of the people who speak the language. I, for example, will use more hand gesturing when trying to speak Italian simply because Italians do that. To sound more authentic you try to copy the posture and body language of native speakers. People have even mentioned that some language might make them more or less polite.
Daniel Everett was a Christian American on a missionary trip to a small tribe deep in the Amazon jungle, and he found out after staying awhile with the Pirahã tribe that they did not need his teachings or lessons. Even though they lived a very primitive life, where people still died of malaria, they were deliriously happy. He found out after years of being there, where he actually abandoned his faith and mission, that people of Pirahã lived in the here and now all the time. They never spoke about the past or the future; they only spoke about the present. Their language has 3 vowels and 8 consonants, they have no words for color, no comparatives, and no numbers. Their sentences are short and straight to the point. Everett believes that language played a huge part in making the Pirahã people happy.
So different situations would call for you to use a different tool from your arsenal, and think of language as one of those tools that could help you too. The more languages you know, the better decisions you will be able to make.