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3 Surprising Ways Language Shapes The Way We See the World
The benefits of learning a foreign language are myriad. Many of these benefits are well documented. However, learning a foreign language may affect your life in ways you are not anticipating.
1
Changes in visual perception
What if language can literally change the way you see the world? A Cambridge University study suggests the way in which people distinguish colors can change depending on what language they speak. For example, Japanese has basic terms for light blue and dark blue, which may allow Japanese learners to perceive these colors differently.
2
What language we speak can affect our financial behavior
Does linguistics play a role in how much we spend and save? In his riveting Ted Talk, economist Keith Chen suggests that languages without a clear concept of the future tense – "It rain tomorrow", instead of "It will rain tomorrow", are strongly correlated with high saving rates. So if you learn to speak a 'futureless language" like many northern European and Asian languages, you may also see a rise in your financial savings.
3
Language may alter your concept of space and direction
English and many of the world's most prominent languages use egocentric coordinates to describe space and direction. In other words, we use our bodies to orient ourselves. To convey this, we use concepts like left and right and up and down. However, about a third of the world's languages employ absolute direction. These languages use north, south, east, west for all forms of orientation. This seemingly small difference can have enormous effects on the way we see the world.
Stanford researcher Lera Boroditsky conducted an experiment in which she asked people to close their eyes and point southeast. American professors pointed in every possible direction when 5 year old Australian aboriginal girls pointed in the correct direction without fail. Crazy, right?
Lera Boroditsky
Cognitive Scientist
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