March 10, 2014, by michaelgroves
Can studying in a second language be an advantage?
The most recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast was about language learning, and featured an interview with Chicago psychology Professor, Boaz Keysar. He recently published a paper with some surprising results.
Keysar and his team tested students for decision making bias, in the students’ first and second language, and found that when students are using their second language, they make more rational decisions. They speculate that this is because the cognitive load of using a second language “provides greater cognitive and emotional distance”.
This is only one study, and it would not be wise to read too much into it. However, if this effect is real, it would suggest that using a second language for study provides more than just challenge. There could well be upsides to studying in a language that is not your first.
Related to this was a recent story in the Independent, that speakers of English as an Additional Language in the UK outperformed those with English as a first language in some exams. Again, it would not be sensible to draw any conclusions from this- there are far more factors at play than just the students’ first language.
However, it does raise the question- does studying in a second language have pros, as well as cons? Beyond the obvious advantage of being highly functional in two languages, is there something about doing in a degree in a second language that can actually help with the process of study?