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BilingualsAccording to new research, speakers of two languages usually put a different emphasis on actions and consequences. This influences what they think about the world. In addition to this, bilinguals whose thinking processes are supposed to be more flexible seem to benefit from the best of two worldviews.

Thinking and Native Language

An increasing number of studies have revealed that people who speak certain languages emphasise specific features about the world. Russian speakers it seems are quicker to distinguish different shades of the colour blue than are English speakers. While Japanese speakers have the tendency to put an object in a certain group by material and not shape and Koreans concentrate on how objects match together tightly.

The researcher Athanasopoulos studied how German and English speakers treat different events. It seems that German speakers specify the beginning, middle, and end of an event, while English speakers are more often likely to omit out the endpoint and place more emphasis on any action.

Athanasopoulos and fellow researchers approached 15 native speakers, asking them to watch a variety of video clips showing individuals biking, walking, driving or running. In each of the set of 3 videos, the researchers asked the interviewees to decide on whether a scene showing a goal that was ambiguous such as a woman walking along a road in the direction of a parked car seemed to be more similar to a more clearly goal-oriented action, such as a woman walking into a building or an event without a goal, like a woman walking along a quiet country lane.

The responses indicated that the German language speakers ended up matching the ambiguous scenes with the goal-oriented scenes around 40 percent on average, compared to 25 percent among English native speakers. This obvious difference could indicate that the German speakers have a higher likelihood of focusing on the possible outcomes of a person’s actions, while English speakers look more closely at the actual action. There was no need to undertake an English German translation to arrive at these results.

Bilingual speakers acted less predictably, as they appeared to switch between the different perspectives depending on which language was the most active in their minds at the time. The researchers discovered that fifteen Germans who could speak fluently in English were as goal-targeted as other native speakers when they undertook tests in German while in their native country.

However, fifteen German-English speaking bilinguals who were tested in the English language in the U.K. were as action-focused as any native English speaker. This difference could be seen as a cultural effect, but a 2nd experiment revealed that many bilinguals can switch perspectives at the same speed that they can switch to their second language. German translations aren’t necessary to confirm the results.