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Language influences thinking – Sprache beeinflusst Denken

nonfuturistic languagesWhile I was teaching Advanced German language courses at universities in Nagoya, Japan, I observed that it was difficult for students to understand how to explain the sequence of events in a story in German. Through in debt discussions and questioning how the same information would be composed into sentences in their mother tongue Japanese I discovered that it was not possible to convey the exact same information as in the German sentences.

The difference was that in German sentences it is explicit what happen first, simultaneously and after and how a decision was made or a conclusion about a situation was inferred. In Japanese this was not so clear.

The consequence of this for my teaching was that I made it a point to explain this in debt to students for them to understand:
1. that there are different concepts of thinking delivered with a language and
2. that they need to allow different thinking processes to happen in their mind for mastering this particular language.

This led me to think about how I could visualize this language border even for beginners in learning German language. A first attempt was the creation of a simple small app-like presentation that decoded this language borderline.
Example Language border German Japanese

Interestingly Keith Chen, Associate Professor of Economics at Yale School of Management, is also researching impacts of language on behavior. He hypothesizes that languages that grammatically associate the future and the present, foster future-oriented behavior.

Why I am so interested in this?

Different understanding about how decisions are made and how a person really understands his or her commitment to deliver what he or she is assigned to contribute in a team project ultimately has great impact on group performance.

This is what I observe in my Creativity Engineering class at the Technical University: team members come from different language back grounds. They use English as a common language. Most of the team problems relate to team members not delivering what they signed up for in time or at all, causing a decrease in group performance. Some groups even fall apart and do not finish the course, in some cases caused by one group member.



TED Talk: Could your language affect your ability to save money? published on 19.2.2012

TEDxYale: The Impact of Language on Economic Behavior published on 6.4.2012


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