Who would’ve thought that learning a second language could help in making better business decisions? According to Boaz Keysar and his team of scientists at the University of Chicago, new research shows that bilingualism, literally, pays off. Through a series of experiments, Keysar’s team conducted a cross-cultural comparison, recreating six experiments on three continents in five different languages (English, Korean, French, Spanish and Japanese). In each experiment, test subjects were asked to choose between two options. The options measured the degree to which a person was risk-averse to loss. In one test, subjects demonstrated they were risk averse to loss (makes sense…who wants to lose?) and in the other test, they showed they were, surprisingly, risk averse to gain. Interestingly, people were risk averse to gain when they were presented with scenarios presented in their first language, and risk averse to loss when the same scenarios were given in their second language. Intuitively, we’d expect the exact opposite. Why the flip-flop? According to Boaz and his team, speaking in a second language requires more emotional distance than speaking in a native tongue. Test subjects were able to think bias-free.
As if this isn’t enough, there are additional perks to bilingualism; one of them being that bilingualism confers protection against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Institute of Health, bilingual patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 4.3 years later and report the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than monolingual patients. On the other side of the age spectrum, bilingualism also seems to help young children master higher levels of self-control and better understand abstract rules than their monolingual peers.
Greater chances for financial gain, delayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and kids with greater self-control…a veritable Three-For-One. Not bad!
For those who’d like to learn another language, and who happen to work in a multinational organization, I’d like to suggest a good starting place. Begin by learning to say “thank you” in each language spoken in your workplace. The benefits far outweigh the time commitment needed to do so. There’s simply nothing like hearing someone say “thank you” in your own language. It helps create a personal relationship that facilitates more open communication. (For a complete list of how to say ‘thank you’ in foreign languages, see: www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/thankyou.htm.) Mastering this simple phrase demonstrates you’ve made the effort to learn something about your colleague/client. It shows you’re taking responsibility for part of the communication process. A priceless message.