Language and Creativity

Can learning a new language boost your creativity?

What is creativity, after all?

If we are going to talk about the relation between learning a foreign language and creativity it is important to know that the concept of creativity is relatively new and subjective as a field of scientific interest. Even so, there are some tools that researches can use to measure one's creativity ability.

How do they do that?
The most well known test to quantify creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). This test is based on identify what people have the characteristic of "divergent thinking" in four key areas: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.

What is the "divergent thinking"?

Divergent thinking characterizes itself as the ability of providing as many solutions as you can to a certain problem. In the TTCT, for example, the researchers will often prompt the participants to list as many uses as they can think of for a brick under a minute.

So... What language has to do with it?

In order to find links between the two areas, researchers looked for a bilingual public to take the test.

In selecting participants, the researchers controlled for factors like socioeconomic status and IQ level so that the "participants had everything in common but the experience of learning a foreign language in language institutes." The results were decisive: the bilinguals outperformed the monolinguals in every one of the TTCT's four measures.

Reasearchers give us two possible reasons. One of the two is that bilingual people have at their disposal two different language systems, they must maintain constant vigilance in order to prevent one system from interfering with the other. Consequently, bilinguals have been shown to outperform monolinguals in tasks that require them to switch attention between tasks, ignore distractions, and hold newly acquired information in mind. The second is that as a consequence of their language studies, the bilinguals are necessarily exposed to "cultures, customs, and beliefs distinctive from their own," thus forcing them to see the world from a new perspective.
At a more basic level, learning a foreign language requires us to construct and negotiate the unique architecture in which it consists. Each new language we learn presents us with new barriers when trying to convey meaning. As your mind generates possibilities in order to negotiate these barriers, it engages in a potent form of divergent thinking -- the very divergent thinking that drives creativity

However, not every language course offers a creativity environment

Not all language-learning methods are created equally. The indicated methods to learn a foreign language and at the same time work on people creativity are the ones that have smaller class sizes and encourage a more collaborative atmosphere, one that is more conducive to divergent thinking.
Tests where you have to choose only one right alternative work with the idea of elimination, and this leads to the convergent thinking, which is the sort of thinking you engage in while trying to select the "correct" answer to a given problem from a number of possible choices via a logical, methodical process.
An academic thinker called Sir Ken Robertson says that most educational systems are obsessed with the notion of avoiding mistakes. "We're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make." The end result of this, he says, "is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities."