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How bilingualism can help you think clearly

Using a language you've learned in your education system will stem the tide of your anxiety.

We all get overwhelmed from time to time: New York CBGB favourites Living Colour sang of an Information Overload a few years before the evergreen Duran Duran were complaining of Too Much Information on the other side of the pond in the early 90s, and we’ve had over 20 years of information to process since then so it’s little wonder that our internal hard drives are finding it hard to cope!

In Wales – which at the time of writing, is still part of the post-Brexit United Kingdom – language campaigners such as Cymdeithas yr Iaith want every child in Wales to have the opportunity to learn the official language of Wales, which is actually Welsh (English only has a de facto status here).

Organisations such as Parents for Welsh Medium Education are becoming beacons of hope for Welsh and English parents who want their children to be bilingual; and not just for the rich cultural heritage that entails but also because of the advantages of bilingualism.

So what are the advantages of bilingualism?

  • ability to understand concepts in two different languages
  • increased brain power to fuel multi-tasking
  • able to change internal language on demand

It is the third component of the above that I’d like to concentrate on the most, as it answers the question of how bilingualism can help you think clearly. Learning any language that isn’t the mother tongue means there is less vocabulary, and therefore less confusing concepts to get muddled-up in; so therefore it follows that clear thinking that gets around anxiety can be found with a learned language, like Welsh for many ‘dysgwyr‘ (learners). At the moment, in anticipation of a sojourn to France later in the year, I’m brushing up on my French, and only the other day, my reaction to a bout of worrying thoughts was quite simple C’est la vie!

OK, technically speaking, as I’m bilingual Welsh: English, French is a third language, but what’s important to remember is: sometimes it’s easier to think clearly in your weakest language. It’s well known that taking on new information that you’ve chosen is actually a great coping mechanism, and it’s no coincidence that top tennis stars cope with the rigors of the pro circuit by learning the local lingo…so keep on learning!

And even if you’ve not got time to learn a new language now, try this neat trick from the German of philosopher Immanuel Kant: a key element of philosophy is remembering that how you feel about the world doesn’t change the state of the world itself. So next time you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, ask yourself this:

Was sollte ich machen? : What is it I should do?

Because sometimes, that’s all you can do and indeed all you have to do…as they say in Wales, hwyl!

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