What Critical Thinking Is?
To understand the impact of language on critical thinking, it is essential to determine what the concept of critical thinking is. Critical thinking is the art of thinking about thinking while thinking to make thinking better. It involves three interwoven phases: It analyzes thinking; it evaluates thinking; it improves thinking. As critical thinkers, we analyze thinking in order to evaluate it. We evaluate it in order to improve it (Elder & Paul, 2020).
To develop critical thinking, one should consider their thinking process as something separated to analyze and recast it if there is such a need. When the new information is received, our brain starts to process it. The evaluating process proceeds regarding our previous experiences, requests, and needs that are preserved in our minds. Critical thinking consists of internal thinking. In other words, we examine the reasons and the methods that affect decisions that we make.
How Does Critical Thinking work?
When a person thinks critically, they penetrate the core of the issue to investigate it reasonably. Logic and observation are key factors in critical thinking. An individual thinks critically when they conclude, evaluate what is happening, and make informed decisions. In other words, critical thinking is the systematic monitoring of thought with the end of improvement. When a person thinks critically, he or she realize that thinking must not be accepted at face value but must be analyzed and assessed for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logic (Elder & Paul, 2020). Critical thinking allows one to look for alternatives and gather enough evidence and reasons to judge and analyze the situation.
The brain receives new information and evaluates, whether this information is useful or not, along with where it can be applied. Critical thinking also helps to use language more effectively and with accuracy. It allows choosing the right words regarding social situations when they are used.
How Language Influences Critical Thinking
Since language is one of the main means of expressing our thoughts it might be very important to choose words carefully. Words often include different meanings, which depend on the context and the situation in which they are used. For instance, the word bank may refer either to a financial institution or to the edge of a river (Kadlub, 2017). To avoid misunderstandings, the individual should carefully analyze, evaluate, and select words depending on the idea he is longing to convey. It is frequent that a sentence on its own can be vague, but it can become disambiguated within a certain frame of reference (Kadlub, 2017). In addition, the meaning of the word can be determined not only by the word itself but also by the recipient of the information.
The Impact of Language on Decision Making
Since people make decisions regarding the information they receive, language can also influence people’s decisions and choices. Therefore, it is important to take into account what language the information is received in since this factor can also influence decision-making. Perhaps the greatest challenge would be the exploration of the foreign-language effect in the context of real-life decisions. For example, it is possible that language could be used as a nudge to promote better choices, such as what to eat or how to evaluate the options for clinical treatment (Costa et al., 2017). Analyzing and estimating information in a foreign language always requires a deliberate and careful approach to make a decision. Meanwhile, when an individual receives information in the native language, the answer might be more obvious and require less consideration.
The Foreign Language Effect
According to Costa et al. (2017), the language in which information is presented affects people’s treatment of losses, gains, and risk. The first researchers that gave account of the foreign language effect were Keysar, Hayakawa, and Guy (2012). They studied their participants’ reactions to framing by means of the “Asian disease problem” and found that respondents were less influenced by framing when a decision task was presented in a foreign compared to their native language.
When decisions were made in the native language, participants had a tendency to behave in a risk averse way in gain situations whilst they were more willing to take risks in loss situations. In a foreign language, this classic reaction pattern disappeared (Langensee & Mårtensson, 2019). It follows that the foreign language effect plays an important role in decision-making.
Factors Involved in Decision-Making
On the other hand, emotions are an important factor in decision-making. They can influence the interaction of intuition and rational thought processes. For instance, messages processed in a foreign language usually elicit a milder emotional response compared to those processed in a native language. Interestingly, people often use their emotional reaction to a given problem to guide their decision instead of engaging in more deliberative reasoning (Costa et al., 2017).
People often prone to make their decisions and form their opinions concerning certain situations according to their personal preferences. The use of a foreign language reduces the activity of emotions when making decisions or assessing a situation. In this case, people are more inclined to draw rational conclusions and make deliberate decisions. Thereby, the influence of affective states and impressionability is shortened.
Language and Culture’s Impact on Critical Thinking
It raises the question of whether the language spoken by the individual affects the thought process. Does this mean that differences between different languages mean differences in the thought processes of their speakers? Any language is a reflection of the culture of the people within which it exists. Capellini and Germano (2018) state that human cultures provide the framework in which languages develop, and influences how they are used and interpreted. In some groups more than others, gestures, glances, changes along with other devices widely used to emphasize what is communicated. Culture can foster biases that can get in the way of critical thinking. Thus, language and culture still influence cognition.
The main idea is that language and culture’s correlation is so considerable that all biases and prejudices that are formed by culture are extended on language, as well. People’s innate longing to belong to certain culture or nation is ensured through language. Some researchers explain that such biased “grouping” becomes so ubiquitous that the stereotypes attached to them are integrated into unconscious layers of our cognition. If it is unconscious, then those biases and stereotypes will be applied broadly without the use of more analytical thinking (Capellini & Germano 2018). A set of assumptions and stereotypes might prevent an individual to perceive his surrounding objectively.
Therefore, Capellini and Germano (2018) claim that it requires a certain degree of ones’ awareness of one’s biases to start applying the critical thinking process to those biases and remove them from our cognitive procedures.
The Impact of Language on Critical Thinking
The structure of the language and its characteristics also affect the ability of the individual to think critically. Accordingly, the number of languages spoken by a person also determines his skills. Thus, the specificities of language are fundamental to many aspects of communication, and multilinguality adds another layer of complexity to the problem (Capellini & Germano 2018). An individual’s use of several languages at once involves different levels of assessment, information analysis, mindfulness, and memory. Scientists conduct various experiments to make sure that the language might be indeed an essential factor in the development of the above-mentioned skills.
Capellini and Germano (2018) argue that multilingual individuals have been found to present clear cognitive advantages and to be more easily flexible in their thinking. A large meta-analysis looking at over 6,000 bilingual individuals showed superior abilities for example in attention, memory, metalinguistic awareness, and understanding of symbolism.
The Key Factors of developing Critical Thinking
Language is used to form concepts and categories, which are born by culture, and influenced by their specific rules and choices in language usage. For example, in Japanese culture, critical thinking is inhibited due to several cultural demands, which do not encourage diversity of opinions as most of their education processes are based on rote memorization (Capellini & Germano 2018).
However, it is scarcely right to argue that the influence of language and culture play a key role in the development of an individual’s critical thinking. Language is a social phenomenon, the main task of which is to ensure communication between people. It develops within a particular culture and traditions that influence the cognition of notions, but it is hardly a key factor in the development of critical thinking. Its development is influenced by such skills as logic, observation, analysis, and rational assessment, but not language as such.
Capellini, S. A., & Germano, G. D. (Eds.). (2018). Fluency and Reading Comprehension in Typical Readers and Dyslexics Readers. Frontiers Media SA.
Costa, A., Vives, M. L., & Corey, J. D. (2017). On language processing shaping decision making. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(2), 146-151. Web.
Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2020). Critical thinking: Learn the tools the best thinkers use. Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Kadlub, M. (2017). Sources of ambiguity in language. Web.