Do foreign language skills really help people to be smart?

Whenever we visit the local library, David, my younger son always loves to do the check-out using the auto-check-out machine. Since he is a toddler and not tall enough to reach the scan platform, he has to step on his toes and try hard, if his brother helps him, David will scream, he wants to do himself. About a year ago, seeing him using the laser scan staff, the librarian paid attention to us, and she asked me if he can speak Chinese.

“Yes, but only a little bit.” I replied.

“Teach him whenever possible.”

She told me not to worry about some experts’ view: Learning two languages at a very young age is confusing,

The younger the better,” she said. “Foreign languages make kids smart… my son can speak four or five languages.”

His son must be super smart, I guessed.

Back home, I searched the internet and found some chess prodigies that might have foreign language skills:

  • Ray Robson, GM, won 2009 US Junior Championship at fourteen. His mother is a Chinese American, I assume he can speak Chinese.
  • Alex Lenderman, GM, won the U16 division of the 2005 World Youth Chess Championship, 5th place in the recent World Junior Championship (with a very strong field). He is a Russian American. I assume he can speak Russian.
  • Hikaru Nakamura, GM, won 2005 US Championship at seventeen and then won US Championship a second time in 2009. He had a Japanese father and then a Sri Lankan stepfather. I assume he can speak one foreign language.

Do foreign language skills really help people to be smart? And they have a very positive effect on chess players too? What do you think?

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2 Comments to “Do foreign language skills really help people to be smart?”

  1. By someone, January 29, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

    who knows… but I can tell you for sure that Fabiano Caruana, American with both parent Italians, GM in his teens, 2600+ Elo FIDE, recently moved from the US to Europe and playing for Italy… well, you would assume he speaks at least English (his first language being born and growing in US) and Italian, well I can tell first hand he cant speak much Italian at all.
    So your assumptions about language skills from family might not be actually true…

  2. By TheChessDad, January 29, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    Thank for your note. My assumptions based on parents alone may not be valid, that is why I said “might”.

    On the other hand, I think foreign language skills will help people to be smart, but smart people does not necessarily have foreign language skills.

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