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How English And Chinese Languages Affect Thinking

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As globalization becomes more and more popular all over the world, more people are able to speak foreign languages. Nowadays, a lot of people are able to speak two languages. For instance, China has considered English as a necessary tool, no matter internationally or domestically, and children have been required to learn it as a second language. Also, people change as they learn a new language and stay in a new country. For example, Americans staying in China over 5 years prefer drinking hot water, washing delicate clothes by hands and wearing slippers at home. Therefore, both English and Chinese affect the way their people think. Even though there are some researches claiming that languages do not affect thinking, languages do play a role in the thinking of English-speakers and Chinses-speakers both in math abilities and ways of expression.

First, Chinese offers a better way to learn math than English does. There is an interesting saying that, in America, when it comes to a discussion during class time, native speakers are usually the most popular teammates for others. However, when students are going to take a math class, Chinese students become more popular because Chinese are said to be better at math than the U.S. . Here comes to a question: why do the Chinese do better in math than American people? The reason is that Chinese provides the kids with a better language to understand numbers. In the article “How the Language We Speak Affects the Way We Think (2017),” Antonio Benítez-Burraco provides the reason behind. According to the article, “Chinese-speaking children learn to count earlier than English-speaking children because Chinese numbers are more regular and transparent than English numbers (in Chinese, ‘eleven’ is ‘ten one’)”. He states that the Chinese perform better at math because they have a more “spatial” way of expressing numbers, which helps the children better understand accounting. With such expression, kids feel easier to learn the numbers and have a more transparent way of numbers, so the kids feel more comfortable to learn to account. As I am raised in China, for instance, when I first learn how to account, I have an abacus, which strictly follows our expression of numbers — there is a position for the decimal, a position for the hundred, etc. . Therefore, I can quickly do addition and subtraction, and handle the skills of accounting with ease.

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Secondly, English has a more specific and more intelligible way of expressing time than Chinese. It is obvious that different languages have their own ways of expressing their thinking, which reflects the cognitive agreement of the nation. Similarly, China and America have different expressions about time. Based on Lin Zhu’s report, “Language Shapes Thought: Rethinking on Linguistic Relativity (2015),” it is conceivable that the research about Mandarin-speakers and English-speakers shows that they have different methods of time and space, vertically and horizontally. Likewise, according to L.Boroditsky’s “Does language shape thought? English and Mandarin speakers’ conceptions of time (2001),” it is argued that English gives more exact expressions of time, like “behind, back, forward, before, and after ” for English, compared with only “Qian” and “Hou” for Chinese. Also, Boroditsky assumes from her research that even subjects are asked to switch to another language, they still think in the way of their native language. Therefore, she suggests that English-speakers and Chinese-speakers have different concepts of time due to their languages. For instance, in China, I tend to say that “Na Tian”, which can easily lead to misunderstanding because this expression could have different meanings. However, if I want to say the same words in English, I have to narrow down to “in” that day, “by” that day, “during” the day or “before” the day. Also, in Chinese, there is a specific word, “Hou Tian”, to represent “the day after tomorrow”. Therefore, English is more specific and intelligible.

Admittedly, there are some disputes about whether or not the research done by Boroditsky makes sense, they are later indicated to be wrong about their study. In Zhu’s report, “Language Shapes Thought: Rethinking on Linguistic Relativity,” she mentions that Boroditsky’s research was questioned by three scientists, J. Y. Chen, in “Do Chinese and English speakers think about time differently? Failure of replicating Boroditsky (2001),” and D. January & E. Kako, in “Re-evaluating evidence for the linguistic relativity hypothesis: Response to Boroditsky (2001)”. These three scientists believe that English-speakers do not have different concepts of time with Chinese people because they cannot replicate Boroditsky’s results. Thus, they assume that Boroditsky’s research has no scientific basis and does not make sense. However, Boroditsky, Fuhrman, and McCormick, in “Do English and Mandarin speakers think differently about time? (2011)”, went over all the work about how languages affect thinking. They found out that language did affect thinking and the reason why Chen and January&Kako failed to replicate the research result is their failure of choosing the sample. Therefore, Borodisky’s research done in 2001 still suggests that Chinese people think vertically while American people tend to think horizontally.

In conclusion, even though it is somewhat controversial, English and Chinese do have mutual help, not only in math abilities but also in conceptualizing time. Rather than learning a whole new language, English can learn from Chinese about how to express number to provide kids with a better way to learn to account, a more “spatial” and imaginary way. Also, rather than only “Qian” and “Hou”, Chinese probably can learn from English about how to describe time more specifically. Therefore, both English and Chinese can get improvement in the long run.

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How English And Chinese Languages Affect Thinking. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“How English And Chinese Languages Affect Thinking.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
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How English And Chinese Languages Affect Thinking [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 18 [cited 2023 Sept 30]. Available from:
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