Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cognitive Impact of Reading in Multiple Languages

Technically, my first language or mother-tongue is French.  Given that I have lived and worked in an English-speaking world for the last 25 years or so, my primary language is English.

I recently came across a Ph.D. thesis on a topic of interest (knowledge management and mapping) in French.  Given that I stopped using French after high-school, my exposure to professional level readings in French has been limited and I haven't read much about knowledge management in French. When I have come across French blogs and websites related to knowledge management, I've mostly been interested in the terminology and finding equivalent French words for the English language KM jargon I was familiar with.

Reading a Ph.D. thesis isn't the same as reading a blog. In addition to the terminology, which I wasn't familiar with, french sentence construction and the rules of argumentation (how you construct your argument and articulate your thoughts) are different in French. [I learned that quickly in my first year of college in the US when I had to switch to English and to another way of thinking and writing.] 

I have a lot of informal theories about bilingualism and the relationship between language and thinking modes, most of which I won't get into here.  Two things happen when I read in French:  1) I slow down because it relies on a part of my brain that's buried deep, a little rusty because it's not called upon regularly; 2) I awaken not just the language / translation part of the brain that reminds me that "gestion des connaissances" = "knowledge management", but also a different cognitive framework.  Reading in French essentially demands much more effort, much more thinking about what I am reading. 

When I am reading an English language book or academic article about KM, I tend to scan for anything interesting and new because I make a lot of assumptions about what the authors mean based on what I already know or have read.  Reading the same book or academic article in French forces me to pay closer attention to the meaning.

Related Resources:

  • Catherine Kelly SELLIN, "Des organisations centrées processus aux organisations centrées connaissance : la cartographie de connaissances comme levier de transformation des organisations. Le cas de la démarche de « Transfert de Savoir-Faire » chez Total", mai 2011. LINK.[This is the Thesis I've been reading in French]

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