Can learning foreign languages benefit Aspies?

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Jayo
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16 Jun 2022, 7:55 pm

So I got to thinking about whether the learning of foreign languages, especially during one's early formative years, can have beneficial effects for folks on the spectrum...I mean, it sort of makes sense, in terms of promoting greater cerebral flexibility, "shifting gears" and multitasking (if you have someone to practice verbally with), and other latent benefits I suppose...

When I was in a bookstore in my city last year, I was perusing the psych and self-help section, and I came across this book that actually cited research on how a few people with ASD became more "NT passable" by virtue of learning a couple of foreign languages. Regrettably, I forgot to note down the book name and page number in my smartphone notes!! 8O

Speaking of my own experience, back during my early years I learned French and German - then later I learned Portuguese and Spanish, and I even learned a bit of Japanese. I actually enjoyed those studies and practice with those languages, and it helped that I was dating a couple of women who spoke one of those as their 1st language. :) So maybe it had some beneficial effect, but this is hard to measure, since the DSM clearly states "qualitative impairments" in its definitions of autism (and formerly Asperger's).

SO: I just searched online for relevant articles to this effect, and found this one...which pretty much confirmed my thoughts on the matter... yes, it can stimulate more flexible thinking and better speech processing speed especially if you've got a native speaker to practice with; but one also needs to remember that language is often rote memorization with black-and-white conjugation rules, and one has to be detail-oriented at times... it's hardly about focusing on "the big picture", like when NTs seamlessly pull together relevant cues in interactions (mostly nonverbal) to arrive at a suitable response. Obviously, learning foreign languages won't help you that much with that part (unless there's some indirect beneficial effect), or with grasping unwritten rules. To us, "NT nonverbal" is a foreign language unto itself (!), but having said all this, the article does stress the point that it helps ASD/HFA folks filter out irrelevant auditory stimuli, and improves their focus.
https://www.learningforjustice.org/maga ... ith-autism



1986
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16 Jun 2022, 8:30 pm

Languages have never been my forte. French class was not for me, and I picked up English only because I frequented online forums as a way to escape my bland and socially unsuccessful teenage years. Furthermore, I only know Japanese because nobody in my office speaks English, so ... :?

Not that there can't be a connection though. Maybe I'm an exception. I'm sure those whose style of thinking is mostly verbal can benefit from learning foreign languages, as it introduces you to new modes of thinking and ways to relate (at least semantically) to the world. I primarily trust my gut feeling to get by in life, though, so learning languages has always just been a means to an end to me.



Firlefanz
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17 Jun 2022, 1:28 am

I love languages. I'm bilingual German/English (probably because English is one of my obsessions).

To me, each language opens a window to a new way of thinking. It's so much fun looking at different thought processes behind the words and the expressions. It's just fascinating to me.

I did take English, Latin and Ancient Greek in school, then I learned Spanish, took some Italian and finally used Duolingo to learn some Dutch (because I have Dutch friends). Each new language feeds on the roots of those I learned before, so it becomes easier.

Does being Aspie make learning a language different? I know I can use hyperfocus to soak up a language and obsess about it for a while. I also believe that learning the kind of flexible thinking that is required if you want to shift between languages does help a lot in being flexible with NT conversations.


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Edna3362
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17 Jun 2022, 7:06 am

I dunno...
My country is usually bilingual-trilingual.
I wouldn't know. :P

And I'm worse with my native language than with English. With the former being used on a regular basis.


But yeah...
I would've want to find a language that just suits my expression of thought more, or at least be less limiting with expressions than currently with my native and English.


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blazingstar
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17 Jun 2022, 7:18 am

Learning different languages as an adult has helped clarify for me some of the "rules" of NT interactions because different languages are so culturally based. I learned so much was not about me, but about NTs.

Each time I travel, if I do not know the language, I study it hard ahead of time so that I can at least say simple things like please, thank you, where is the..., I am lost, etc. What I have found is that most people, if I attempt to speak their language, are appreciative and helpful. Whatever quirks I have from autism are seen by them by just being unfamiliar with the language and culture and are more easily dismissed. So in general, I get along better in foreign countries than I do in my own.

Studying the language is more difficult for me. When I have energy, I like it because it forces my mind to move in a different direction. Although I can function in several languages, I never seem to be able to get really fluent, with the receptive skills lagging far behind expressive skills and reading. I wonder if this is more due to my autitory processing disorder, in that it takes more time for my brain to assemble the sounds into meaning.


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kraftiekortie
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17 Jun 2022, 8:22 am

For some reason, I'm very poor at learning other languages. Not really reading them, but speaking them. And understanding them when they are rendered in their own rhythms.

Maybe there's a reason why I couldn't speak English until age 5?



hmk66
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25 Jun 2022, 12:56 am

I love learning languages. I speak Dutch, English, Esperanto and German fluently. Writing German is sometimes hard for me, although German looks more like Dutch, than English and Esperanto do.

I was non-verbal until I was 5 years old. At 8 years I learned some German words. At 11 years I found Russian a real challenge to learn. Its Cyrillic alphabet was intriguing and challenging to me, but that was the easiest part. The Russian grammar is really very hard. I am 55 years old and I still find it hard, although I am very intelligent. I learned Japanese, because its kanji a real challenge. Kanji are hard to write (with paper and pen) but when when I use a computer or smartphone (on which I have a Japanese keyboard).

Becides Esperanto I also learned a few other artificial languages: Ido and Interlingua. I sometimes try to create an artificial language myself.



blazingstar
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25 Jun 2022, 4:27 am

hmk66 wrote:
I love learning languages.

I was non-verbal until I was 5 years old. At 8 years I learned some German words. At 11 years I found Russian a real challenge to learn. Its Cyrillic alphabet was intriguing and challenging to me, but that was the easiest part. The Russian grammar is really very hard. I am 55 years old and I still find it hard, although I am very intelligent…


I studied Russian in college and like you never did figure out the grammar. I could know the meanings of every word in a short sentence, but clueless as to the correct translation. The alphabet and phonics were pretty easy.


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arachnids
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25 Jun 2022, 10:27 am

I'm learning Russian, but also have adhd, so you can imagine how it's going :D

I often struggle to form coherent sentences in English if I'm speaking it as I get muddled up and stressed. I love Russian though, so I'm trying hard. I'll never have to speak it in front of people, so I'm not concerned about that aspect of things.


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Twilightprincess
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25 Jun 2022, 12:24 pm

Learning languages is one of my special interests. I greatly enjoy it, but I don’t think that it especially benefits me as far as my autism is concerned.

Of course, I don’t really learn languages to communicate with others. I’m mostly interested in reading literature in its original language although I enjoy podcasts and movies, too.


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ASPartOfMe
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26 Jun 2022, 4:08 am

NT or Autistic people who are multilingual have advantages over those of us that speak one language. If we travel to another country or just different neighborhoods in our country we can understand what is going on. This is a skill that is in high demand by employers.


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Kasab740
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26 Jun 2022, 7:23 pm

Its not just learning other languages, but learning other cultures too. And the idea of "being given a pass" by other cultures who see our ASD condition, and are maybe a little more patient with us than they'd be with a neurotypical.

What fascinated me was that primary school, and college classes, never really prepare you for that real-life experience speaking to someone who doesn't know your native language. You can study and take exams and do great in a foreign language class, because you have time to think about your answer.

My two trips from the US to Buenos Aires and one to Santiago de Chile, were humbling. Compared to - a US person going to Europe, who is greeted by people who generally know English. When I was in Austria, I could try to speak German, but they'd grin and just revert to speaking to me in English.

But in most of South America, that's not the case. They know only their own language. That immediate dialogue where we speak to one another with a one-second response, forces us to think differently.

In a real life situation, we can't wait seconds for someone to answer us, and likewise, 'foreigners' expect a response immediately, too. Being Asp, further delays our response, but we stay true to intense interest in the foreign culture we've put ourselves into.

Then there's the dialect matter. Just because you think you know a foreign language, you may be visiting an area where they speak slightly differently. I know "Castellano" Spanish from Argentina, but that sounds odd in Chile. A European visiting the US may speak like New England (ie Boston), but if going to the southern US, is even more distant in being understood.



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28 Jun 2022, 4:58 pm

For some strange reason, I've been using other sources to help me improve my understanding of Spanish.

Also, I've had a strong interest in learning ASL as a possible means to go alongside speaking Spanish.


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