IQ and language ability

IQ and language ability are positively correlated. Polyglots have higher IQs[/caption]

A recent Scottish study has confirmed what many people have long speculated about: IQ and language ability are related. What’s more, the study found that participants that knew a second language performed better in IQ tests.

The lQ and language ability relationship is interesting is it begs the question: can IQ be boosted by learning another language? Or are people with higher IQs more likely to pick up another language?

The relationship between IQ and language ability is increasingly clear, but as many other statistical relationships, causality may be difficult to determine.

On thing is for sure, I have previously written about how to boost IQ and “learning a new language” was one of the items on this list. The fact is, learning anything new will stimulate the production of grey matter in the brain, and some have argued that grey matter is positively related to IQ and general intelligence. And it would appear that the latest study may in fact lend support to this theory.

But why not learn something more simple to boost IQ? That may well be the key to the mystery. Learning a new language is one of the more complex mental tasks that one can undertake. The process of learning a language is involves many mental processes and aspects of general intelligence.

Recall that the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory of intelligence is one of the most widely supported by the scientific community. The CHC supports nine broad stratum of abilities (components of general intelligence) including:

  • Crystallized Intelligence (Gc): effectively related to a body of knowledge based on formal learnings
  • Fluid intelligence (Gf): a measure of the brain’s ability to solve novel problems
  • Reading and Writing ability (Grw)
  • Short term memory (Gsm): including working memory, or the ability to store and manipulate data in a ‘mental chalk board’
  • Long Term Storage and Retrieval (Glr): which is the ability to store information and fluently retrieve it at a later stage
  • Visual Processing (Gv): the ability to perceive, retain  and manipulate visual information
  • Processing Speed (Gs): the ability to perform automatic cognitive tasks under pressure
  • Auditory Processing (Ga): the ability to discern speech sounds and patterns
  • Quantitative reasoning (Gq): relative to mathematical ability and strongly correlated to Gf

From the above, it should become clear as to why IQ and language ability are related, or at the very least, that learning a new language will engage nearly all the key stratum of general intelligence in CHC theory.

Taking them one by one: (1) learning a language will engage the left hemisphere of the brain in sequential processing, which is used with any Gc related process. (2) fluid intelligence may help language learners to ‘get it’ faster by establishing patterns and rules in the new language or guessing what new expressions mean in the context of a sentence; (3) reading and writing ability is directly impacted; (4) short term memory may be heavily impacted initially as new words are assimilated. The vocabulary is likely to be stored in short term memory before eventually being transferred to long term memory; (5) Long term storage and retrieval is essential for achieving and retaining fluency in the new language; (6) visual processing may be helpful, particularly if the language involves new characters; (7) processing speed may be impacted when shifting from the ‘translation phase’ to the  automatic ‘fluency stage’ and (8) auditory processing is of course key to reproducing and discerning words and sounds, including things like regional accents. The only stratum of intelligence that would not be heavily engaged would be quantitative reasoning.

IQ and language ability: correlation or causation?

The answer is likely to be “a bit of both”. Learning a new language will stimulate the broad stratum of your intelligence and help produce grey matter. This may in fact help develop your intelligence which has been shown to be mutable during one’s lifetime.

So go ahead, and learn that new language that you have always dreamed of learning.

Meanwhile, to test your IQ, click here (provided by