Cognitive abilities abroad

Updated Sep 29, 2022

In the first years since I moved to the US, I started feeling a cognitive decline while solving logical tasks, especially in collaboration with others. I imagine every immigrant faces similar issues, so I wanted to analyze this a bit.

The obvious factors were the increased brain workload due to the unusually large use of a foreign language and my English level. I gradually began to think in two languages, sometimes languages were changing in turn, and at other times both were used simultaneously while building a single thought. It was quite challenging at times.

The brain was saving on resources: I was using simplified alternatives to native words and phrases during the thought process, which subsequently led either to a longer logical conclusion or even began to lead on a false conclusion trail. The fact that language influences how meaning is constructed make the experience even worse.

Language also influences what can be expressed, and some linguists even state that social reality as experienced is unique to one’s language; those who speak different languages would perceive the world differently.

Eur J Ageing. 2010

What's interesting is that listeners of non-native speakers also have to adjust "by increasing their reliance on top-down processes", hence, they extract less information. Some listeners are more "trained" to listen and process your speech than others. This sometimes plays a significant role while collaborating.

Those with relatively high working memory also increase their reliance on context to anticipate the speaker's upcoming reference and are less likely to notice lexical errors in non-native speech, indicating that they take less information from the speaker's language.

Frontiers in Psychology. 2015