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Normal Topic Chess and language learning ability? (Read 116 times)
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Chess and language learning ability?
11/29/17 at 03:01:23
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Hi Everyone,

I am not sure if any concrete research has been done on this, but I was wondering if you think that in terms of cognitive ability, chess ability and language learning are related skills. I do not mean to say that strong chess players are necessarily polyglots, but rather, postulate that the two abilities -- learning chess and learning languages -- use similar parts of the brain, and that if someone is good at one, they tend to be good at the other.

Based on what? Well, first of all, it seems like most top level chess players speak English very well, and some are polyglots, such as Anand (I am sure there are others too). Though one could argue that this is more out of necessity because playing internationally requires one to speak English, and perhaps, other languages.

Secondly, chess and language learning seem to share a lot of the same skills. Memory is an obvious one -- in chess, not only remembering deep opening knowledge, but also thousands of patterns and tactical motifs, which allow top players to play blitz and bullet at such a high level. In language learning, memory is important not only for vocabulary, but also for remembering grammar structures (which are patterns) and the various ways they can/cannot be combined according to the rules of the grammar.

Logical thinking seems to be another important skill, as does attention to detail. Often what separates good chess players from moderate ones is their attention to, and understanding of, the subtleties of a position, and how a small move can completely change the characteristics and evaluation of the position. Likewise, good language learners are attentive to the small differences in two or more related grammar structures, and understand how to manipulate them to make subtle changes in meaning.

Speaking anecdotally, I did not start learning Spanish until I was 23, and was raised monolingual English. Despite that, however, learning Spanish, and Portuguese soon after, were never difficult, and now I am fluent in both (not native level, but quite good). This might be due to the fact that I spent some time working and living in South America, but then again, I met some foreigners who had lived there for years, and their Spanish was clearly worse than mine. I also speak Japanese at an intermediate level (could improve it if I really made an effort), and can also read a lot of French, though I have not really had much of an opportunity to speak it.

Chess is not easy for me the way it appears to be for some top level players, but it was never overly difficult either. I am around expert level now, and while I still feel quite weak, I manage to stand out fairly well when compared to the average club player. It did not take so long for me to get to this level either, though I have been stuck here for a long time it seems. However, I think we could all name some players at our local clubs who have played for many years, read books, etc., yet never seem to be able to surpass class B level. Thus, making it to expert level is a relatively good accomplishment in the grand scheme of things.

Furthermore, here in Japan, where I currently live, the best English seems to be found at the local chess club, rather than among the English teachers whom I work with (native Japanese speakers), though perhaps that is due to generational differences more than anything else.

Do you think there is a connection, be it innate or environmental, between chess ability and language learning ability? What about other abilities and chess, such as music or math? Taimanov was both a grandmaster and professional pianist, if I recall, and speaking personally, music is another thing that I seem to have a knack for...


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