Thinking laterally. Photo by Rose-Zhang.Lateral thinking is a term created by Author Edward de Bono to describe a way of thinking that promotes creativity.

Lateral thinking consists of solving a problem by using and generating as many solutions as possible instead of just the first obvious solution. By creating many alternative solutions, or possibilities, one is more likely to create innovative and creative ideas because he is less constrained by the “habitual patterns of the mind” which usually tend to reinforce themselves.

In other words, people’s creativity is limited by the tendency to stop looking for ideas and possibilities once they have found the first solution for the problem, which is usually the easiest and most familiar solution for it.

How can we apply lateral thinking to learn languages?

One of the methods the De Bono use to think laterally is to decide to look for a specific quota of solutions for a problem independently if a solution is found or not. For example, let’s say I decided to set a quota of ten solutions to the problem “how can I learn to speak Chinese?” Then ten solutions that then came to my mind in chronological order are

• Going to china
• Going to a language course
• Meeting Chinese migrants living in my area
• Making a language interchange with Chinese people living in my area
• Speaking with Chinese people on skype
• Looking Chinese movies, learn the script and re-act them
• Singing Chinese songs
• Working in a Chinese restaurant
• Reading Chinese books
• Doing a degree in China

As you see from this list above if I was looking for only one solution (vertical thinking) I would have stopped at the first or second solutions, going to the country of your target language or going to a language course which, indeed, are some of the most common solutions that people employ when trying to learn a language. Other unconventional ideas and solutions such as re-acting Chinese movies or working in a Chinese restaurant would have not come up.

To sum up, if you force yourself to look for more solutions to a problem rather then stopping your search when you find the first solution you are more likely to find creative and innovative ideas. If you want to learn a language try to think about all the different ways you could do it rather than just going to a language course and stopping to look for other solutions. You may find that are other ways to learn that may work better for you.

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