In short, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, to understand logical connections between things and to decide what is important / factual, and what is not important or incorrect.
So how does critical thinking improve my English? Well, there are lots of different benefits in improving and developing critical thinking skills:
- it will help you better identify nuances in English vocabulary
- it will help you better understand information you read and hear
- you will have a strong ability to make arguments and points in assignments and presentations
- you will be able to more clearly communicate your message
Before we continue, let’s look at a few important points about critical thinking:
- Critical thinking is not the same as cynical thinking.
Critical thinking means you need to check the facts, to rationally decide what is true and what is not. It should start from a neutral point – initially, you neither nor disbelieve, agree or disagree – until you have researched a topic. Cynical thinking is based on the initial idea that everything is false and everyone is lying unless you can prove differently.
- Critical thinking is a key requirement in tertiary (university level) study for most courses
For many courses you may study in an English-speaking environment, you will need to be able to apply critical thinking skills. Someone training to be a nurse or doctor, for example, needs to be able to read a medical journal and identify whether the information is biased or misleading.
- Critical thinking skills may not be the same in all cultures or even across all age groups
You need to be able to apply critical thinking skills at a high level in order to make sure you are not mislead or accept faulty or false information, but this skills is considered increasingly less important in a school curriculum, so younger people are perhaps less aware of these skills than their parents’ generation. Added to that, some cultures value rote learning (simply learning by repetition and acceptance) rather than by considered thought and debate. In order to fully understand all situations you may find yourself in, improving your English for critical thinking is essential.
- Critical thinking skills help you identify the 3 categories of misleading information
Critical thinking skills can help with 3 common areas of misleading information: misinformation (unintentional mistakes), disinformation (lies which are spread deliberately to deceive people) and malinformation (information which may perhaps be correct but is intended to harm – gossip, for example).
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The ultimate goal of critically thinking is to solve problems or make decisions. To do this we need to be able to process information in a clear, logical, reasoned, and reflective way.
We must be open minded and consider the facts that relate to the subject at hand and try to be aware of any personal feelings that may affect our ability to think objectively. There are a number of barriers that we may need to overcome to achieve this, as we will consider now.
First of all, we need to be aware of the possible interference of any confirmation bias. Confirmation bias refers to a natural tendency to try to find, interpret, evaluate and remember information that supports the views and ideas we already have about something.
Our natural inclination is to ‘prefer’ information that suits our own views. In relation to politics, for example, we often choose to read information from news outlets that suit our own political persuasion and ignore other sources completely. If we do encounter information that opposes our point of view, we may typically, and sometimes unfairly, dismiss information about a political party that we don’t support because it shows them in a positive light that we do not want to view them in.
In a situation where a person who holds incorrect or even dangerous beliefs about something, confirmation bias can be a huge barrier to them changing their point of view. Studies have shown that even when someone is presented with factual information that is undoubtedly correct but opposes the views they hold, this confrontation of their belief system can cause them to become even more certain that their own views are correct, despite the evidence to the contrary.
The mental process which helps explain this reaction is called motivated reasoning (where our thought processes are not objective because they are interfered with by our emotions). Motivated reasoning may prevent us from understanding and interpreting evidence and make us less likely to be swayed by reasoned argument.
Another theory that is important to consider in relation to how we process information is cognitive dissonance. This theory again suggests that we are uncomfortable with challenging and opposing information which results in negative feelings. To try to resolve that discomfort, we may react in different ways. This may include ignoring the information we do not like completely or conversely; we may reach a place where we are able to change our beliefs or behaviour to remove the conflict in our minds.
It can be extremely difficult to try to alter the opinions of others, even when we know the point of view they have can be easily disproved by facts. In reality, if we push too hard we can even entrench them in their beliefs still further. It is often best to ask another person questions about what they believe rather than try to prove to them that they are wrong. This can help to create a situation where the person may start to re-evaluate information themselves rather than making them feel confronted and defensive.
We can, however, understand and work on ourselves and how objectively we are able to evaluate information. As we have seen, when we are considering information it is important to be aware of the role that our confirmation bias plays and how that might affect our thoughts and critical thinking skills. We need to try to consider whether our objectivity is interfered with by motivated reasoning. We need to self-check to make sure we are reacting appropriately to remove any cognitive dissonance.
To learn and to clarify our world view, we need to accept the fact that some long-held opinions we may have do not serve us well and may be based on incorrect interpretation of evidence.
1.To think critically we must be aware of how our personal opinions can impact on how we understand information.CorrectIncorrect
2. Confirmation bias causes us to seek out information that challenges our existing opinions.CorrectIncorrect
3. Presenting factual information is the most effective way to remove the barrier of confirmation bias.CorrectIncorrect
4. The way our emotions impact on the information we process is considered in the theory of motivated reasoning.CorrectIncorrect
5.Cognitive dissonance has a bigger impact on our ability to evaluate information than confirmation bias.CorrectIncorrect
6. Encouraging another person to question their own beliefs rather than showing them facts may help them think objectively in situations where they are not doing so.CorrectIncorrect
7. Developing critical thinking skills is an active process that we can improve through self awareness.CorrectIncorrect