Creativity is one of the keys to successful English. Translating every word in your head doesn’t work. You need to become comfortable using English in different ways than you use words in your language. You also need to practice finding creative ways to express yourself when you can’t find the right words.
We are not robots. Memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules like a computer will not make you fluent in English. Language is creative and you need to have an open mind to improve your English skills.
Let’s test your creativity. This is a famous test that has been given to thousands of people around the world. It was made by a psychologist named Karl Duncker in 1945.
Imagine this situation: You have only 3 things. You have a box of matches, tacks and a candle. These 3 things are on a table next to a wall. Your goal is to find a way to attach a lit candle to the wall. You must attach it above the table in a way that candle wax won’t spill onto the table.
Ok, let’s review the vocabulary quickly: a lit candle, wax and tacks.
A lit candle is a candle that is on fire. Candles are made of wax. When you light a candle, the candle will heat up and slowly melt into a liquid. This liquid is also wax. The easiest way to understand tacks is to just look at the photo below.
Ok, now we know the vocabulary. One more time, imagine the situation. You have a box of matches, tacks, and a candle. You need to attach the candle to the wall. The candle must be lit but the wax should not spill onto the table.
Ok, stop the recording and look at the photo. Think about the situation before you listen to the answer in the next recording.
Listen to the Answer to the Candle Test
The answer to the candle test is to take the matches out of the box. Then use the tacks to attach the box to the wall. Next, put the lit candle on the box. This way the wax spills onto the box, not the table.
This creativity test is difficult for many people because they only think about 3 things: the candle, the tacks and the box of matches. People who found the correct answer see the box of matches as more than one thing. It’s not just one tool for making fire. The box and the matches are two things with two possible uses.
This test has been given to thousands of people over the years. In one famous experiment it was given to business school students. Some students had never lived in another country. Other students did have experience studying abroad. The students who had experience living in another country were much more creative and successful at finding the answer.
But why? Does studying abroad make you more creative? Maybe it wasn’t the experience of studying abroad that made them creative. Maybe it was their experience learning and speaking a foreign language, that made them creative.
When we speak another language, we need to be creative with words. The new ways we put them together and the new ways we make meaning in another language trains us to be creative.
If you didn’t correctly answer the candle test, don’t worry. Maybe you thought of a different better answer. If so, write it in the comments.
Creativity is something that grows with practice. In the future we’ll be looking deeper at creativity and how you can train yourself to be a more creative speaker.