1 Think of a high-profile person in their country that they think is intelligent. Write some of these questions on the board: What do they do that makes them intelligent? Have they done well academically? Are they good at communicating with people? Can they problem-solve? Do you think they work hard to be intelligent?
Work with a partner. Look at the infographic. What factors do you think make these the top 10 most intelligent countries?
2a Read the article. Is intelligence thought about differently now compared to the past?
articulate [adj]: able to express your thoughts, arguments and ideas clearly and effectively
competent [adj]: capable of doing something in a satisfactory or effective way
connotation [n]: an additional idea or emotion that a word suggests to you, in addition to its literal or main meaning
considerable [adj]: large in size, amount or degree
illiterate [adj]: someone who is illiterate cannot read or write
manifest [v]: to show something such as a feeling or ability, so that it is easy to notice
orator [n]: someone who makes speeches in public, especially someone who is good at doing this
overcome [v]: to succeed in dealing with or controlling a problem
permutation [n]: one of the various ways in which you can combine or arrange a group of things
prominent [adj]: important and well known
strategic [adj]: carefully planned in order to achieve a particular goal, especially in war, business or politics
tactics [n]: particular methods or plans for achieving something
tally up [v]: if you tally numbers or amounts, or if you tally them up, you calculate their total
What is intelligence?
Consider the game of chess. It has been around for thousands of years and is known as the game of kings. It has evolved as a game that requires considerable mental skills, or some might say intelligence.
It is a strategic game that requires tactics and the need to think many moves ahead. It is only recently that a supercomputer, programmed to check out the millions of possible game permutations, has been able to beat a grand master. Many world leaders have been competent chess players. Chess does need creative thinking, but when we think of creativity we think of the arts and the outstanding artists and writers who have created culture as we know it. This brings us nicely to culture.
Different countries and their different cultures will define intelligence in many different ways. For example in Western culture there is a focus on mentally processing things quickly; in Eastern cultures the quality of work might come in to question if it has been completed too quickly. With so many differences, how can we measure which is the most intelligent country, where the smartest people are from, or, who the brightest sparks are?
Generally, the values of different cultures do not come into the equation when tallying up the most intelligent country. Many are based on Western test results of subjects such as mathematics, reading and sciences, like PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) which is carried out on 15 year olds across more than 70 countries worldwide, such as Italy, New Zealand and Korea. In the modern world it is unusual to find an illiterate person in a prominent position, but historically there are many success stories of people who have overcome limited or no education to achieve success. Albert Einstein initially failed the entrance exams for university and Mark Twain had little schooling but educated himself by reading everything he could in a public library. Many leaders in the ancient world, such as Genghis Khan, were illiterate. Nearly all the kings and queens of Europe in the Middle Ages could not read and write – they had other people to do it for them. We must imagine that they called on other skills such as a deep understanding of human nature, incredible memory or the ability to be articulate and a good orator.
In looking further at intelligence, we can start to see that there are big differences between Western cultures and Eastern cultures. A number of different philosophies across Eastern cultures consider aspects of intelligence to involve things like waking up and noticing. Feelings, thoughts and opinions are also included. Where Eastern cultures see things like mental effort and a person’s level of determination as aspects of intelligence, through Western eyes too much effort is seen as a struggle and therefore more of a weakness. There are studies that highlight, for example, how the Chinese concept of intelligence measures the ability to reason and have a good memory. In contrast, the American concept of intelligence is mostly about things such as practical problem-solving, verbal ability and social skills.
It’s worth highlighting how intelligence can also manifest itself in negative ways. For example, in Western cultures the word ‘clever’ has some negative connotations. ‘Too clever by half’ and the word ‘cunning’ implies an ability to outsmart or trick others. It would seem that a more global and cultural approach should be taken when measuring, and considering what is, intelligence.
2b Read the article again and decide if the sentences are True (T) or False (F). Correct the false sentences.
1 Being able to think creatively will help you play chess. T / F
2 The ability to reason is an American concept of intelligence. T / F
3 Verbal ability is a concept of intelligence in Western cultures. T / F
4 Feelings, thoughts and opinions all come under intelligence according to Eastern cultures. T / F
5 Most royalty in the Middle Ages were talented readers and writers. T / F
6 PISA is a Western test given around the world as a measurement of intelligence. T / F
7 A computer has never been able to beat a grand master at chess. T / F
8 The phrase ‘too clever by half’ has a positive meaning. T / F
2c Read the article and answer the questions.
1 How does the aspect of mental effort and intelligence differ in Eastern and Western cultures?
2 How is intelligence often measured in Western cultures?
3 How do you think many world leaders have played chess well?
4 Which culture considers good memory a concept of intelligence?
5 How can intelligence present itself in negative ways?
3a Work with a partner and discuss the questions.
1 What do you think it means to be intelligent?
2 How does your country measure intelligence?
3 What is considered to be intelligence in your country and how does it compare to other Eastern or Western cultures?
3b You are going to prepare a small presentation about two well-known public figures that you
consider intelligent. They should be people that you can research. Read the questions and prepare for your project research.
1 Work in small groups. Choose two different people; one in your country and one in another
country of your choice.
2 In your groups, think about the points below when you do your research online.
■ What makes them intelligent?
■ Are they both viewed as intelligent in your country?
■ Are they both viewed as intelligent in Western and Eastern cultures?
■ Any other useful information.
3c Present your findings to the class. Choose the most interesting points and add some of your
personal thoughts and opinions, too.
2b 1 T 2 F (It's a Chinese concept.) 3 T 4 T 5 F (Most couldn't read or write.) 6 T 7 F (A supercomputer recently beat a grand master.) 8 F (It has a negative meaning.)
2c 1 a weakness in Western cultures and an aspect of intelligence in Eastern cultures 2 tests
3 through creative thought and tactics 4 Chinese 5 through language, words and phrases – their use are terms for intelligence, but their meanings are negative