Linguistic Intelligence

The Ability to Understand and Use Spoken and Written Language

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Linguistic intelligence, one of Howard Gardner's eight multiple intelligences, involves the ability to understand and use spoken and written language. This can include expressing yourself effectively through speech or the written word as well as showing a facility for learning foreign tongues. Writers, poets, lawyers, and speakers are among those that Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.

T.S. Eliot

Gardner, a professor in the Harvard University Education Department, uses T.S. Eliot as an example of someone with high linguistic intelligence. "At the age of ten, T.S. Eliot created a magazine called 'Fireside,' of which he was the sole contributor," Gardner writes in his 2006 book, "Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice." "In a three-day period during his winter vacation, he created eight complete issues. Each one included poems, adventure stories, a gossip column, and humor."

Much More Than What Can Be Measured on a Test

It's interesting that Gardner listed linguistic intelligence as the very first intelligence in his original book on the subject, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of MultipleIntelligences," published in 1983. This is one of the two intelligences -- the other being logical-mathematical intelligence -- that most closely resemble the skills measured by standard IQ tests. But Gardner argues that linguistic intelligence is much more than what can be measured on a test.

Famous People With High Linguistic Intelligence

  • William Shakespeare: Arguably history's greatest playwright, Shakespeare wrote plays that have enthralled audiences for more than four centuries. He coined or popularized many of the words and phrases we still use today. 
  • Robert Frost: A poet laureate of Vermont, Frost read his well-known poem "The Gift Outright" at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on Jan. 20, 1961, according to Wikipedia. Frost wrote classic poems, such as "The Road Not Taken," which are still widely read and admired today.
  • J.K. Rowling: This contemporary English author used the power of language and imagination to create a mythical, magical world of Harry Potter, which has captivated millions of readers and moviegoers over the years.

Ways to Enhance and Encourage It

Teachers can help their students enhance and strengthen their linguistic intelligence by:

  • writing in a journal
  • writing a group story
  • learning a few new words each week
  • creating a magazine or website devoted to something that interests them
  • writing letters to family, friends or penpals
  • playing word games like crosswords or parts-of-speech bingo
  • reading books, magazines, newspapers and even jokes

Gardner gives some advice in this area. He talks, in "Frames of Mind," about Jean-Paul Sartre, a famous French philosopher, and novelist who was "extremely precocious" as a young child but "so skilled at mimicking adults, including their style and register of talk, that by age five he could enchant audiences with his linguistic fluency." By age 9, Sartre was writing and expressing himself -- developing his linguistic intelligence. In the same way, as a teacher, you can enhance your students' linguistic intelligence by giving them opportunities to express themselves creatively both verbally and through the written word.

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Kelly, Melissa. "Linguistic Intelligence." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Melissa. (2023, April 5). Linguistic Intelligence. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "Linguistic Intelligence." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).