Why One Should Learn International Languages
“Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.” -Ludwig Wittgenstein
The Limits Of My Language Are The Limits Of My Universe.
Growing up in a Catholic English-speaking suburban neighbourhood, listening to and speaking grammatically correct English coupled with an erudite vocabulary only made my love and respect for the language grow. How can anyone not want to speak English? It’s the language of the queen, it originated from the empire that the sun would never set on and it’s the official language of some of the most powerful economies in today’s world.
This kind of thinking is the reason why I never really integrated with the rest of Indian society. But it never really bothered me during my adolescent life because my educational, religious, medical and social needs were serviced by the same society within the suburb, majority of whom spoke fluent English. We scantily spoke the national language, Hindi, as and when required.
It’s only when I had to move out of this society to pursue my MBA at an extreme end of Mumbai city did I realise how important it was for me to understand and speak the state and national languages.
Most of my classmates came from diverse backgrounds and different Indian states, for many of them, English was not their first language. My interaction with the college’s administrative staff and government officials was expected to be in the state language that I wasn’t very familiar with either.
Although it always seemed like an innocuous defect, it was at this point that I realised how much of foreigner I was in my own cosmopolitan city. And since then I have made sincere efforts to gain a stronger command over the national and state language in order to interact and converse better with the people I commute and work with.
But it didn’t end there. During my MBA, I developed a keen interest in international business and global sales. Hence, I now see myself eager to learn Spanish as it is the second most widely spoken language after English.
Although I learnt French in high school and pursued it even after college as a hobby, I became cognisant of the fact that a lot of my classmates and professors, in addition to their native languages, spoke international languages like Spanish, French and Japanese. They learnt these languages for international professional prospects and business correspondence. Like them, I am enthusiastic about learning Spanish as an additional foreign language and add it to my current assortment of three national languages and one local language.
I cannot emphasise on how much I’ve realised the importance of knowing two or more international languages especially if you have plans to live and work in countries where English isn’t the first language or where people speak other languages in addition to English.
It’s not asking of you to know every international language as you will realise that a few languages are actually interrelated. For example, Latin languages like Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian.
If you have a strong grasp over the Spanish language it’s relatively easy to speak in and learn the remaining three languages as they follow similar grammatical patterns with slight variances; a lot of the nouns and verbs of these languages are the same as well. The same goes with German and Dutch.
And these six languages are not only officially spoken in the country that they have originated from, but they are also spoken in other countries and continents. For example, French is spoken in Brussels, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Canada and in many African Countries as well.
Spanish being the second most widely spoken language globally after English makes it a very coveted language to learn. There are also many countries that officially speak more than one international language.
As you move into the corporate world and become a young professional, you will realise that there are many pressing reasons why you should learn a foreign language like;
When you move to a different country or region, learning the local language will help you to communicate and integrate with the local community. Even if many of the locals speak your language, for example if your first language is English and you move to the Netherlands, it’s still worth your while learning the local language.
2. Business correspondence and sales
If your work involves regular contact with speakers of foreign languages, being able to talk to them in their own languages will help you to communicate with them. It may also help you to make sales and to negotiate and secure contracts. Knowledge of foreign languages may also increase your chances of finding a new job, getting a promotion or a transfer overseas, or of going on foreign business trips.
Many English-speaking business people don’t bother to learn other languages because they believe that most of the people they do business with in foreign countries can speak English, and if they don’t speak English, interpreters can be used. The lack of foreign language knowledge puts the English speakers at a disadvantage. In meetings, for example, the people on the other side can discuss things amongst themselves in their own language without the English speakers understanding, and using interpreters slows everything down. In any socialising after the meetings, the locals will probably feel more comfortable using their own language rather than English.
3. Foreign market research
Learning other languages gives you access to a greater range of information about your subject of interest and it enables you to communicate with researchers from other countries.
e.g. For example, if you’re interested in the Brazilian market, you will probably find most information about them is in Portuguese.
When travelling to foreign countries, if you want to interact with the locals, read signs, menus, etc. knowing the local language is very useful.
If your organisation is expanding into a new market that has a distinct culture, understanding their language will help you gather more valuable information about and insights into their culture.
Hence, learning an additional language that is popularly spoken today can help one better understand the culture and mannerisms of countries that one plans to visit or reside in. It is a completely different cultural experience when you can speak the language of the place you visit or people you interact with.