There are some industries in which being multi-lingual, if not a requirement, is at least a major advantage. For example in the travel industry there is a strong need for public-facing employees who can speak a variety of languages. In social services, medical offices, government, law enforcement… there is a need for people who can communicate with the local constituents and immigrants who live in the area and may come for assistance or services. But what about day to day, run of the mill businesses? Is there any advantage for a programmer, project manager, or sales executive to be able to speak Spanish, or French, or Hindi?
- Learning another language helps you understand that other person
- Learning another language may help you understand their culture
- Learning another language can help break the ice
Sometimes, just being able to greet your colleagues in their own language can help to put them at ease and set a more agreeable tone for the meeting. I think we have grown to expect that people speak English, but they do appreciate it when someone makes an effort. Starting off the conversation with “Bonjour. Comment allez-vous?”, or “Ohayo gozaimasu” tends to set everyone at ease. I have traveled extensively, and generally when I go to a new country I try to learn at least a few basic phrases, just because it is polite, and helps me adjust to the new environment. Plus it is fun to see the reactions when people don’t expect you to be able to speak their language. (But be careful to not set expectation too high, or come off as condescending.)
- Once you have learned one new language, learning another may be easier
- Being multilingual can open up new career opportunities
- It’s a small world, and getting smaller by the day
What is the right time to learn a second language? Well, the sooner the better. If you can start teaching children, even before they begin school, they will be well placed to learn more as they grow. Some universities (sadly, not all) require at least one year of a foreign language, and most community colleges offer adult education courses in some languages. Many public libraries and book shops have self-study courses. And of course there are online courses as well. If you are still in school maybe you can look into an overseas internship. The best situation is when you can actually live in the country or visit for an extended period. But if that isn’t practical, find someone you can converse with on a regular basis so that you can correct errors and retain what you have learned. The main thing is, once you star, practice, practice, practice. Otherwise you’ll forget what you learned.
Coming soon… Tips for Presentations to a non-English speaking audience
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