With today’s global economy and advances in technology, companies hire and work with people worldwide, so it is increasingly important to be aware of cultural differences. Learning a language for networking and business purposes has many advantages, even if you only know a few words.
The English language is convenient for communicating with people around the world. It is one of the most spoken languages worldwide. According to the World Economic Forum, “Of the approximately 1.5 billion people who speak English, less than 400 million use it as a first language….That means over 1 billion speak it as a secondary language.”
Imagine traveling to another country where English isn’t the primary language, and you can’t understand anyone or read anything around you? How relieved would you feel if someone asked, “Need some help” in English? Even a few simple words in a common language can create a connection and start a conversation.
Creating a connection is the first step to networking or building a relationship, whether for friendship or business. Here are three powerful reasons for learning a language and connecting with people.
1 Languages Create a Cultural Connection
Food is a great connector. An event that involves sampling foods from other countries and cultures is one way to get people to experience cultures. Learning the names of foods is a sensory experience: learn a new vocabulary word and taste the food it corresponds to.
It opens discussions about similarities and differences in food, culture, and language. It can be humbling when you struggle with the pronunciation of a new word; fascinating when you realize the meaning of a new word.
It’s amazing what conversations you can begin by learning a handful of new words and key phrases in another language. (We’re talking about the good words here, not the bad words. People like to learn the bad words, but it’s a different result when you swear at people.)
It’s a great feeling to say, “Nice to meet you” or “Have a safe trip home” in another person’s native language. Another benefit to learning new words is gaining a better understanding of a person’s values from their culture.
2 Languages Broaden Your Way of Thinking
A Google search will reveal many articles that say a person’s personality can change depending on their language. Personality traits are determined by culture, and culture and language are deeply connected. So it seems learning a language helps you to absorb the culture.
Even if you don’t become fluent in multiple languages, learning another language helps you understand other cultures and how people think, and potentially avoid misunderstandings.
For example, in some Asian languages, people are addressed by their titles as a form of respect. Family members are named by their relationship to the speaker. A paternal aunt is called a different word for “aunt” than a maternal aunt.
Knowing the degree of formality that people use to greet each other gives you insights into how people may want to be addressed. For example, in Brazil, young children call their teacher tia or tio (aunt/uncle) + first name. In France, students say Monsieur (Mr) or Madame (Mrs) + last name. In China, students call their teacher only Lǎoshī (teacher). Similarly, students in Latvia call their teacher Skolotāj (schoolteacher).
People may struggle when speaking English because in their first language, there are more ways to say something. For example, English has three choices for articles (a, an, the) but other languages have more. In French, nouns can be masculine singular or plural, or feminine singular or plural, increasing your choices.
In Japanese, you have even more choices when talking about the number of objects. The way you say “one of” or “two of” something (people, cats, beer, apples, houses) depends on the type of noun. (Learning numbers takes several lessons.)
Languages may have concepts that don’t exist in another language. For example, the need to talk about snow with precision has created several words in some cultures: There are 52 words for snow and ice in Inuktituk while the BBC news reports Scotland has 421 words for snow!
Learning someone’s name or your name is a fun way to start a conversation and connect with people in another language. Learning how to address someone in another language also tells you a lot about levels of formality and respect.
New words and expressions are like a window into another culture from a marketing and sales perspective. It’s a way to approach people in other markets.
On another level, learning to say a few words is a warm way to start a conversation and make new friends.
3 Languages Increase Your Opportunities
Being a polyglot or being bilingual has many advantages. If your company has offices in other countries, you could be asked to help with translation.
Translation could occur in many forms, such as interpreting between languages during meetings or checking over written communications in another language.
You could be offered opportunities that aren’t usually part of your job description; for example, you could be a connector. If your company needs people who are fluent in a language you know, they may ask you to connect them to people from that language community.
Your willingness to step in and help out with translation could open doors to other opportunities or, at the very least, add an important role or achievement to your resume.
The best part of learning new languages for work is making connections with people who visit from other parts of the world.
Learning another language – or even a handful of words in another language – is a way to start a conversation and connect with people. Language is so closely tied with culture that you can discover a lot about a culture’s values.
How many expressions can you say in another language? What language would you like to learn next?
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