THE AUTHOR IS A POLYGLOT
I worked hard as a student of language. These years later I am able to speak at least three languages (including English), and a smidgen of a fourth language. As a result of this, my career horizons have been expanded greatly. To read about how knowing another language has helped on the work front, click on this link here.
With this in mind, I have a few things to say about the study of foreign languages.
IF YOU ARE STUDYING NOW
If you are studying now, whatever you do – don’t stop!
With the world becoming smaller by the day in this ongoing process that we commonly call “globalization”, the ability to communicate with people from other cultures and countries is fast becoming a valuable commodity.
When applying for a job, your ability to speak a foreign language could tip the scales between you and an otherwise much more highly qualified job candidate. Honestly, this has happened for me several times. My ability to speak Chinese made me a shoo-in for the work I have now.
As a student of German and Mandarin Chinese, I can say these years later that I have many interesting stories to tell, as well as invaluable experience that most people otherwise do not have. To read about some of the stories I have as a result of knowing a foreign language, click on this link here.
IF YOU ARE ONLY SEMI-FLUENT
If you are currently studying a foreign language in your homeland and you feel you have run across a brick wall in your ability to learn any further, perhaps you should consider traveling abroad to push you over the edge of that wall.
I ran across a similar wall in my study of the Chinese language some years ago. Luckily I was of a mind and in a good position to do some traveling. While some folks have been able to secure study at Chinese schools, I was lucky enough to secure some work in China and to work in an office among Chinese people. What a difference being overseas made in my language study!
Don’t you at all be shy about trying this also!
FLUB YOUR WAY
I have run across some folks who seem to have “hit the wall” of semi-fluency in whatever language they were studying, and they decided to give up because they felt if they traveled overseas, no one would understand them.
This perception is entirely unjustified. Don’t let this stop you, most of all for the reason that you cannot prove that you will fail miserably. It’s better to go ahead and go overseas to test your new tongue, than to stay at home and fester for the rest of your life wondering if you could have actually gone and made friends that you would have otherwise never met, and seen wondrous things that you otherwise have never had the privilege to witness.
Once you have reached foreign soil, don’t be afraid to try and at least somewhat flub your way through your conversations with your new language until you learn enough to walk the streets comfortably among the locals, many of whom could become new and lifelong friends.
Based upon my experience and in speaking with other people, the one thing I have found that is very helpful is at least to try to speak the host country’s language. Given certain situations (such as in business meetings), if you were to forced to switch back to your mother language, you will find among your audience a lot of appreciation for the effort you had made to speak in their tongue. It will be as if that effort had magically opened a lot of doors.
CASE IN POINT
While in college I studied both German and Chinese. While I did not get as far with German as I did with my Chinese, I was surprised to see that when I lived in China, I ran across a lot of Germans. In doing business there, it was inevitable that I would need to speak with some German folks. Sure enough, the time came when I had to – and in this case I was set up to have a big business meeting with a large German multinational called Siemens (yes, that one).
They knew that I was an American because I represented an American company. I had spoken with a few of them on the phone before our first meeting, and they knew from my voice that I spoke American English. In short, they were expecting a common American. Me? I could tell from our phone conversations that there was a sense of marked awkwardness. Already I could tell I was in for a rough ride. Despite this, I set up our meeting.
I arrived at their office and was instructed to wait in an impressively large meeting room. A few moments later my customers showed up. There was only li’l old me on my side, and six very serious looking folks on the other side of the table. I was uncomfortable.
Our meeting’s purpose was to introduce myself and the servicesI was selling. I was a salesman. Not surprisingly, sales folks have a tough enough time breaking the ice in Europe or China, just as they do back in the States. A few minutes into my sales pitch, I was having a tough time already. It was becoming unbearable. In short time I was being grilled alive with innumerable questions. I had to do something to break this ice off my shoulders. So I called upon something they did not expect at all.
I suddenly began speaking to them in German.
I started by apologizing that my German was not very good. I then stated that my sole purpose was to help their team in whatever manner I could.
Their jaws dropped wide open, and the stern furrows on my business colleagues’ brows vanished immediately. Some of them even smiled suddenly.
Later, because of the complexity of the language that we were using, I was forced to revert back to English. But from then on, the meeting went extraordinarily well. And moments later they were patting me on my back as we walked out the door for a friendly lunch. Several days later I received a pleasant phone call from them to say I had won the contract.
I would have not been able to do this without my ability to speak a foreign language.
RESTAURANTS: CULTURE CENTERS OF THE WORLD
No matter what your reason is to study the lingo of a different land, be sure to stick with it and to keep it fresh in your mind.
Don’t make excuses and quit. If your primary excuse to quit would be that you don’t have enough people who speak your target language fluently, I have a great answer for you: restaurants.
After my return from several years of living in China, I was fearful of losing my fluency over time. This fear was quickly quelled by the fact that I love to eat Chinese food, and I soon found that the restaurant help was more than happy to spend loads of time with me jabbering casually with me – sometimes to the chagrin of the other customers.