Recognizing great value in knowing a second language is core to my philosophy. I’ve written on why I think you should learn Chinese, 10 things to know about the Chinese language, and more tips to learning it. Language learning is a big deal to me and here are 4 reasons why.
It’s not just words, it’s communication. Functionally, language is about communicating – getting your thoughts across to others, achieving group goals, influencing, persuading, obtaining information. The value is in the exchange of thought and energy. For global executives and for me working with them, communication is the backbone to success: it impacts my ability to transfer knowledge and everyone’s ability to be effective and add value an interconnected world. Knowing an additional language that is common to a group you are working with helps get important ideas across the cultural divide.
Language is understanding. The foundation of communication is understanding. The ability to grasp meaning from another person as directly as possible is to truly receive the point they are trying to get across. Not having to process language through interpreters, software or media is incredibly valuable and lends advantage to those who can do it. The more intermediaries present in interpersonal communication, the more distortion and possibility for errors, misunderstanding, and missed opportunities. Energy is lost.
It’s all about perspective. When you can verbally interact with someone in their own language, you gain insight into their view of the world, their values, and their mindset. In China, for example, you may greet someone by asking whether they have eaten yet: 你吃饭了吗？and would know why that is important. You make steps toward knowing how a culture is wired, what is meaningful, and how to best connect. In intercultural training we identify shared language as a leading element that unites a group. It doesn’t have to be as overarching as French, English or Arabic, for example. Even in the way one describes the weather can vary, from one word for snow, or thirty-two words describing different conditions. How a person communicates shows what matters to them. Understanding someone’s words, in their own language, means you are connecting.
Language learning builds character. Learning another language is a lesson in vulnerability. For most people, making a conscious effort to learn another language takes courage and involves making mistakes. It is not a question of “being good” or “not good” at language. It’s about having the fortitude to try, to feel silly and out of control, and to keep trying. You learn language through using it, through trial and error, and through repetition. An easily bruised ego does not hold up well to not being in control. However, if the urge to connect and learn from others is greater than the ego, every step of the language learning process is step towards opening up one’s world to the greater humanity.
Interested in learning a language yourself? Connect with us and we’re happy to share additional resources!