Tuesday 13 March 2012

Je ne parle pas le français... o español

Ok, so the title of this blog post might be a little confusing since in essence I am saying that I don’t speak French or Spanish in French and Spanish.  My secret?  About two years of high school French and the Google Translate web tool.  I figure being able to tell people I don’t speak their language is one of the first things in any language I should learn how to say just so that I am covered no matter where I travel.  Genius no?

Why am I writing about languages today?  Well, for the first and rather obvious reason is that this is a travel/education blog and language falls into both of those categories.  As much as we North Americans would like to believe that English is the dominant language everywhere in the world, we are quite often largely mistaken.  Yes, it is true that many larger tourist destinations will have some form of communication set up to cater to their English speaking guests but when you crunch the numbers, English is not the language with the highest number of first-language speakers on this planet.  In fact, it isn’t even the second.  It actually ranks third behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish according to Ethnologue Languages of the World.

It is obvious that learning a second language can be beneficial when travelling.  Heck, picking up a common phrase book from your local Chapters.Indigo.ca would be more than useful though you are going to look like a complete tourist as you walk around with your nose buried in your phrase book hopelessly trying to ask for directions back to your hotel.

Some people enjoy learning a new language just because the study of languages interests them.  A 20 year old Oxford student named Alex Rawlings from the U.K. explains in this video how he became interested in learning new languages and eventually became fluent in eleven of them including Spanish, English, Greek and Russian.  Learning Arabic is next on his list.  Apparently is becomes easier over time and though I completely believe him, I am not worried about the ease at which I will learn language #12.  I am worried about the hassle that learning language #2 is going to be.

You’ll notice though that many of the languages that Rowlings learned first were languages that he was surrounded with and got to practice on a daily basis. 

Many people find it easier to pick up a language when they are forced to practice it on a daily basis.  High school students frequently choose to participate in a language exchange program because it is an exciting way to learn a new language at a much faster pace than they could in the classroom. But why do schools encourage students and offer incentives to those that choose to do exchange programs and take a second language all throughout high school instead of just for the first year which is often mandatory?

This question brings me to the second reason why I am writing about languages today.  Schools recognize that having a second language is extremely valuable to students as they mature and pursue a career.  Having a second language often opens up a variety of job positions that list multiple languages a requirement.  But why would a company want its employees to be able to communicate in multiple languages?  Globalization.  I’ve posted a few blogs in the past [ here and here ] that talk about this subject that you are free to refer to so that I won’t have to go in depth on the matter but the gist of it is that the workplace no longer fits in a neat little, local box.  Your suppliers, your partners, and your clients are all from diverse international backgrounds and it is important for a business to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently across all channels without having to use a third party.  Because as convenient as Google Translate is at times, its Mandarin and Thai leave a lot to be desired.

Having a second, third or fourth language makes you incredibly more valuable to an employer that is thinking on an international scale.  And even if they are not, having another language listed on your résumé communicates to employers that you have the dedicated work ethic and focus needed to learn a new language which favourably translates over into other aspects of your work.

Leading back up to the first point, learning a new language is easiest when you can practice on a daily basis and easier still if you can interact with people who also speak it fluently.  People who travel frequently often pick up bits of a language faster than others because their level of exposure is higher.  If you are serious about learning a new language, consider ditching the phrase book and participate in an international internship or exchange program.  Your age does not matter as there are a variety of programs out there that are not associated with any schools and are therefore open for anyone to participate in.  These programs range from 1 to 8 week educational travel programs and 3 to 12 month internships with many choices for combining and strengthening the language component in order to earn an individual certificate of completion.

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