What’s the importance of learning a foreign language and its cultural differences?
If the world’s population totaled 1,000 people, the distribution would be as follows: 564 Asian. 210 European, 86 African, 80 South American, 60 North American — meaning the United States, Canada and Mexico.
We know that more than 320 million people speak English, but did you know that 266 million speak Spanish, and 72 million French?
If you travel travel abroad you may observe that words, expressions and gestures that mean one thing in a given culture may mean something else in another. A term that may seem perfectly harmless to you may be offensive to someone from another ethnic group. A gesture that may be offensive to you may be a friendly communication to someone from another culture.
When you say, “Do you understand?” to someone from another culture, you will probably get a polite “yes” when they have no idea of what you said. The reason they may hesitate to say “no” is that they think they may be insulting you by implying that you are a poor communicator.
We live in a dynamic world. The “American way” is constantly evolving. Hopefully, we are incorporating the best ideas from other cultures as well as from the minority cultures right here in our own backyard. Cultural diversity, as well as both understanding and appreciating the language and culture of others, is going to be part of the global economy for the remainder of this century.
So why learn a foreign language if the rest of the world is quickly trying to learn English in order to communicate and do business with us?
A few years ago the Kiplinger Report stated: “Demand for linguists is soaring as technology sweeps up more data from the Internet, telephones, etc. Especially needy … law enforcement and spy agencies.
Let’s assume you agree that we can derive an income and other economic benefits from foreign language training. You are still thinking, “What are the chances my child will ever take one of those esoteric languages here in the Triad? What benefit, other than learning to communicate in Spanish/French with some of his classmates, or having a greater sensitivity to another person’s cultural background, is my child going to get from studying a foreign language?”
Here’s a guarantee I will make you. If your child takes a foreign language, he or she will have a far better ability to speak and write English. I just read the results of a survey of furniture manufacturers and retailers asking them what skills they wanted a young person graduating from college to have in order to be successful in working for them.
I thought the answer would be marketing or merchandising skills. To my surprise they said, “Give me a student who can write a decent paragraph in English and stand up in front of a group of people and speak articulately.”
Studying a foreign language, particularly starting in kindergarten or the first grade, and continuing through high school, will give your child a better understanding of English grammar, which in turn will train him or her to clearly express their thoughts. It will give them strong vocabulary skills and a broader perspective in their thinking.
Learning a foreign language teaches you that there are often several ways to express a concept or an idea. In the business world, it gives you an incredible edge in being able to communicate directly with your customer. It creates a relationship you could never achieve through an interpreter.
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