Reason to learn a foreign language

Chen Wang is from Qingdao, China. She achieved her Master’s degree in International Business from Florida International University, a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism Management and Leisure Industry from Austria and another Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management from China. Her specialty is Marketing and Consumer Behavior Analysis. Currently she is working as the Marketing Director in fashion accessory company in Miami, FL and also an individual contractor of World Financial Group. She also loves the academic world, and guest lecured in several marketing research. She is also working with one of the top pioneers of Eco-tourism Industry in China on a new book. She speaks several languages and has a unique opinion and methodology to study languages.

Every career nowadays is somewhat related to business, or more essentially, marketing. Even if you are hunting a new job position, you are trying to sell yourself to the employer. Studying the rules of marketing is important to students to stand out in the college life, and even more important for students majored in business, marketing, etc. The best way to sell something is to understand the customers. For example, if you are an architect and are building a house for sale, where would you start? It seems like talking to someone who is going to purchase the house is a good idea. You will need to know how many people in this family to decide how many rooms to build. You may also want to know how many cars they have so that you could design the garage in a proper way. Knowing and understanding your customer is very important to gain their satisfactory.

But what does marketing has to do with languages? Why should we study several foreign languages?

The answer could be that I am learning German so that I can communicate with a person from Germany or Austria in his own language, so that he could understand what I say and do business with me. This is an ideal scenario, because if you can really speak a foreign language as fluent as that, you could win a large number of customers. However, imagine how much effort you would have to put in study to be proficient enough to talk about business cooperation, bargaining and negotiation in another language. Even if you succeed in a certain language, there are still about 6,000 more languages to go. The opportunity cost of leaning a language like this is too high.

Then what is the answer? I would say that business students should use languages as a tool to understand rather than communicate with people. Here, I would define language as a combination of spoken and body language. To learn a language, you are not asked to be proficient in communicating with native speakers, however, your responsibility lies in studying the culture of the people using that language. A good example in case is Korean. If you learn some Korean, it is very easy to tell who is superior through the way they are talking. This is because people always use certain words at the end of the sentence to show the respect to other people: if both of them are using these words, it means that they are in equal status or maybe they do not know each other very well; if one is using these words while the other one is not, it means that the person who is not using the respectful words might be a superior. Therefore, it is apparent that social status and respect are very important in Korean culture. The expressions like “Hey, Bro!” in the American culture might be regarded a disrespectful behavior towards customers or even your co-works that you meet every week.

Additional, why do you have to learn several languages? Isn’t one foreign language enough?

The answer is, the more, the better. Most people nowadays can speak at least two languages, especially in the US. On the one hand, you could find more than half of people in Miami could speak Spanish and English, let alone the international students from all over the world, who can speak their native language and English as well. To make yourself competitive, it is essential and necessary for you to learn other languages. On the other hand, learning several languages could enable your ability to compare what you learned in a parallel way. By this I mean, when you learn several similar languages, such as Japanese and Korean, you could discover the similarities and differences of the two cultures as well. Both of the two languages have respectful words to show respect to superior or elder people, but do you know that Japanese has different expressions for men and women when they are talking. Certain words are only allowed to use by males and certain are allowed only to females. This situation tells us that people from both countries value the social status, but in Japan, the difference between men and women is also significant. It also explains why Japanese culture gets a score of 95 in the Masculinity of Hofstede’s dimensions on national culture.

To sum up, language is like a window of the culture of various countries, and studying languages is a shortcut to learn the culture, and moreover, the characteristics of people who speak that language. Once you understand their feature, it is easier for you to communicate with them even in the most language in the world: English.

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