Language Barrier

Second Language

Most developed countries speak English. Do I really need to study a foreign language?

Languages are like assets or investments; it's important to know which one to choose. While most of the developed world uses English as the primary language for business, it's always useful to have a second language. Knowing more than one language could further your career and provide opportunities that might not be available to those who speak only English.

You will not regret learning a second language. It will expand your network, provide exposure to different cultures and countries, and give you an advantage over those who speak only one language. You may wonder which language you should learn; there are several that you should consider for a number of reasons.

The hot language at the moment is Chinese. Business is booming in the People’s Republic, and understanding at least some of the language will give you an edge. You may be surprised at the amount of dealings regular businesses have with Chinese partners. Import and export is the obvious area where knowledge of Chinese is helpful, but the language is also beneficial for those who work in financing, outsourcing, marketing, construction, manufacturing and technology. Star Wars toy importers explain that speaking Chinese virtually guarantees you placement with an international company ahead of the competition.

Mandarin is not an easy language, and learning the language requires effort. It takes three times the study compared to learning a language with Roman script. Courses will be time-consuming and challenging, so you'll need a lot of dedication and perseverance. You may need to balance some of your other studies and even sacrifice some additional subjects if you want to be proficient in Chinese.

With an estimated 500 million speakers, Spanish is another highly sought-after language in the business world. In the U.S. alone, there are over 40 million Spanish speakers, and it's second only to English, therefore, knowing Spanish is an advantage both at home and overseas. In Central and South America, Spanish or Portuguese is spoken. The opportunities for work and travel are greatly expanded if you can speak fluent Spanish.

French is also a widely spoken language, and a number of African nations use it as the primary mode of communication. German and Italian are used heavily in manufacturing and can be helpful if you want to work for specific companies with ties to those countries. However, it's not just the location of the markets, but type of industry that can determine which language provides the greatest advantage. Locksmith Surroundings, for example, imports from Germany and Switzerland, both major lock manufacturers. For the security industry, speaking German can be key to supplier relationships.

During the tech boom of the eighties, Japanese was all the rage, but nowadays, its practicality as a second language is only evident if you want to work in Japan where little English is spoken. Russian is another language that is beneficial if you plan to work there or do business with Russian companies. Both Japanese and Russian have steep learning curves and are not as easy to adapt to as Spanish, for example.

Your prospects to live and work abroad will be greatly broadened with the ability to speak a second language. Just because the world has adopted English as its lingua franca does not mean that you should not strive to learn a new language.

The more you speak more languages, the more you understand about yourself - Sandra Cisneros.

(John Regan is a former Director of Sales for equity research).


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