Language is like a bridge to knowledge, that helps to close cultural gaps between each other.
A few months ago, during my vacation overseas, I went to try out this particular street food. After I placed my order, the lady smiled and said something in their local language to me, unbeknown by the meaning, I smiled and nod back to her. After she handed my food over, I started munching it. On that night, I had been running back and forth to the toilet, wondering what did that lady had done to my food.
I started to reflect on what happened and I realised that I was being ignorant of what the lady had said to me. Instead of clarifying with her what she meant, I chose to smile and nod.
Prior to my visit, the thought of learning the local language has been lingering in my head, but I was giving myself excuses like I do not have extra time, I do not know where to start or I might take too long to master this language.
After such an unforgettable experience, I became determined to proceed with my thought. Along with my journey, I found out that learning a new language does benefit me in many ways.
Due to the need of constantly juggling between two or multiple languages, a bilingual or multilingual brain is practised to eliminate irrelevant distraction and allows the focus to be where it needs to be, according to Dr. Judith Kroll, Professor of Psychology and Linguistics. With that being said, by learning a new language enable us to exercise our minds and allowing us to have a longer span of selective focus.
“You can’t see other people’s point of view when you have only one language” a quote by Frank Smith.
With customer loyalty as one of the biggest challenges faced by marketers today, by providing a unique customer experience is very crucial as customer retention plays a big part in business development. A remarkable customer service will leave a lasting impression for customers and enticing them to spread a good word about their encounter with their friends and family. One way to achieve that is to speak their language.
For example, a nurse can take better care of her patient if he/she can converse in his/her patient’s language, a customer service representative has higher chance to recover a customer in after sales care if both of them converse the same language.
Being multilingual helps to build relationships in a deeper level with your co-workers or your superiors. It provides you with the depth of understanding behind someone’s decisions or actions as speaking a foreign language indirectly enables you to understand the culture behind the language as well.
For instances, In Japanese culture, it is common to have Japanese colleague coming up to you and say “otsukaresama deshita” before you leave your workplace. It has the meaning of paying respect to someone who did a good job or thank you for your hard work. Whereas in Swedish culture, the Swedes will take their coffee break during work hours seriously to socialise with colleagues as this can be seen as a way to catch up with each other on work-related news informally, which in Swedish work culture also known as “Fika”.
Being multilingual or bilingual might just open the door of opportunity to travel overseas. Especially international companies, where some might have their branches or business at different corners of the world, occasionally requires a multilingual employee to travel over, whether is to support a new branch opening, to develop promotion strategies, to meet an important overseas supplier or to visit a project site. Thus, by just learning a new language can increase your chances of being chosen to travel by the company, if possible, with all expenses paid.
Being a tourist who knows how to communicate with the local language does bring a whole lot of convenience. First of all, you won’t be easily targeted as “The Tourist”, like how Johnny Depp was targeted by Angelina Jolie in the movie or being an obvious target for tourist scams.
Secondly, you have a better chance to connect with the local sellers. Sometimes they might even get you a better bargain or a recommendation to a hidden gem where only locals will know. After all, you can afford to wander off, get lost and be independent without needing to ask for help, if you really master the local language. Therefore, it gives you a more authentic experience that sets you apart from being a typical tourist.
A surprising discovery many multilingual or bilinguals might not even realise is that they are able to build a relationship with others quite effortlessly as compared to monolinguals.
In a scenario such as when buying goods in a market, a multilingual will be able to chat with sellers of different nationalities to find out more regarding the goods he or she is planning to buy. Although it may seem to be a simple chit-chat, by speaking in one’s native language it helps to build a deeper connection. As a saying by Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart”.
With the cultural diversity period we are living in, more and more couples coming from different backgrounds and cultures can be seen together nowadays, and the language barrier is no longer an obstacle.
Couples who are bilingual tend to see more from their partner's point of view, or rather, they appreciate the effort they put into their communication. Even though there will be a time where they may not be able to express their point accurately in their second language, chances are, mutual understanding can still be sorted out in two languages, leading to a deeper understanding of one another in a long run.
Source: Magazine Latitude
Take Lauren’s case, for instance, she is a Spanish speaking British writer, but in a relationship with her English speaking Mexican boyfriend. Albeit of the language differences, they both are able to understand each other through her Spanglish and his English mistranslation. This unique understanding between them formed a kind of intimacy where a monolingual might find hard to comprehend. In a nutshell, knowing a new language provides a wider platform to meet different people, as well as could spice up your relationship in a different way.
Have you ever tried googling something in Google using different languages? You might be surprised that the results shown are not the same, at all. Take the term “Happy” for example, when it is typed in the Google search engine, the results displayed are mostly related to a singer, Pharrell Williams and his song “Happy”. Whereas if we translate “Happy” into Chinese, which is “开心“ (pronounced as /kāixīn/) and put this into Google search, the first thing appeared are different images that translates happiness, or put it in the urban slang, is called happiness memes, along with some quotes of happiness in Chinese (at least that’s what I saw when I tried out this experiment).
From the comparison above show that the results Google displayed varies depending on what is the input language. Imagine when this advantage is being used by a multilingual student for assignments or researches, this student will gain the upper hand over a monolingual student academically as the information obtained by a multilingual set a wider perspective and a deeper understanding where a monolingual student cannot achieve.
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In this globalized era, it is common for us to meet people from all walks of life, where various people from different cultural background might bump into some differences when communicating with each other.
In the book “Beyond Culture” by Anthropologist Edward T. Hall, introduced the concept of high and low context culture, a distinct communication that happens between different culture.
In plain terms, people from high context culture communicate not only through language, but they also rely on their body language, the tone of voice, facial expression, intuition and feelings to understand what others are trying to say. As for low context culture, messages are communicated in a simple direct manner where people of this culture often have a low reliance on non-verbal communication.
Source: Working Voices
For instance, going out together with colleagues after work for a drink is common in Japan culture, in fact, it can be an unspoken rule in some companies. As Japan is considered as high context culture, many Japanese sees it as an important way to foster a good relationship or an opportunity to network with their colleagues. If the invitation is being turned down by mundane excuse like “I’m feeling tired today”, your colleagues or teammates might feel disrespected.
Whereas in German culture, work-life balance is treated seriously by Germans. Free time and vacations are respected by employers and colleagues, where you have the right to not pick up the phone call or read the email from your company during your vacation or off days. As Germany is considered as low context culture after work beer sessions are not seen as frequently as in Japan.
A research by Canadian psychologist Ellen Bialystok and her teammates found out that bilinguals who show the symptoms of dementia were diagnosed 3-4 years later than the monolinguals. Particularly, monolingual patients were diagnosed on the average age of 75.4 years old, while bilingual at the age of 78.6 years old. It seems learning a new language helps to keep our mind sharp and slow the natural decline of our brain function as we grow older.
Ever heard of the quote “One language sets you in a corridor life, two language opens every door along the way” by psycholinguist Frank Smith? You never know that one day, the language that you learn might just save your life. Remember how Amy Adams communicate with the aliens in the movie “Arrival”? You never know.
By the time you have finally decided to learn a new language, you are unconsciously setting a goal for yourself. Imagine once you are able to understand the language and use it for a conversation, with the big smile on your face, you will probably be thinking: “Yesss! I did it!”. That exhilarating feeling that you have on that moment, is the proof of the self-confidence you have just developed, congrats!
All and all, learning a new language can be beneficial in many aspects, whether is for yourself, for work, for your social life or for your family. As a philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. Which language shall you begin learning with?
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