On International Mother Language Day in an English-Speaking World
Fourteen years ago, the United Nations declared February 21 International Mother Language Day, in the hope that it would promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism.
If you’re from the US or the UK, chances are you’ve never even heard of it. English is so dominant, there’s hardly a need to push it as a mother tongue. While immigration is a major feature of most Anglophone countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK, multilingualism is ironically not a huge part of those countries’ day-to-day lives, outside of communities with large populations of recent immigrants.
Each succeeding generation of immigrants tend to use and understand their mother tongues less, and it’s not uncommon for 3rd generation descendants of immigrants to have little or no proficiency in the languages their grandparents use.
Getting By on Just English – And Why That’s a Bad Thing
While the most of the world does what it can to be able to penetrate market opportunities in the Anglosphere, monolingual Anglophones find it much less enticing than other monolinguals to seriously learn other languages.
Why should they? English is after all, the language of international business. You will find proficient English speakers in almost every country. Academic papers and business terms are overwhelmingly in English.
None of those things are exactly true.
English might be the language of international business in the sense that it’s used worldwide, but not all of us do business worldwide. And not that many people from outside the Anglosphere have a grasp of English or associated cultural idioms sufficient enough for effective communication.
There are regions where a knowledge of Spanish, French, or Mandarin would get you further. For some very specific regions, it might be some language you never even knew existed until you got there.
As for business terms, English has dozens of loanwords for business concepts not covered by Anglo cultures, such as kaizen, tycoon, entrepreneur, commerce, laissez-faire, sabotage, gung-ho. We’ve had to borrow them for a reason. You can rest assured there are plenty of other concepts that the English language simply doesn’t cover.
The Multilingual Advantage
According to The Tongue-Tied American by Senator Paul Simon, an average of 200,000 jobs each year are lost out to Americans, due to an inability to speak a foreign language. Multilinguals are also paid more on average, they tend to have more contacts and have a generally better understanding of human behavior based on their experiences with differing cultures. For a freelancer or an entrep, these aren’t things you should take lightly.
It’s clear that for entrepreneurs and managers, the upsides of being proficient in more than one language has far outweigh the downsides. Different studies have associated multilingualism with mental well-being, originality and creativity, as well as improved memory performance and emotional control.
Why It Still Matters In Countries That Use English
A second language can be a huge asset even when you find yourself in a non-Anglophone country where people have a relatively decent grasp of English, such as India, Germany, Nigeria, or the Philippines.
In these countries, you probably won’t need to learn the native languages, but nearly everyone will appreciate it if you put in the effort to learn it and their culture. This will always give you an edge over a monolingual just banking on the idea that they’d be understood anyway.
If you want to do business internationally, you’ll need to either employ people who can speak the language of your customers, or understand it yourself. This holds true not just professionally, but socially as well. Understanding a culture will be impossible without learning the languages and social structure tied to it. And it will be impossible to succeed in a market without understanding the culture.
Whatever your reasons for learning a new language, you will likely be treated to a wealth of experiences, an appreciation for what makes us all different and the same, and hopefully, a whole bunch of new friends.
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voxy.com – Hardest languages-infographic
llas.ac.uk – 700 Reason to Learn Another Language
usnews.com – the Business Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language
Consumerism Commentary – Do Multilingual Individuals Earn More Money?
Plasberg, U. (1999) ‘Building bridges to Europe: languages for students of other disciplines’ in the Language Learning Journal, No. 20, pp. 51-58