Language Study

By on May 12, 2013

I went to a travel agency last week to have my family’s travel dates changed. The person who took care of my booking was away so I had assumed that the boss was there to assist me. It turns out the foreign man whose business card reads “shacho” spoke little to no English, much less, Japanese. It was not until the following day that things got sorted out. I muse at how unlikely it is to find oneself in a similar situation in Europe where 56% of the foreign language-speaking global population proficient in at least two languages all come from.

I studied Hebrew language in high school where more than 30% of 160 students in my class took up foreign language courses and less than 20% did not. Of the 66% of the world population who speak more than one language, 35% are from Canada and just 17% are from the U.S.A.. In the UK, as much as 65.9% of people do not speak any foreign language at all. Why is that? Because English is still the third most widely spoken language in the world next to Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. The lingua franca used today in commerce and technology is in fact English.

When ex-Harvard University president and former secretary of the US Treasury L. Summers gave a speech to the New York Times’ Schools, he said , “English’s emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile. While there is no gainsaying the insights that come from mastering a language, it will over time become less essential in doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.”

Michael Geisler, vice president of the Middlebury College Language Schools argues though that studying a foreign language from an early age has in fact its cognitive benefits. He claims that children who study a foreign language tend to “demonstrate  higher test scores in mathematics, language arts and even SAT than those who don’t”.

So the question is: Is there really a need to speak one or more languages other than your own?

Having lived in more than 15 countries in the last 20 years, there are compelling reasons not to ignore the importance of solid language skill as an indispensable communication tool to help people in future careers.

Languages matter in business. When Japan was hit by a powerful earthquake in March 2011, Chie and husband Hans decided to close down their clothes and shoes store in Ginza to relocate to Australia with their two children. Instead, they launched an online store translated into multiple languages. “We fi gured there was more sales opportunity for us by having a site in different languages. We get orders from Asia and Europe”, admits Chie who speaks Korean, English and Japanese. “Sales outside Australia account for 30% of the company’s total sales”, admits Hans who is proficient in English, German and Swedish, having lived in various countries with his family.

One reason multilinguism plays an important role in business is the birth of the internet and the changing response to technology. Software manufacturers for instance have offi ces in countries where English is not the working language.

The advent of Web 2.0, the next stage in the Internet’s evolution, has spawned a wide variety of previously nonexistent jobs such as Official Blogger, Online content manager, Interactive Director, etc. Technology keeps changing.

Just a few years ago, being able to speak English was enough for a Japanese to land a job at a foreign company. Lately, some job postings for multinational companies by a global professional recruitment agency, Michael Page requires a working knowledge of a language other than English Japanese.

Is language and social integration related? Language and social integration are two closely related concepts. There cannot be any meaningful social integration without communication. That is why it is often argued that language is one of the most vital social barriers for most foreigners especially in communities where the language spoken is different from their own.

How early should one start to learn a language?

Science experts found that the second or third language experience changes how the nervous system responds to auditory nerves.

Through the brain shift action, a bilingual can process linguistic input better than any monolingual can with the least inhibition.

Speaking, hearing therefore in two or more languages should start early to enrich the brain and boost attention and memory. Therefore, the earlier a child is exposed to a language, the sharper the focus is and more solid the learning experience becomes, compared to what can be expected learning it later in life.

Dr. Klaus Strauss is a curator by profession, a plurilinguist and an advocate of the study of foreign languages.

Helpful Tips:

What should you do as a parent to make language learning easy?

Make time and commit. Whether it is playgroup, dance or drama involving interaction with children in a specific language, make a regular time each week for consistency.

Don’t ignore grammar.

No matter how young your kid is, be sure to speak to him in correct grammar. In the real world, you can only fix something well if you learn how it’s built.

So if you are not confident about the grammar of a language you want your child to learn, leave it to the professionals. Enroll the child in school where he can benefit. Words are the bricks, and grammar is the mortar. Without solid grammatical skills, you will lose it.

Language Immersion programs

The very best way to acquire speaking and listening skills quickly is by participating in a summer immersion language program. You can go anywhere to do this.

Language Immersion tools

Children today are more exposed to gadgets than they were a decade ago. Equip your child with learning apps, e-books or iPad movies of interest available in the language you want him to learn.


If you entrust the care of your kid to a baby sitter in certain hours a week, make sure you brief the sitter to use only the language your child is learning for consistency.

About Dr. Klaus Strauss