Do you speak a foreign language? Why should you bother learning another language? As only 10% of Americans speak a foreign language (as opposed to 56% in the European Union), it seems that this is the majority stance in the USA.
Now this is a great pity, because learning a second language can:
- Help prevent premature mental aging and may halt Alzheimer’s
- Assist in multi- tasking
- Open up business opportunities, giving you a competitive edge in the global marketplace
- Broaden cross cultural skills making you a much better ambassador for your company
Take a look at Singapore where the government is actually subsidizing companies to help their key personnel learn Mandarin, in order to take advantage of China’s economic growth and potential. Over 900 million people speak Mandarin. In many parts of South East Asia, knowledge of Mandarin is a definite advantage.
Many people foolishly assume that because English is now the global language for commerce (1.6 billion people use it every day) that everybody they come into contact will be able to speak it. That’s not true at all!
What other languages should you aim to learn? Keep in mind that your choice depends on your business projects and your career objectives.
- Russian (300 million speakers)- Russia is the top world producer of oil, timber, diamonds, gold, and natural gas.
- Arabic (223 million speakers)- Six Arabic nations are in the top 50 UK export markets.
- Spanish (329 million speakers globally, and spoken by 12% of USA citizens)- There’s lots of job opportunities for Spanish speakers.
- Portuguese ( 240 million speakers)- Brazil’s economic growth together with 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games make this language an obvious future choice.
1. Mandarin Chinese
“All things are difficult before they are easy” – Chinese proverb
Let’s face it–learning a whole new set of 80,000 characters in the form of ideograms is a major obstacle. But many experts say that you really only need to master 1,000 of the 3,500 in common use, to get by.
Another problem is that Chinese is a tonal language. There are four tones so the word ‘ba’ can have at least four different meanings, depending on which tone you use. It can mean ‘eight’, ‘to pull out’, ‘dad’ or to ‘to hold’!
Despite all this, there are lots of things that make Chinese easier to learn than other languages, believe it or not!
Look at these features:-
- No conjugations
- No plurals
- No gendered nouns
- Simple system for numerals
- No tenses
- Conditional sentences are straightforward
- Simple prepositions
Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet and you have to be prepared for a very complicated grammatical system. It uses no less than 6 cases for nouns and there is a complex system of tenses based on a logical approach to space, time, and reality.
Nouns are declined so if you are looking at a cat, stroking a cat or simply keeping the cat company, the word ‘cat’ declines. This means it will have a different ending for each of the above activities.
“If patience is bitter then its result is sweet.” – Arabic proverb
Arabic pronunciation can be a challenge. Some sounds (kh and a’a) are pronounced using the back of the throat, so these will take some practice. Word order takes some getting used to as the verb always come first. Also adjectives precede nouns. To make things more complicated, Arabic is written from right to left.
All Arabic words have a core root which usually consists of three consonants. This root defines the underlining meaning of the word. For example, the ‘ktb’ consonants usually represent the idea of ‘writing.’ You will find the ‘ktb’ root in the following words:
- kutub = books
- maktub = letter
- maktab = school,office
- kutubi = bookseller
“Diligence is the mother of good fortune.” –Spanish proverb
Beware of false friends in the common Latin roots for many words. Lots of words sound very similar but look out for the following:
Embarazada does not mean ‘embarrassed.’ It means ‘pregnant!
Violador does not mean ‘a driver breaking the rules of the road.’ It means a ‘rapist.’
Normally Spanish, as one of the Indo European languages, will follow the SVO (subject-verb-object) pattern in most sentences. But in Spanish, this is not a hard and fast rule as the subject can often be omitted entirely, if it is clear from the context. When a pronoun is involved, such as it, the order changes to SOV and the pronoun is tucked into the middle of the sentence.
“Change yourself, change your fortunes” – Portuguese proverb
If you already know French or Italian, Portuguese grammar has a similar structure so you have a definite advantage there. However, there are some problems about the placement of pronouns in a sentence and also the pronunciation of some nasalized vowels. Portuguese also tends to use the subjunctive a lot.
European Portuguese (EP) seems to cause more difficulty than Brazilian Portuguese (BP) because the former is considered more academic. The differences have been compared to British and American English. Learning vocabulary is easier because of the many English/Portuguese cognates from its shared Latin roots.
Learning another language to enhance your CV and help to change your future is a no brainer. Do you have any language learning experiences to share? Tell us about them in the comments below.
Featured photo credit: The LEAF Project via flickr.com
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