Intelligent Life, in their most recent issue, argued about which language – other than English – we should learn, in business and in practical terms.
The argument on languages is worth thinking about, researching, and preparing for when kids decide what extra credits to take in school.
Nevertheless, there are two funny points that I can’t not mention, since the original article’s author did not.
1). Even if we speak the same language with other people, we don’t necessarily understand each other. Take any average family. Why fight, otherwise? Let alone if one goes political, beyond family misunderstandings. There’s lack of language understanding between nations, religions, regions within nations, neighbourhoods even (think of gangs!).
2). And of course, there’s always the option of using plain forefinger! You just point at anything that’s in a foreign language, and you don’t understand, and get the others to sweat over your ignorance, until they make it clear for you and serve you right.
So, there’s this second option for those, who don’t feel like reading any further.
The author in Intelligent Life argued that one would assume that Chinese is one possibility for people to look at as a second language worth learning.
Chinese economy is booming.
From European and American products to African bridges and roads, it’s all China-made.
Every fourth person you meet on the street is likely to be Chinese, too.
The maths tell you, go for the Mandarin.
Yet, the article killed that option.
Logically, when the Asian tigers in the ’70s and Japan (perhaps since Pearl Harbour) loomed, one would assume, people would have wanted to learn at least one Asian language.
None of that happened.
Today, computers can produce Chinese calligraphy even by only hearing your pronunciation.
You don’t necessarily have to know how to write (or read, for that matter).
All you need to know is the pronunciation and you could get away with “knowing” Chinese.
But, as the article goes, this is part of the problem with the Chinese language – because computers do half of the job that your brain should, specifically the young ones today don’t bother so much to memorise (or create new) hieroglyphs if the computers are doing all the heavy lifting.
This, in turn, might endanger the language itself. If that’s the case,
I’d say, it’s only a matter of time when Chinese will turn to use the Latin letters, as Kurdish was, originally.
All the while I was reading the article, one thought in me prevailed – that French was the other best language for a person to study. I don’t know why I thought that, in spite of my struggles with the French even now (and good luck to me for the exam on March 26th), but there’s something to the French that, like a Chanel bag – it will never lose its value.
Maybe, it’ll only increase in value, what with the recent revelation about why French kids never throw food or tantrums in public and why French mothers are still sexy and not the paranoids their Atlantic counterparts turn out to be. New literature and research just keeps coming with revelations about how well the French are doing in almost every aspect – naturally, at that.
And as the article convincingly puts it, there are
56 members [of the La Francophonie club], almost a third of the world’s countries. Hardly any of them are places where French is everyone’s native language. Instead, they include countries with Francophone minorities (Switzerland, Belgium); those where French is official and widespread among elites (much of western Africa); those where it is not official but still spoken by nearly all educated people (Morocco, Lebanon); and those where French ties remain despite the fading of the language (Vietnam, Cambodia)…Another 19 countries are observer members.
My french teacher, who taught me french couldn’t be any more french. Even though she lives in Malta, all her furniture is Louis XVI or one of the Louises. Her books, her music, her paintings, her TV satellite, even her coffee was directly from France, french-made. I don’t know, if I learned any french from her, but I learned a lot about the French art, culture, and literature, that English reference did not provide.
What I learned from her french lessons was, why the french language is so sensual, phrasal, and impressionistic, unlike, say, the English that is pragmatic, simple and, as Ms. Catherine would say, “good at doing deals and business with”.
And that was the article’s conclusion – that French is the other best language one could take up on.
With the appendix that, knowing a language has an attachment to it.
Learning a new language helps you understand its culture and people.
A new language makes you more accepting, tolerant, and broad-minded.
Of course, you leave room for special cases.
If you’re a businessman doing business (what else) in China, be my guest, sweat over the calligraphy and its variations all you want. If your market is Latin America, portuguese and spanish would equally do.
I’d be happy with every language that my children learn, be that a dead language or a dialect of some sort. Languages are more like free passes to so much around us and the world, let alone if you apply for jobs or plan to come up with your own business. That extra skill in your CV – multilingual or speaking Swahili – will keep you a step ahead of others.
I’d push my kids to study french, though. To begin with. There’s so much history, art, and culture that comes with it. It’s overwhelming!
French language is like an old red wine that spins your head after the first glass; doesn’t cause headache once you’ve acquired Le subjonctif; and after the first bottle it is all Bizet, Zola, Hugo, Renoir, Manet, Degas, Delon, Gainsbourg, and the world that created them and the air they breathed.
Le choix est vôtre!