Yet another business case for teaching the language love

One of the messages I try to convey to school pupils when I talk to them about language learning is that languages are relevant and might actually help them in later life.

So I was delighted to read about a study (by Panos Athanasopoulos of Newcastle University, and others) on how language affects the way we see the world.

Working with both Japanese and English speakers, he [Panos Athanasopoulos] looked at their language use and proficiency, along with the length of time they had been in the country, and matched this against how they perceived the colour blue.

Essentially, Japanese has more terms for light and dark blue than English does. The study found that people who speak Japanese distinguished more between light and dark blue than English speakers, which suggests that having words available to describe a concept helps you perceive that concept.

Dr. Athanasopoulos applies this finding to business and international relations:

learning a second language gives businesses a unique insight into the people they are trading with, suggesting that EU relations could be dramatically improved if we all took the time to learn a little of each other’s language rather than relying on English as the lingua-franca.

“If anyone needs to be motivated to learn a new language they should consider the international factor,” he said. “The benefits you gain are not just being able to converse in their language — it also gives you a valuable insight into their culture and how they think, which gives you a distinct business advantage.

“It can also enable you to understand your own language better and gives you the opportunity to reflect on your own culture, added Dr Athanasopoulos, who speaks both Greek and English.

That’s precisely what I tell pupils: that language learning is relevant to the business world (at all levels) and gives them another string to their careers bow. It’s like having an extra antenna that helps you pick up signals and intelligence that you’d otherwise miss. As Dr. Athanasopoulos says, language learning also gives students an insight to their own language (and to its grammar!). The experience of learning, and maybe struggling with, a foreign language should also teach them to empathise with non-English speakers conducting international business in a language that isn’t their own. And not to take their efforts for granted.

I only wish the management at Glasgow University, and at other educational establishments threatening to slash language teaching, would take this message on board. On which subject, please take the time to sign the petition to Help Save Modern Languages at the University of Glasgow. You can also “like” the Modern Languages and Cultures at University of Glasgow under threat Facebook page, and forward the link. The full text of the open letter sent by University staff to the Scottish Education Secretary, Michael Russell, is available here.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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