ping la

Student-Finance Major,

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How many languages should we learn in bussiness? which one we must have to learn?

In Asia every students are forced to learn english.But I think that's not really inspire for us .If you really insteresting for any languages you will study it by yourself instead of forcing.
Every teachers,parents,bosses told us that we have to speak as more as different languages but in this world have too much languages.
Beside english which language is the most people speaking?
And second?

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    Nov 26 2013: Let me give you my ''western perspective''

    Every ''era'' had a dominant language.

    For example, in Europe during the Roman Empire, the most powerful and influential language was Latin, which united European land under one crown. People back then thought Latin was going to dominate the continent forever, but with time passing by, new dialects started developing, some of which we now call Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French or Romanian.

    Then, when the French, Portuguese and Spanish Empires started exploring the Americas and Africa, they started to impose their own languages onto new lands, which we now call Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Senegal or Angola. People thought these three languages were going to dominate the western world forever.

    Then however came the British Empire and managed to reach all continents, making it the first truly global empire in the world. People started learning english in North America, in many parts of Africa, in India, in Australia and small parts of East Asia and international business and trading was being made more and more in English.

    Basically, from a business point-of-view, English has quickly evolved into the world's most important tool for communication, thanks to these 3 stages:

    stage 1: the british empire (presence in all continents)
    stage 2: the american rise in the 20th century
    stage 3: the internet

    My short answer to you is: If you 'need' to learn one (and only one) foreign language, you should definitely learn today's global language, which is English.

    However, history was shown us, that every powerful language will eventually fall, either break into different languages or dethroned by another global power.

    On an educational level, I believe it's inspiring to learn as many languages as you can, because you not only learn the language and practice your brain, but also learn about different cultures, which motivates you to travel around the world more

    Learning languages, cultures, places... it's the best thing in life!
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      Nov 26 2013: Really thanks for your comment.
      From telling me language history to how to choose languages by myself.
      Really useful.
      I'm still learning for french now.
      I'm interesting for it but i don't know did I make wrong choose?
      Maybe I should choose more helpful languages first instead of french?
      (ex:Spanish,Portuguese ,Japanese...etc)
      Will you change your mind to give up French?
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        Nov 26 2013: I believe that your national language (chinese right?) + English is enough for your professional life in general, but depending on where you live, study or work, it is also very important to learn a third language.

        For example, if you're a Portuguese person working in Germany, probably you will have to speak a lot of German, besides Portuguese and English

        If you're a Chinese person living in France, probably you will have to speak a lot of French, besides Mandarin and English.

        Personally, I only learn new languages when I really need to, but I also move a lot... right now I'm living in Shanghai and I'm learning Mandarin to understand the people and the culture better. Although I'm not fluent yet, it already really helps me!

        It really depends on your situation... If you like to learn languages as a ''hobby'' , any language is worth learning! But if you're going to study or work in France, you should better study French... if you want to go to Mexico, you should better study Spanish... if you're working in Saudi Arabia, you should better learn Arabic.

        If you like French, then study French ;) I know it's a very difficult language for Asian people, especially because of the grammar, but Spanish and Portuguese have similar grammar to French.

        I'm from Portugal and I can read Spanish and French, although I never studied it.... it's all the same language group!
    • Nov 27 2013: 100% agree.
  • Dec 4 2013: Think of it as a personal investment - I can speak 3 languages (Italian, English and Swedish) - each of these language has brought something unique to me, a unique way to see things, to name things - a completely different mindset that helped me see some things from different perspectives, and -I don't mean to sound rude but - In many cases knowing more languages led me ahead of some people, in life and at work.

    Don't only consider learning a language as a duty or a necessity to become a part of the professional/ business world - learning a new language will truly give you more control over so many things: the quality of the information and culture you can access, your potential to reach new people and new opportunities...

    I know it's hard to get inspired to do something you feel forced too, but you can always find a angle to get into it :-)
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    Gord G

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    Nov 29 2013: The only language that matters is the language of money. If you get that right, conversational syntax will be forgiven.
  • Nov 26 2013: Hello! This is my first comment in TED and I have to use English language. But I speak Spanish, one of the most important language in the world. I think is the second one if we're considering the amount of countries where it's spoken. But if I want to watch the TED's conferences or to participate in this conversation I need to use English.

    When we think about the importance of education in a society, we usually say that this education is necessary if you want that people think on their own. This is the way to be free. We want to read the news and have our opinion. But if there is someone who read them for you the news can be changed. You don't feel really free.

    In countries like Spain, we're used to watching films that have been dubbed. I want to listen the real voices, the real interpretation. I want to judge by I need to learn English!!!!

    My opinion is that you have to learn all that helps you to think freely. The most you can learn the most you can think. The most you can think the most free you are.

    (excuseme if my English is not perfect.....but I'm learning your language!!!!! and I'm happy to be able to talk to you )
  • Nov 26 2013: English is by far the most important, but not because of the number of speakers. English represents money, soft power, science, technology, and military power.

    Mandarin Chinese ("Chinese" technically isn't a language, it's a language family) will have much more importance in the future if China's economy continues to grow, but at the moment it's not any more important than learning Japanese (for example). That's because China's economy is still only half the size of the USA and roughly the same as Japan. China still has little soft power (people in other countries almost never watch mainland chinese movies or listen to Chinese music), and hasn't contributed much in terms of new technologies or science.

    People need to learn English for EVERY country they work or travel in. Learning a third language like Japanese, Chinese, Spanish etc. is only a specific goal for business in those countries. For example learning Chinese will only help you in China; it'll be useless in Brazil or Germany. But English is useful for business in any country, Brazil, Germany, Japan, wherever. It's the default mode of communication.

    So to answer your question, Everyone SHOULD learn a second and third language. The second language is English for travel and business around the world, and the third language is the language of the country you will be traveling to and doing business with the most.
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    Dec 2 2013: While English is certainly the most preferred language of the business world, there’s no need to be arrogant about it. Business students can’t just be good students anymore — we live in an age where a successful businessperson must also be worldly to be a success. Learning a foreign language can be difficult, but ultimately supremely beneficial to a student’s credentials. And using Google Translate won’t do; you’ve got to know the ins and outs of an idiomatic language in order to really make your point. If you can do business in several languages, especially with written communication, there’s a host of jobs open to you that wouldn’t normally be on your radar. And that’s not all. Studies show that bilingual folks have better brain function. The limits of your world are the limits of your language, and it’s long past time to make your world as large as it actually is. Learn one of these seven relevant languages for business, and you’ll be one giant step closer to a truly global career.
    • Dec 3 2013: As a teacher of foreign languages, I've been telling my students that which language you learn is not as important and why you should learn one. Yes, studies do show that there are different connections made in the brain as a result of acquiring a new language. My students (college students) are amazed at the differences in how people see the world. Why would we not want to open our minds? Being aware that the people you interact with in business might not agree with you because of cultural differences is important. Knowing that there are differences in cultures should prompt a good business person to investigate before they offend.
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    Dec 2 2013: Learn the ones you love or from the cultures you would like to explore... You can do business with any culture or language...
    I wouldn't go for dead languages though (not so much business)
  • Nov 26 2013: English,还有 中文。
    I happen to realize the importance of being able to speak both two languages.
    Not that those two are most important, but it's just that,我来感觉 people speaking those languages happen to be 非常多。
  • Nov 25 2013: English is the closest thing we have to an international language today, and by far spoken by the most people (though usually as a second language, so an exact figure is hard to come by). I'd recommend everyone study it, fun or no. Even if you never once in your life find yourself in need to hold a conversation using it (unlikely), you'll still find it all over the place in everything from academic research to technology.

    You learn plenty of things you don't like in school; English at the very least is practical for the vast majority of the population, as opposed to say, history or literature. Better to force people to learn English, honestly; most will learn to appreciate it later in life.

    Learning more languages after that can be handy, though in most places, its not as crucial. It depends where you live, mostly.
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    Dec 5 2013: Hi ping,

    I would not expect a person to speak more the his native language and English, any other should be driven by your own interest.

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    Dec 4 2013: Learning a new language seems to alter brain development for the better. Hence any language seem to be helpful.
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    Dec 3 2013: Languages are learned best when you are young. But children of, let's say 10, are mostly not interested by themselves in a different language. In my opinion it is therefore important to start early with the most important languages. In my case it is English. Lateron children cna decide what other languages they want to learn. Task of the school is to let them understand that it's fun and has sense to learn them. Forcing is always a bad idea.

    The best way to show the importance is to organize opportunities where schoolkids meet others abroad. E.g. an exchange in a neighbour country and stay for some days in a family. Cheaper solution: organize a meetup with kids from abroad with Skype.
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    Dec 2 2013: We are communicating in Engish in this Forum, aren't we?! Is this happenning naturally or culturally? My opinion is that Business English is a reality well beyond the size and importance of Western economies today. Internationalization is more and more necessary in a global economy, and English communications are definitely a step ahead in this process. My education was bilingual Spanish-English (I'm Peruvian born), but I also see how important it is to keep the heritage of other local languages and understand the way they shape business practices.
  • Dec 2 2013: In a response to your question, I think that there is no such a language we should or must learn. It is all up to exactly what you want to do in your life.

    Generally speaking,the more language we know, the more opportunity we can possibly get in business.So I think it is better for everyone to be encouraged to learn many languages but not being forced by anyone.

    I would like to suggest that you make sure exactly what you would like to do from now, and then decide the language you are going to learn.
  • Dec 2 2013: English and spanish are world languages. You can go a far way with them in business. I am german and in school we learned english for sure and could choose betweem latin (!) and spanish. Both languages sure helped me in my job (I work as a huam ressource expert). I studied cultural anthropology and came across Lakota (the idiom of the lakota indians in the USA). I learned that the language a nation or group of people speaks represent the way they perceive the world. And that is very interesting. Linguists differentiate between rational and descriptive languages. When I worked in a russian-egyt-german project, I found that russian is far more descriptive than german and english. It was funny for me to speak english with a russian and a german buisness men. The russian guy spoke 'in stories' the german in a very abstract way. I had to explain a lot.
    So you can learn an language you love and additional you should learn english, and then spanish. Good luck!
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    Dec 2 2013: I suggest Spanish except English. But you should be interested in the language that you will learn. For example, chinese is very popular but I'm not interested in that language. So you should think this. Good luck!
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    Dec 1 2013: English is definitely the dominant language both in business and daily life,it will still be in the foreseeable future. Due to the Great British Empire in the 19th century and the USA in the 20th century,their peerless power pushed English to its status quo.

    English is the de facto world language,in terms of its scope in use. Language is like a net,all the knots connect each other,thus,they are highly interconnected. We,the people are like the knots in a net,if we cant speak a language which is being spoken among the people around us ,we will be isolated,vice verse. In other words, we learn and speak English in case of being marginalized.
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    Dec 1 2013: well, think twice, english is more significant if you wanna be international.
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    Nov 30 2013: In my country-Turkey-, we have to learn English,too.It is compulsory. we used to start learning English when we were 10 years old 1 years ago. But now age of learning English starts more earlier. So, it is very necessary but knowing your own language and English is not enough in Turkey because everyone who living in this world knows English anymore. I think you can learn French because French people dont speak in any language except for their own language.They have strict point of view about this matter.In the future, you work with them, you may take disadvantage of it. Also, you can learn another Latin languages.
  • John Mn

    • +1
    Nov 29 2013: In my point of view, as many languages as possible. However, there are some important languages such as Chines, Japanese, French
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    Nov 29 2013: English is the king of business languages. Think of the future; look at the signs. There is a language you have to learn.
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      Dec 1 2013: You sound like my latin professor back in the year 530, when he told me ''latin is the future, the sacred language of god, it will dominate the continent forever''

      On a more serious note, if your professional life is in China or in Brazil, do you really think English is sufficient?
  • Nov 28 2013: Actually I am also Asian, so I totallly understand your question. In my country, it is really good for you if you know many languages such as Englsih, Spinish and so on. When I was a middle school studnet, I was really interested in learning English. however, I've been changing my mind because It's really stressful for me. we have a big problem with English that it has an opposite structure. that's why when we make a English sentences, It's not clear and a little bit awkward. Nevertheless, Most korean are really want to get a good English skill and be a excellent speaker. Because they know exactly, when they can speak English very well, It has a lot of chance to get a job or successful future. As a result, English is the most important word nowadays and hope to learn very clearly.
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    Nov 25 2013: I speak 4 languages. I don't speak them because I had to, but because I had incentive to do so (business needs, better communication, liking the language, living in the place, etc).
    I think to your question as to how many languages you should learn there is no real answer.
    Learn whatever adds value. If you need English for business then learn English, if you like Tagalog because you like it's sound learn that, if you move to Sweden, then learning Swedish might become useful.
    • Nov 26 2013: I also speak 4 languages and only learned them because of the need to understand more people. As an Anthropologist I fount it to very important and useful when I want to get different kind of information. Now as I have have my little business it is very convenient. I think knowing languages gives you more advantage in life.
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        Nov 26 2013: Speaking to people in their own language is always the best, even if English would work most of the time. But usually people express themselves differently if they can speak in their own language.
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      Nov 26 2013: Really thanks for your comment.

      I'm still learning for french now.
      I'm interesting for it but i don't know did I make wrong choose?
      Maybe I should choose more helpful languages first instead of french?
      (ex:Spsnish,Portuguese ,Jananese...etc)
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        Nov 26 2013: Learning something, never is lost time. If you find that Spanish is more useful for you in the future you can still learn it. Actually it will be much easier because French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian have the same roots.
      • Nov 27 2013: Well the way I chose my languages was like this, I wanted to talk one East, one West, one South and one North language. I am from Lithuania so only one language missing is East. I was waiting for Hindi professor when I was still at my university, but in 2 Years he didn't arrive. Well this way is just my understanding, Hindi is not that useful but still wanna learn it. But I would choose Hebrew right now, mostly for economic reasons. And there's no one day I don't speak all o the languages I know, it's really amazing how much things and knowledge you can get being able to speak other languages. (I speak English, Russian, Spanish and my Lithuanian, so basically can have conversations with people who don't even speak them but speak similar languages, it helps a lot).
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        Nov 27 2013: I think learning French should be just for interest sake, unless you plan on doing business in or conversing in France.
  • Nov 25 2013: English is a must, at least till you are old enough (about 16 years old, perhaps?) to decide whether you would be better off learning another language such as French or German. It all depends on what you are going to work on. If it's diplomacy, English and French. If it's business administration, then it's Chinese and English. If it's Literature, English and Spanish. It all depends on your interests, but I would say that English has to be learnt at least up to some extent.

    I'd also like to add that it depends on how English is taught. I learnt English in a quite dynamic way and so I was able to progress quite fast, but many of my classmates can't even talk coherently and hate it because all they do is study structures and repeat them. Completely disengaging and useless if you ask me. So find a good teacher if you are struggling with it.
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    Nov 25 2013: Learn whatever you are interested in.....
    There is no must.
    Power my country school tries to teach English because we were their colony not that we learned for business or any other reason.
    Currently lot people are interested to learn Chinese because of it's strong growth potential in again power rules.
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    Nov 25 2013: ping, here is list of how many people speak each language:

    What do you mean when you say every student in Asia is forced to learn English?

    Maybe English is a more influential language than other languages, so that is why they want you to learn it?
  • Dec 9 2013: I thought learning languages will also develop as your business grow. Somehow a starter should learn english other than their native language. When your product predict to have a great sale in China, Chinese must be a good idea to start learning. But as your business grow, not all leader will be able to learn quickly, money can buy everything including native speaker for personal assistant. For conclusion, start your business as soon as possible without worrying what language you should learn, action first and continue the process :)
    But english is a must
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    Dec 9 2013: The answer to what language "should" you learn is relative to you area of work, where you live and where you want to go. Ussually english is a safe bet, as it is a very popular language nowdays. Besides that, from a business intelligent perspective, probably mandarin would be a second choice and french as thirth.

    I, as a spanish native speaker, chose english as a second lenguage because of the freedom related to the access of information that english brings. I plan to follow with french, both because is a beatiful language and because is popular in Europe, a place I want to visit in the future. After french, I plan to learn italian just because of its beauty.

    There are some languages which are a good idea to learn even if you do not feel particularly drawn to it, like english, but I strongly believe that is way easier to learn a language that you are interested.
  • Dec 6 2013: Greetings from Algeria ,
    Well ! I understand your situation . Bear in mind that everywhere in the world students are obliged to learn English . Even in Algeria , we've got parents who take their children to private schools to learn English at early ages . In public schools , they start learning it at the age of 11 .
    Nowadays , English language is having a great impact on lot of domains (science , economy , politics , communication...) people learn it for a purpose . Each language is beautiful , according to me . Maybe tomorrow it will be the african languages or the scodinavian ones . it depends on how language influences the world and English succeeded to influence us . Moreover , people like learning French and Spanish beacause they find them beautiful and their accent is amazing , there are who find chinese or arabic interesting , so they decide to learn them . We're not obliged to learn only English language . As i said , people do it just for a purpose (work_communicate...) .

    French people say :'L'apprentissage des langues se fait de métissage'
  • Dec 5 2013: In my opinion, we have to speak at least 2 languages, including English. Indeed, English is universal. Nowadays, we learn English all around the world, in every countries. We learn it earlier and earlier because English is great value. Of course, we have to speak our native language too. But new languages are developing, such as Chinese. With the globalization, China is become important in the economic world. I’m not sure for now, but maybe, across the years, it could be interesting learn Chinese too. It could be strategic speaking to a company having people who speak it, because of the economic place of China and its growing population.
  • Dec 5 2013: I think the most people speak Chinese besides English. For one thiing, there is a large population in China. For another thing, China is increasingly affecting the world. More and more people pay attention to China including Chinese culture and Chinese.
  • Dec 4 2013: Perhaps you have the same experiences of education as I do. I have learned English for at least 10 years since I was in a primary school, but it does little effect, I am still working hard on it. Viewing the past, I had little interest in language learning, but right now, finding more pleasure on it, I pay much attention on English learning. My opinion is that what we are compelled to do may not always the worst thing. It depends on our attitudes among it. I am convinced that English does good to us both in brain development and the mutual conversation in business. So good luck, everyone of us.
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    Dec 4 2013: As many as you like. But at the end it is English that governs the world and who knows maybe Spanish in 10 years.
  • Dec 4 2013: hi Ping la
    i think English and Spanish. Maybe Chinese.
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    Dec 4 2013: English and Indonesian.
    Good luck for all.
  • Dec 3 2013: It depends - English is obvious but if you are going to be working with or spending a lot of time in a country then you should learn the language (both spoken and written). Large corporations have 2 classes - one for those that are passing through a country and only spending at most a week or 2. They are taught important customs but not in depth (i.e. Singapore is a good example - spitting is not allowed) and basic phrases. The class usually is only for several days, a week at most. The second type of class is for those who will be spending a lot of time in the country and interfacing with that country's citizens a significant amount of time. The class would be an intense course lasting a month or more to get ready.
  • Dec 3 2013: Just one.
    You're welcome.
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    Dec 3 2013: I don't think the languages we are able to speak are the most important factor in the communication with different inviduals. How many of us have pets at home for more than 3 years? When you think about it, isn't it shocking that you have never talked in actual language? But you could mostly always understand what they are trying to "tell" you. Going for a walk? Hungry? Sad you're gone? These are called expressions. And there is no dictionary that could help us learning them. Of course, there are plenty of books written about signs that we could recognise but the truth is that knowing it comes through observing - yourself and the others.
    Do you remember the story from the Bible about Babylon? When people tried to reach their God by building "stairs" to get to Him, so to prevent this, He decided to put "the wall" of the different languages. In a non-religious way we could understand this as the origin of misunderstanding. How about a theory of people trying to reach God by creating languages in different regions of the world? They created mythology, different vissions of the world, which all was their "God". So after they found out they wouldn't reach the Him this way, they tried to find Him by communicating with different individuals from places far from their homeland. Then they found they couldn't understand each other, so that was the "wall".

    And let's get another question from the Bible. On what language did Adam and Eve talk? And by what language did the snake tease them?

    They say that soon we would be able to open our telepathy, so we could talk using no language.

    But until then, I think we should choose the ones that would give us majority of people to communicate with by continents and the most-spoken languages there. For North America and Australia that would be surely English, for the South America we can assume Spanish, In Europe English, German and Russian + French for Africa and Arabic and Mandarin for Asia.

    Et voila,we have the cocktail !
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    Dec 3 2013: I think it depends of where you live and with wich country you will be able to work. I mean English is an international language but in my case for example, i leave in France and I learn German because i'm quite sure that I will in the future, work with/in this country.

    However, Chinese and Spanish are the most spoken language in the world and with the economic growth of China, it can be interesting to learn this language.
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    Dec 3 2013: It is unfortunate that we are forced to learn foreign languages. However on our own we should learn at least 3-4 languages beside our mother tongue.
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    Dec 3 2013: Languages are learned best when you are young. But children of, let's say 10, are mostly not interested by themselves in a different language. In my opinion it is therefore important to start early with the most important languages. In my case it is English. Lateron children cna decide what other languages they want to learn. Task of the school is to let them understand that it's fun and has sense to learn them. Forcing is always a bad idea.

    The best way to show the importance is to organize opportunities where schoolkids meet others abroad. E.g. an exchange in a neighbour country and stay for some days in a family. Cheaper solution: organize a meetup with kids from abroad with Skype.
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    Dec 3 2013: Languages are learned best when you are young. But children of, let's say 10, are mostly not interested by themselves in a different language. In my opinion it is therefore important to start early with the most important languages. In my case it is English. Lateron children cna decide what other languages they want to learn. Task of the school is to let them understand that it's fun and has sense to learn them. Forcing is always a bad idea.

    The best way to show the importance is to organize opportunities where schoolkids meet others abroad. E.g. an exchange in a neighbour country and stay for some days in a family. Cheaper solution: organize a meetup with kids from abroad with Skype.
  • Dec 3 2013: Language studies also need to take account of the economic concept of "opportunity cost". What do we abandon when we make kids learn a second language in schools?

    Also, is a second language much use without the cultural knowledge that the language speakers obtain by living in the culture. Sometimes a little language is a dangerous thing. Some elements of the range of cultures surrounding the English language have largely been absorbed by non-English-speakers via films and television programs.

    It use to be said that everyone needed to learn Latin -- and in the Renaissace that was probably true. But today Latin study apparently only benefits the lawyers and a few pendants and show-offs.

    Mandarin would obviously be of value for some business and political leaders in the next generation, but it will be impossible to displace the value of English as the global lingua-franca now, because too many people have already invested in it as a second language. Chinese will probably become their third.

    But in the process of learning two extra languages they will need to abandon studies of science, ecology, history, geography, or whatever. School curriculums are already overloaded.
  • Dec 3 2013: When we were young, parents would tells us not to play in the rain, we loved it, dust and other things too and we hated them for that. Now that we grown ups, it is almost impossible to believe we once did that. You see, your teacher know better than you do and i think the earlier you realize that, the better. Use the parents incident to justify their views if there is no other way.
  • Dec 2 2013: Hi Ping La.
    An interesting question.
    I believe it's not a particular language one should learn as we do live in one global community, and who is to determine the dominant language-culture? Because a language is culture and culture is identity. To define one identity as dominant is simple arrogance. It's about time we accepted difference of cultures and experienced the opportunity to be part of this wonderful multicultural world and benefit from each culture.
    Business is beyond one language. Business is innovation. Business is daring. Business interaction. (I am not versed in business so excuse me if what I define as business is nonsensical)
  • Dec 2 2013: i suggest English and Chinese.we all think we should study English for sure.But why we should study Chinese.In recently,China has develop quickly and is playing an increasingly important role in the world,besides when it comes to the language spoken by the largest number of population,it is undoubtedly chinese!
  • Dec 2 2013: From this question, I think you are most likely preparing into some business, but have no ideas what will be ahead of you. Most people (like me) learning a foreign language (besides English in shcool) are due to necessisity or interests. Once you start a career, you will know what foreign language(s) is needed for your work. For example, working in the United States, knowing Spanish is a plus. If your company has international connection, targeting a region you may become an expatriate and learn the language(s) of that region. Based on personal interests, you can also learn foreign language(s) simply because you plan to travel, or want to know more about the culture (history, music, etc) of those countries. I know someone learn Chinese because they like China. I learn French because I think French is a beautiful language. You can learn as many foreign languages as your time and ability allow. Who know which one will some day becomes your business needs or personal needs.
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    Dec 1 2013: Mandarin Chinese is one of the most profitable languages to know, but it all depends on what type of business you plan on going in to. Personally, I'm going into medicine and I look at the demographic at the area that I plan on working in and choose which language (aside from SAE) would be most beneficial.

    Although English isn't widely used, it is one of the hardest to learn and is beneficial in the business world. Choose the region you want, the type of business you want to work in, and research from there.

    Good luck!
  • Dec 1 2013: Hello, Ping La

    You ask an interesting question. Life and your career will take many twists and turns you can't predict at your or any age.

    I am an American, and in high school I took Latin and Castillian Spanish. My Latin (and gym teacher) vowed that the romance or Latin-based languages are easy to learn -- once you know one, the others are just are variations.

    After moving to Japan, my fluent Spanish went out the window. Now, I wasn't fluent in Japanese as I lived there only 18 months. I was functional. I could ride the trains (if you want a belly laught I could tell you about being lost in a train station), had a driver's license, could order from the menu, do grocery shopping, etc. We did not live in a cosmopolitan city, but a small rural town and commuted. We rarely saw other aliens.

    So what do I suggest. When all else failed, and I was lost or confused or .... sign language works every time. The kindness of strangers -- you are too embarrassed? Well, I wasn't. You have to see the comic side of the situation (and, no, I saved myself in the train station).

    I suggest when you find yourself going to ..., you inquire through you business whether a translator will be provided. The host company will usually take that into consideration, and be so gracious as to provide one. Then I would go to the bookstore and learn all I could about the country's manners and customs.

    Before moving to Japan, I took a Japanese I class, only four meetings but I could be polite, introduce myself and others, and behave myself so I was not a social embarrassment to myself or my country. I asked many questions, knew how to bow correctly (I asked), how to sit correctly (I asked). I never drank in public. I wrote thank you notes. I collected business cards from every, occassion and on returning to the hotel room made notes on the back so I would not forget the individual. I sent token, not expensive, gifts when it was appropriate. I learned what was important to them.
  • Dec 1 2013: I would suggest Spanish and Chinese if not English first. Then German, followed by Russian and French. Do that and you can speak to many people in all continents
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    Dec 1 2013: Hi ping la, thanks for opening this conversation. One point you are mentioning that I think is important is the difference between the languages you are forced to learn and your personal interests.

    In a business context English is widely considered to be the first choice. One of my former English teachers would actually use the word ‘Globish’: you’ll probably end up using a limited number of constructions and speak to people who are not native English speakers either (my case, and the result must often have Shakespeare rolling in his grave!). Your second/third choice will depend on the industry/specific company you work for. You can also go for a language few people from your country speak because it will make your profile unique and some employers might be looking hard for people like you (my reason for learning German as a 3rd language).

    However I think all this has nothing to do with your personal interest in a language. You can like a language for its specificity, uniqueness, because you’re fascinated by a country and its culture. This goes beyond the business context!
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    Dec 1 2013: Who do you plan to do business with? English is not very useful if all your business is located in Russia or Brasil, for instance. What "most people" do or think can be totally irrelevant to you.
  • Nov 30 2013: I am very happy to see this topic as this is the question I've been asking myself for a long time.
    I am Chinese, and I also speak very fluent Japanese, now I am living in Western Europe, English is my daily working language. I've just been here for 1 year, so my English is far more than perfect, I'm still working on enhancing my English ability, at least to the same with my Japanese ability. I plan 1 year later, when my English ability is improved to a certain level, I want to learn one more language. current candidates are German, French and Spanish. one of the reason is our company has offices in all those countries, there is possibility I am transferred to those country, this can be both the driven and catalyst, you know why you are doing this and you have a good environment to help you do this efficiently. this is from a practical way, from personal interest point of view:
    I don't like France that much(just personal feeling, no offense to French people), but as someone also mentioned in this Topic, French don't speak English that much, I can get most out of learning French(what's the point you lean a language if people from this country speaks perfect English?)
    I like Germany, and there economy is very strong, they have a lot of companies in China, which I can also take advantage in case I will go back to China to live, but only German speaks German, the audience will be smaller compare to French and Spanish.
    Spanish is widely used in a lot of country, but the economy of Spain is not that good.

    so my conclusion is I don't set up any conclusion, I will see which country I have the most possibility to go, for the time being, I just keep strengthening my English.
  • Nov 30 2013: That depends. I always want to learn as many as I can and I believe English is quite easy comparing to others. Just think, Chinese is quite difficult, if not the NO.1 difficult, and you can use it so fluently, how inspiring! All you need to do is knowing what most interests you most and keep doing, however others say
  • Nov 29 2013: I assume you mean conversational knowledge of the language or are you including reading also?
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    Nov 28 2013: To be poliglot is amazing interesting, but strongly hard too.

    Thinking in business, exclusivelly, one good strategy could be look the World`s map.
    America: North english and French
    Latin: Spanish and portuguese to Brasil
    Europe: Ok, it`s a mix, but english and french, probably will help you in most of cases.
    in Africa, again mix, with english, french, spanish and portuguese, in the top.
    Asia: Russian, arabic will target the gratest numbers of contries.

    Sure, there are very important markets in Germany, Japan, India and China and others.
    But, in that countries, people studies another languages too
    and more, imaging the technological possibilites, in a near future, we could have real time translators.

    Then, my conclusion is, better the know several langues, is to know some, in have high level.
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      Dec 1 2013: Most of Northern Africa speaks Arabic, whereas the rest of Africa speaks either French, English or Portuguese (of course many other local languages and creoles) not really Spanish...

      In Europe, basically everybody under 30 can communicate in English, although many people also study and work in French, Spanish or Russian.

      In the big Asian continent, you still have too many different countries and too many different languages, which makes it really hard to propose just a small list of languages...
      But if I dare to, based on population, soft-power and size of land, I believe Mandarin, Russian, Arabic & English will dominate a lot of the continent's universities and businesses in the next decades.

      Americas: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French
      Africa: Arabic, French, English, Portuguese
      Europe: English, French, Spanish, Russian
      Asia: Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, English
      Oceania: English

      - English as the ''global language''
      - Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian & Mandarin as major ''continental languages''
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    Nov 28 2013: I see some really good points, but most are based on convention and usage. What we should ask instead, are a few structural questions:

    1.What is the learning/leverage load of a given language. For instance, if I learn French, it would take less time to learn than, say, Japanese (which I did learn in college), in addition, however, I would also have already learned a lot of the structure for other romance languages as well as being able to acquire vocabulary in the other romance languages due to cognates. Given that, we might find, hypohetically, that the time it takes to become fluent in Japanese, we could have learned 2 or 3 of the romance languages.

    2.There is a reason to suggest Chinese, given population and rise to world prominence. However, if we look at the number of languages that use the Western alphabet, as opposed to the Chinese or Japanese systems, then we must consider that the time spent learning another Western language is of much higher carrover value than would be learning Chinese.

    3.The last point I would make here has to do with the clarity of logic in word construction and tense formations. Here we would need to ask the linguists: Which has the most readily understandable and most streamlined set of rules for formation of new words, for borrowing new words from others, and for changing tenses of words. The future will most need the language which can adapt the fastest without becoming a linguistic version of Frankenstein's monster.
    • Nov 30 2013: but why do you want to do anything if there is no necessity. for example, I live in Netherlands, I never thought about learning Dutch because dutch people speaks perfect English, you will not have any problem living or working here as long as you speak English. and I think the reason they speak fluent English is because of the similarity between English and Dutch, which according to your opinion won't be very difficult to learn for English speaker. but if you don't get any added value from something, why would you bother to do that? just to show other people how many language you can speak?
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        Dec 1 2013: Will Wu, I understand your point of view, but I don't agree with it.

        The Netherlands are an exception to the rule, maybe comparable to Spanish people in Portugal. They can spend their whole lives in Lisbon speaking only in Spanish, but will never fully integrate into the culture, unless they learn Portuguese or at least ''Portuñol''

        In most other countries you should at least give your best to learn the local language. You don't have to be perfect, but if you show some respect and commitment to their local language and culture, they will definitely respect you back.

        You can also perfectly survive in Hong Kong solely with English, but try and speak Mandarin or Cantonese and you'll see the difference.

        Anyways, our friend Erik Richardson wasn't even denying the fact, that you can live & work in many countries, by just speaking in English or Spanish... but that there are certain 'language groups' containing 3-4 similar languages, that one could learn in the same time as one single language.

        For example, a Portuguese person can become fluent in French, Spanish & Italian (all of them!) in less than 5 years, whereas only learning Chinese would take him approximately the same time.
        • Dec 1 2013: Hi, Pedro Simas, thank you for your opinion.
          Maybe you didn't notice another comment I put in this thread. I stayed in Japan for 3 years, I speak very good Japanese, within 5 minutes talking with Japanese, they might not notice I am foreigner. I believe there are 4 reasons:
          1.Japanese is very close to Chinese
          2.Japanese doesn't speak a lot of English
          3.I was working there, I need to have massive communication with them
          4.I have a good sense of foreign language(I am better than a lot of those who stayed in Japan for more than 10 years)

          I think the first reason proved Mr.Erik's point is partly correct , after working 1 year in English environment, I am feeling my English can never reach same level as my Japanese. but I am very excited I can speak English, because the countries/cultures/people English can connect me to is very different from what Japanese can bring, because Japanese is too close to Chinese, I probably pay less time learning Japanese, but the reward is also much less accordingly.

          And without other 3 reasons, I will never learn Japanese. If Japanese speaks good Chinese or English, if I don't need to work in Japan, why would I learn Japanese? just because it's easy to learn? no matter how easy it is, to master a foreign language, at least 1-2 years are needed, I can take advantage of this time to learn something I do use, why do I waste time on something I never use? even it is just one hour. but it looks to me that Mr. Erik think you just learn some easy language, no matter if you will use it or not.

          Not to say, we all know, good language environment is the best catalyst to help with the study, if you never have the chance to use it, it also means you never have the chance to practice it, how can anyone master a language in this way? this is also the same reason I don't study Dutch, all Dutch people speaks very good English, if I want to communicate with them in very elementary Dutch, they will say cut it out, why don't we speak English!
  • Nov 27 2013: I've heard many times that our brains require regular exercise just like a muscle. So learning multiple languages in this day and age is probably a good thing as you suggest. However, there are many ways to stimulate the brain & if there is a lack of exercise out there, I'm sure we can find thousands of ways to fix the problem. So i don't see multiple languages as essential, but I do see social value in just one as I previously explained
  • Nov 26 2013: I think it would be best if we all spoke the same language. Perhaps i'm wrong, but I feel like 'language' is one of many barriers that keeps the world divided... and as so a universal language would be a step in the right direction if world peace is our goal.

    I wonder if a universal language is inevitable? Once we were kept apart from each other both geographically & through fear(lack of knowledge) of one another. But modern transport has made it easy to travel anywhere and we understand each other more and more with the aid of media & the internet... As long we stay on our current path, I can only see the lines that divide our nations continue to blurr with each generation.

    I'm not going to say I think that language should be english(or based upon), but one could argue that with it being the most widespread already, it may naturally be the one to dominate completely.
    • Nov 27 2013: I think that one language is not that good thing, because we humans have such unlimited brains, it's amazing what we can do with them so why not to use them and learn. Anyways this age is technology age and maybe people do not realize how much our brain usage (if I can say this) is going down. Now machines and computers do everything for us, so we stopped growing and are fast to enjoy easier ways to do things, solve problems, etc. In reality part of our society is getting rich from that and most of it is getting dumb. I think we should not give up and keep our brain working to it's full productivity, so why not to challenge it by learning another language? And learning other languages simply shows the respect for those other nations.
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    Nov 26 2013: The languages that one should learn all depends on where they desire to live and work.

    Based on worldwide population, Chinese, Spanish, and English are the most popular first languages. In fact, there is a much larger population that speak Chinese and Spanish over English as a first language, the only difference is that English is more widespread.

    As for the most widespread languages, these are English (101 countries), Arabic (59 countries), French (51 countries), Chinese (33 countries), and Spanish (31 countries).

    Here are the full statistics:
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    Nov 25 2013: Greg below gives you a link that shows how commonly spoken each language is. Is that is the criterion that to you indicates which are most important to learn?

    Here is an article that appeared on Big Think yesterday related to your question:
  • Nov 25 2013: One, English.
    You're welcome.
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    Nov 25 2013: Your native one and English , addtional to which you can learn other languages as you like.