We are not alone. College students and job seekers are competing in an international candidate pool filled with billions of willing and capable people. Many of those candidates have similar backgrounds and educational qualifications to their American counterparts. Many of them are often multi-lingual, meaning they speak the languages spoken in the emerging countries that many companies are trying to launch or expand operations in. This is a great competitive advantage for them. A recent U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics report reveals that nearly 15-percent of the American workplace is occupied by foreign-born residents. This reality coupled with the recent educational, economic, and technological advances across the world has given more people across to American education institutions, jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Learning another language can give you a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
“We cannot view ourselves as only American citizens, we are citizens of the world,” declares Patrick Anthony Williams, Ph.D., a foreign language educator and translator.
Interning in a foreign country produced substantial professional and personal results for Omar Goff.
“It broadened my worldview and gave me a competitive advantage over my peers,” Goff says of his Sao Paulo, Brazil-based internship with Pfizer, a leading biopharmaceutical company. “It was the world’s hottest economy for a number of years. Now, I can say that I worked and thrived in Brazil. I believe it will give me a competitive advantage long-term.”
Goff decided to maximize his 10-month internship opportunity by totally immersing himself in the local culture.
“In Brazil, English was a luxury. So I had to learn Portuguese to do my work. I really forced myself to learn the language,” he recalls. “I requested that my co-workers only speak to me in Portuguese. I also listened to Portuguese music and looked at Portuguese movies and television shows.”
This experience was invaluable nine years later when an international opportunity at the Brazil operations for Procter and Gamble (P&G), his current employer, became available.
“When my company seeks to send people abroad, you don’t necessarily have to speak the language,” he admits. “But, I became the prime candidate because I spoke the language and worked in the market.”
He reveals that working in a foreign country increased his compensation.
“I enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle due to the expatriate compensation,” he informs. “I was able to accumulate significant savings, eliminate significant debt, and enjoy life. It was quite lucrative for me.”
Goff says communicating in a country’s language enhances your experience.
“Speaking a person’s native language allows you to be invited into their world,” he offers. “It also shows a level of business sophistication and savvy. It certainly helps secure that initial connection. I built lifelong relationships while I was in Brazil.”
The multilingual Goff speaks English, Spanish, and Portuguese and serves as Purchasing Group Manager at P&G, an American multinational consumer goods company. He encourages students to have an open mind about the world, new cultures, and new languages.
Patrick Anthony Williams, Ph.D., a polyglot who speaks seven languages that include Spanish, English, French, Haitian Creole, Jamaican Patois, American Sign Language, and limited Korean, agrees with Goff’s assessment.
“The best way to learn a language is to live it,” declares Williams, a foreign language teacher with 27 years of service to Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS). “I don’t encourage students to view other languages not as a foreign language. But, as a second language.”
Williams continues: “In America, any language other than English is seen as a foreign language, as opposed to a second language.”
A Fulbright Memorial Fund Scholar to Japan, Williams says that mentality creates an American superiority complex that creates difficulty for students seeking to learn others languages and the instructors charged to teach them.
“Americans don’t view other languages as a means of survival, they see them as a requirement to graduate from school,” he proclaims.
The Jamaica-native uses a more hands-on, experiential approach to teaching languages.
“My hope is that my students truly learn the language. So, I am more oral. I made my classes conversational as opposed to writing and conjugating verbs,” he explains.
The noted scholar and university lecturer practices what he teaches.
“I spent some time as a visiting professor at Silla University in South Korea,” he shares. “I lived in a 50-story building with no elevator. While I walked the streets, climbed the stairs, and lived among the people, I began to pick up the language and understand how people used it.”
Dr. Williams’ approach earned recognition from M-DCPS district administrators. The administrators commended his students’ success which included: 80-percent of his 20 students (mostly 10th graders) earned passing scores on the 2006 Advanced Placement Spanish Language Exam; and 100-percent of his eighteen students earned passing scores on the 2007 AP Spanish Language Exam.
“Just think about it! When you were a child your parents did not teach you English by telling you ‘let’s conjugate verbs.’ Your brain picked it up from listening to other people,” he exclaims. “I encourage students to put themselves in environments where the desired language is spoken. You would not get confused. Your brain will pick it up and start acquiring the language.”
The U.S. Committee on Economic Development (CED) suggests that American businesses lose more than $2 billion a year to language or cultural misunderstandings. Imagine the value you can bring to a company if you helped close the billion dollar gap. Goff and Williams offers this guidance to approach to learning other languages.
Enroll in a Course: There are many language courses at both offered at community colleges, libraries, and other community/government resources.
Expose Yourself to Other Language: Goff admits he fell in love with other languages because he was exposed to French in the first grade. Williams first started experimenting with languages by greeting people in their native language. Seeing their positive reactions encouraged him to expand his foreign vocabulary.
Consider the Benefits: Williams is a career educator, entrepreneur, and even earned money as a federal court translator. He attributes his additional streams of income to mastering multiple languages. He says using other languages helps you serve more people, and enjoy more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Immerse and Participate in the Culture: While in Brazil, Goff asked his colleagues to only speak to him in Portuguese. Doing so helped him learn the language. He also watched movies and television shows to gain exposure and comfort with the language.
Utilize Technology- They are many software and mobile applications that can help facilitate your journey to another language. They include Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, www.Omniglot.com, and www.Fluentin3Months.com, among others.
Zach Rinkins is an Associated Press award-winning journalist, professional speaker, and the author of the upcoming book Black Students Are College Material. You can connect with Zach on Facebook and Twitter at @ZachRinkins or www.ZachRinkins.com