Benefits of Studying Another Language

LanguageA couple months ago I found this article on the benefits of studying a second language.  Sometimes it helps motivate me when my classes are frustrating.  A few highlights from the article:

  1. Stave off dementia.  Bilingual individuals apparently are likely to stave off dementia by up to five years.
  2. Increased attention.  As those that meditate know, practice concentrating and it is easier to concentrate on all problems.  Language study and the attention required to interpret an unfamiliar language is such an act of concentration.
  3. New views on life.  The article references and example of Japanese but I like this one of Chinese: did you know that the Chinese word for thin (?) includes a component that is used in words that describe disease and sickness?  That shows how much the early Chinese admired their plump friends and family.

In summarizing many of my previous observations and rants, I will offer a few reasons of my own on the benefits of studying a second language:

  1. Exercise your humility.  Learning any language will always introduce you to people fluent in that language.  Comparing your proficiency with theirs is a constant exercise in humility.
  2. Build confidence.  The most accomplished linguists are fearless.  They use every word they know at every opportunity without fear of the listener’s response.  Force yourself to do this and it must translate into life’s other activities.
  3. Round out your intelligence.  Language intelligence is a distinct component of our multi-dimensional intelligence.  Develop it.
  4. Broaden your cultural horizons.  It is veritably impossible to learn a new language without meeting people from different cultures.  Cultural understanding provides an incredible context to history and national politics.

Changing Tactics

Storm CloudsMany of my post-employment blog posts have revolved around my Chinese studies and how they have challenged one of my weakest capabilities (language). Today was one my worst days. And the second toughest was on Friday of last week, when I walked out of class an hour early. The last week has not gone well for me.  It briefly passed my mind to consider quitting class today and instead spend my time on another project. But I remembered previous advice I shared here. I think I am now back on track.

I recognized in early June that I would have good and bad days. Our mind tends to project the future based on our most recent experiences. From one catastrophic day we are blinded from seeing two months of success. In trying to see the big picture, I am reminded of a humbling, true and somewhat funny witticism: no matter how amazing or embarrassing you were today approximately one billion Chinese people could not give a damn.  That really puts things in perspective.

My bad day started as others have: I had misunderstood previous instructions and arrived unprepared. While everyone else reviewed their mock final test I sat there on my own. That was today’s first hour. It was not fun to see everyone else getting prepared for Wednesday’s final while I sat on the sidelines. My mind was in a bad place, for sure. One thing that helped me get back on track today was an exercise in positivity I developed with guidance from Mush Panjwani. Specifically Amy Cuddy’s posture advice had a dramatic effect on my mental state when I followed it in our ten minute break. That stuff works.

But today I made another discovery with respect to my Chinese studies. I need to change tactics. And this is fairly easily done.

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Indirect Language in Asia

In May of 2010, my first week in Singapore, my manager PB* gave me a friendly warning about communication in Asia.  “Be indirect,” he said.  I have been pondering that thought and occasionally writing about it for a year and a half.  A couple weeks ago PB sat down with me to discuss a variety of aspects of my first Asian tour.  He again kindly and firmly repeating his warning: be indirect.

We all have good days and bad days with email.  In the same week my boss gave me this friendly nudge, a colleague of mine complemented my patient and kind emails.  PB has much more experience in Asian business than this colleague and I put together.  But I could not figure out how one person could think I was writing well while the more Asian-savvy PB saw room for improvement. So I started to mull over what I might be missing.

On this week’s plane flight to Sydney I developed a lead in this mystery. I heard a common flight warning and connected a strange characteristic of Singaporean English with PB’s advice.  I had been laughing to myself about this weird facet of the local English.  But now I realize it is likely deliberate and not something to laugh at.

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Communication in Asia

A Facebook friend recommended to me Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, a book I finished on a flight to Korea last week.  This is the second of Gladwell’s books I have read and I enjoyed it just as much as the first, The Tipping Point.  One part of Outliers, a discussion on Asian communication, seems to offer a piece in the puzzle I am trying to solve on how to be successful in Asia.

Western communication has what linguists call a “transmitter orientation”–that is, it is considered the responsibility of the speaker to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously…But Korea, like many Asian countries, is receiver oriented.  It is up to the listener to make sense of what is being said. [Emphasis from Gladwell.]

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