Learning Culture v. Language

Learning languages is difficult and unless you have a special talent for them, chances are that you will never sound like a native speaker. A few months ago, I published what languages I thought were most important to learn. However, now I think that there is more than language that we have to learn. I believe that what is really important is learning how to interact with other cultures.

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The acceleration of technology has a big part in why I am saying this. I think that technology will erase language barriers in the next five to 10 years. Google Translate has done a great job at removing most of the barriers of the written word, but sometimes with hilarious results. New generations of smart phone apps will do the same for our verbal communication in short order.

This breakdown of language barriers will increase the importance of cross-cultural understanding – they will be the fault lines of the future. Make sure that you spend your time reading books by foreign authors, following the news of different countries, reading the op-eds sections of major foreign newspapers. Overall, you are going to need to understand world events from someone else’s view. Go out and explore the world if you can, backpacking by yourself and meeting people in hostels can really open your eyes to the world and the people in it.

If children can, they should learn foreign languages as they are growing up. Learning foreign languages at a young age builds up synapses in the brain and helps the mind grow. If you have the ability to raise kids in a household with multiple languages, pursue it. If you are in your 20s or later and looking to learn another language to get you further in your career, your efforts are probably better spent elsewhere.

Study cultures from other points of view. The more that you know about different regions of the world, the better off you will be. I guarantee that going forward, everyone’s job is going to get much more globalized than we expect.

What has your experience been so far? Did you start in a role based in your country and have to communicate with those somewhere else? Are you an expat now, yourself? Please, comment below and tell me if you agree or disagree.

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