While there are many reasons to learn another language, the below BIG THREE are vital.
1) Understanding Each Other
English is the official business language of many international companies. Most managers, even of foreign companies, speak fluent English.
In this regard, successful management may not be entirely dependent on learning another language if you look at it purely from a communication perspective.
However, if you’re meant to feel at home in a foreign culture, better understanding will only be had once you know the native language.
2) Learning the Culture
Learning the language will teach you how the culture‘s people think – including your colleagues.
One personal example of this:
My father wrote the dictionaries for the tribe of the Mossi, whose language spellings weren’t standardized in the ’70s.
In writing these dictionaries, he learned not only about the language, but about the values of the culture, due to the importance of certain words and phrases.
Greetings, for instance, were many and varied.
When meeting a group of people in a field, you’d extend a different greeting than that of a group congregating under a tree.
Not only does the location impact the greeting, the response is also standardized.
Asking after one’s health is important, as are formalized responses to these greetings.
Even the Mossi are aware about how difficult these greeting customs are to master.
They have a saying, “Saan puusem yaa a ziibo,” which means, “The greetings are a heavy burden for foreigners.”
My father became fluent in the Mossi language and began to understand conversations and idioms.
“When the crocodile is sick, then the buffalo can drink,” for instance, is an optimistic statement meaning there is always an upside in life.
When you learn the language, you learn the culture.
It’s as simple and complex as that.
3) Demonstrating Respect
As my father did with the Mossi, learning another culture’s language demonstrates your respect for the people.
When a Walmart CEO announced that English would be the official company language in Germany, his actions weren’t taken well.
In fact, this – at least in part – led to the conglomerate withdrawing from the German market and to a billion plus-dollar loss.
Instead, handle language as the British CEO of Korean automaker, Daewoo, did.
When it became apparent that General Motors, the U.S. company that bought out the failing motor company, Daewoo, was viewed as an outsider in Korea, Daewoo’s British CEO, Nick Reilly, took this to heart.
What did Reilly, known for his policy of “putting people as No. 1,” do?
Unsurprisingly, he put people first by way of appearing on a Korean television commercial.
When the people saw Reilly himself speaking the language to show his – and, more importantly, the brand’s – respect and commitment to Korea, they were colored impressed.
The result: the commercial resonated with Koreans, and the Daewoo company – although reorganized and rebranded in many places – saw a dramatic recovery.