Why languages of countries with large numbers of fluent English speakers are still worth learning

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Het Engels is in Nederland en Vlaanderen voor veel mensen hun tweede of derde taal. In het voortgezet onderwijs is het Engels een verplicht vak. Leerlingen moeten hier eindexamen in doen.

There's a really tiny blog post here on a site called PoliGazette that I think is rather telling:
I apologize for not producing any content today. I’m afraid I’m sick - I’ve got a serious fever which prevented me from writing (in English). I was able to ram out two posts for Dagelijkse Standaard in my native language, Dutch, but I couldn’t quite focus enough to do the same in English.
You can see that the English written above is absolutely perfect, so the person that wrote this is clearly fluent, but nevertheless it's always more comfortable to write in one's native tongue, even when sick.

This is quite important when doing business with countries like Sweden/Norway/Netherlands/etc. where the GDP per capita is quite high and people are largely quite proficient in English, because being proficient or fluent doesn't necessarily mean that these languages are the most comfortable to learn. Let's say for example you're company A and you're doing business with Norway (or some other country nearby) from the US, and the differing time zones mean that you're operating on a "send email in the morning when it's evening in Norway, wait until end of the day when it's morning to receive a response" kind of method, but in fact there are still people in the office when you send the message and the reason why the response comes later on is because you always want to take a bit more time when composing a message in a foreign tongue.

Now let's say you're company B and you have someone fluent in Norwegian that sends out the emails. Now you get a response back right away because sending back an answer on the spur of the moment is nearly effortless in your mother tongue, even if you are fluent in a ton of others. It's this increase in efficiency that still makes smaller languages spoken by people in countries with high GDPs worth learning from an economic point of view even if it's easy enough to conduct interactions entirely in English. Having multilingual staff is also useful in that it's simply more impressive. Now your company is composed of people with world experience instead of just some people you hired from the neighborhood.

One caveat though: trying to communicate in another language when you're not very good at it and the person you're communicating with is perfectly fluent in English is generally more insulting than anything, so simply peppering emails with hvordan har du det and the like isn't going to do anyone any good. It's either close to 100% fluent or nothing.

And in related news (to the original post about Dutch), Bebo has added an extra five languages to its site interface: Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish. I'd never heard about Bebo before today though.


Steve said...

Bebo is like a myspace type thing for 13 year-olds.

The Unknower said...

Bebo is like a myspace type thing for 13 year-olds.

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