The Power of a Second Language

The world is changing. Not only the professional world, but the social world as well. But in our industry, I don’t need to tell you that. The interconnectedness of the world is taking us by force, whether we like it or not. Many Americans may believe that English is the most dominant language in the world, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not. In fact, English is the third most common language out of the countless dialects spoken worldwide (first is Mandarin, followed by Spanish). As a planet, we have recently reached a population of over 7 billion people. Making, using, and leveraging global social connections are becoming much more important to our corporate success. Yet still, the million dollar question remains: how do we make this happen?

After spending three and a half months in Spain, the answer became perfectly clear. For the first two months of my experience abroad, I spoke mostly English. I actually had a six hour conversation with a man from Madrid in English on the flight over, and didn’t even get his name. The entire journey from the airport to the hotel, I wondered how a six hour discussion did nothing to break through his social wall.

In comparison, my first Spanish conversation lasted no longer than five minutes. We talked about life in Spain compared to life in the States, but not much more. At the end of the conversation, my counterpart asked me to be his Facebook friend. I instantly realized the value of my newly acquired ability. It goes beyond the simplicity of communication, and it could prove to be the most valuable social skill I have ever learned. While my example involves a full foreign conversation, just knowing a few words in another’s language can completely disarm even the shyest of people. It cuts directly to the core, and relates to another human on a level that without it may be unreachable.

Before living overseas, my friend base barely covered the State of Massachusetts. Now I have friends in four countries and over twenty states, all because of my ability to communicate in a foreign language. And now it looks like Massachusetts is finally beginning to realize how being bilingual can improve its struggling school systems. Overall, a little less than 330 million people in the world speak English, and a little more than 330 million people speak Spanish. I’m no math genius, but I just doubled the amount of possible social connections I can make. Now, I can communicate freely with 660 million people in over 40 countries all over the world, and I am a better person both professionally and socially because of this. You are never too old to learn, and it is never too late. With the simple devotion of a few short months, you too can understand and appreciate the power of a second language.

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