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Learning Foreign Languages

Read the two opposing views below. After you have read them, think carefully about which argument you support. Give a detailed explanation for making the choice that you did.

Learning a Foreign Language: Still Useful?


The currently widespread and steadily growing prevalence of English signifies the end of the need for language training for expatriates. Increasingly, English performs as the language of world business. It has become the lingua franca for the world and, for a growing number of people, a practical alternative to their native languages. For example, more than half the people in the European Union claim to be reasonable conversant in English. Many envision developing their English more and more. A survey of 16,000 people living in the European Union found that more than 70 percent agreed with the statement, "Everybody should speak English." Similar attitudes are apparent in other parts of the world, most notably in China, India and Japan. Recently, the ascendance of English has gotten a great boost: its use as the language of the Internet solidifies its status and makes it increasingly possible to conduct business all over the world using only the English interface of your preferred browser. Too, the growing sophistication of translation software makes foreign language competency a moot point for those who prefer using their local language on the Internet.

Many managers respond in kind. The Economist, for example, reports that just under half of employers rated language skills as important—a tendency that many link to the laborious struggle to master a foreign language. Others report that language competency was ranked well behind technical competences, leadership skills and career development but ahead of motivation for working abroad, previous success abroad and business vision in gauging the suitability of a candidate for international assignments. Finally, some say language is a misleading proxy of an expatriate's cultural sensitivity and general ability to perform in foreign markets. The CEO of Schering-Plough, for example, noted that "I've met many people who speak three or four languages yet still have a very narrow view of the world. At the same time, I've come across people who speak only English but have a real passion and curiosity about the world and who are very effective in different cultures."


Human resource managers, when asked about the importance of their foreign language needs for employees, regularly respond that foreign language competency adds professional and personal value. Indeed, surveys consistently report that managers who learn one or more foreign languages find ways to make innovative contributions to their company. In the least, the effort to use the local language, no matter how poorly, sends a subtle but consequential cultural message. Explained the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, "Just making the effort to say a few words in the native tongue can make a good impression...It sends a subliminal message that 'we are equal.'" A willingness to communicate in the language of the host country, even if the expatriate is far from fluent, can help build rapport with local employees and improve the manager's effectiveness. Proponents of language skills also point out that countries have different cultural and business expectations that can only be deciphered via the local language. So the expatriate who opts not to learn the local language or insists on only English risks letting cross-cultural illiteracy cut him or her off from local business information, exclude him or her fro influential business networks, complicate relations and negotiation with local officials and make it a struggle to simply chat with local colleagues. Finally, working abroad is a challenge; language limitations can make it isolating. For example, one American woman noted that her inability to speak Turkish made her seven-month stint in Istanbul very lonely. "You can't really mix with the locals. You can't use local transportation because you can't read any of the signs.

But which foreign language should one study? Presently, growth in expatriate positions in concentrated in Western Europe and North America. However, the growing economic reach of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) over the next few decades highlights the potential reward of language skills that let one easily move throughout these countries. As MNEs struggle to place expatriates in these high-growth markets, for instance, proficiency in these languages will likely translate into salary premiums.

Solution Preview

I agree that learning a foreign language is still useful. It helps make innovative contributions to the company a person works for. When a person makes an attempt to talk in local language she sends a cultural message that is consequential. The few words in foreign language make a good impression. Building rapport with the local population by using the local language improves the effectiveness of managers. Cross-cultural illiteracy can become a barrier to becoming a good manager abroad. When a person ...

Solution Summary

The response provides you a structured explanation of the importance of learning foreign languages. It also gives you the relevant references.