Monday, May 13, 2013

Top executives agree: You should be learning foreign languages

Cass Business School of City University London just put out an interesting report called After the Baby Boomers—The Next Generation of Leadership. As explained on Cass Business School's website:

To create this report, we spoke to 100 senior managers of global companies. Their responses provide an in-depth understanding of how companies see their marketplaces and workforces changing over the next two decades, and how ready they are to embrace these changes.
Would you be surprised if I told you they put a high value on language?

I've often preached the economic value of learning languages, and that value seems to be going up:

The ability to speak foreign languages, more as a proxy for cultural awareness than for practical reasons, will be increasingly important. 62% of respondents believe that being able to speak a foreign language will be more valuable to future executives than past ones.
If you expand that number to include those that "somewhat agree", you've got a whopping 86% of respondents, whereas those that "disagree" or "somewhat disagree" constitute only 13%.

The surprising thing is that they don't expect your language skills to be practical, but rather just "a proxy for cultural awareness". Why?

[E]xecutives believe it is more important for foreigners to speak English well than for native English speakers to speak foreign languages fluently, reflecting an acceptance of English as the global business language.
I suppose it's not particularly surprising that a poll of 100 execs by a British business school would reach that result, but that doesn't mean they pooh-pooh language learning for native-English speakers:
It may not be essential for executives to learn foreign languages to be successful, but English-speakers cannot afford to be complacent. … As one puts it: “The ability to work in a number of languages can differentiate the effective executive from the merely capable one.”
So, in the end, the report isn't particularly surprising: non-English speakers should learn English (duh) and English speakers are expected to have strong benefits from being able to work in other languages (duh again). However, it is nice to have the top of the corporate pile confirm what we language learners have long believed: the current and growing value of the languages we've learned.

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