Learning languages makes you GLOBAL, learning cultures makes you a CITIZEN. They should never be sold separately!

I have watched Taiye Selasi’s Ted talk which sparkled some debate around me…and most interestingly (or logically) languages came up again…

Her TED talk was a success and it pointed out a trend that is more and more relevant nowadays. Many people have such an extremely mixed background that it is difficult to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’. And let’s be honest, sometimes we do not even want to…Why does it matter? Would it help you put me into a category? Would it help you assume something about me? Ask me who I am and how I am perhaps?

When we learn a language usually our aim is to be able to work and talk to people from other countries or maybe our dream is to live somewhere else other than the country where we were born.

Language education used to be only about transferring the knowledge of a foreign language using different frameworks which explain how to use the grammar, which word correlates in meaning  the most to the word we know in our language…

I intentionally did not say that one word can have exactly the same meaning in 2 languages. Communication is about sending a message to the other person who is going to decipher it using his or her own knowledge. Let’s take the example of ‘BOSS’.

Yes, we can translate it to any languages, but is it going to have the same meaning to everyone? The picture you visualise in your head greatly depends on your culture as well. A boss in the UK is very different to a boss in Mexico…

In a previous article I referred to “learning a language without culture is like learning how to drive in a parking lot, easy to crash when it gets real.” Language education is responsibility. When we teach a language we are like primary school teachers who lay the foundation for everything which is based on the knowledge they transfer. When we teach a language our students trust us that we give them the skills they need to succeed!

Being a Global Citizen means that we are local where we practice our rituals, where we have meaningful relationships, where we understand the meaning of conversation, not just the words. The most successful language education providers have already realised that adding cultural training to their portfolio is the competitive edge to them and their students, as well.

I was talking to my brother last week who was helping my father buy a new car…the typical attitude of ‘all my cars were like this, I don’t need anything different’  combined with the stingy approach was confronted by a smart question: if you had to choose between 10 cars of the same kind, but only 1 had air-conditioning, which one would you buy? He paused and he realised that adding some extras is actually not luxury, but the smartest investment that gives you the best value in the long run. 

So if you want to learn a language and your goal is more than wanting to pass an exam, choose a school where they give you the best value for your money. Choose a school that works with intercultural experts hand in hand.  It is a sign that they want the best foundation for you, they are up-to-date, they invest in their own and your success.

Csaba Toth
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Csaba Toth

Managing Partner at ICQ Consulting
International Culture expert and researcher. Developer of the Intercultural DISC (IDISC) assessment of human behavior and interaction.
Csaba Toth
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