Recently someone asked me the following question:
What are some habits you’ve picked up while living abroad that have changed your life for the better?
The first things that popped up in my mind are the obvious things like learning about new cultures, sometimes crazy food (like scorpions), and in general, learning to push your comfort zone.
But then I thought of something that is so obvious, yet nobody brings it up.
Everyone wants to know a ton of languages, but only a few of us are true polyglots. Partially, because learning a language takes a lot of time, and it’s very hard to master the accent so that people don’t think you’re a foreigner.
1st time I realized the importance of languages: Asia
Currently, I speak 7 languages. In Belgium, it’s quite common to know at least 3–4 as we have 3 official languages: Dutch, French, and German.
When I first started traveling outside of Europe to places like Asia I realized the importance of languages.
First, I thought technology would bridge that gap, but if you’ve ever been to a Chinese metro you’ll realize that that isn’t going to work out well for you. I remember a scenario where we tried to buy a metro ticket and we were typing words into Google translate, but because of the thick glass between us, she couldn’t understand what the application was saying.
2nd time: Germany
Then the second time I had that realization was when I was invited to speak at a conference in Germany. Foolishly I decided to take a train to the venue from the airport as it seemed to be the fastest connection. I was in for a treat, as I had never been warned about the German train system (my recommendation is to use a company called Flixbus or a taxi – much more reliable).
From what I hear this issue with the train I had is quite common in Germany. My train had stopped moving in some remote city. At first, I thought it was a long break, but then it got clear the train had no intention of leaving this station. When I was asking in English what had happened nobody could understand me. Till that point, I somehow assumed that everyone in Europe spoke perfect English, not sure why. Eventually, thanks to some nice people and my combination of English and Dutch into some kind of weird version of German I made it to the conference.
3rd time: Scaling my Business
Then the third time I had that realization was when we were scaling my company to include another country and I remember Germany popped up in the discussions. However, none of the members of the team had been there and from what I had remembered when speaking at conferences there and visiting a couple of major cities I realized that Germans were more of a traditional market and more open in business discussions when it was in German (especially when it’s a new and growing company).
Last part was partially why I started learning German 2 years ago.
In short, the older I get the more I realize that speaking multiple languages, preferably without too much of an accent is good for me and my business.
Hope that helps,
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