Steven's Blog

English is not just a Language, It’s a Mindset

Many Japanese companies, and not just foreign companies, are pushing their employees to improve English–some more than others. Many people struggle with the grammar, pronunciation and endless nuances of vocabulary, and wonder why they must suffer through this even though their current job involves little or no direct interaction with people who speak the language. They may be missing the point. Learning language is just as much about changing mindset as learning the functional aspects of communication.

The key to being a global person is not just about English or any language for that matter. Rather, it is the ability to work with and understand people from other countries, even when you don’t share a common language. I have met many Japanese people with high TOEIC scores who have a mastery of English vocabulary and grammar, but when they speak, the are incomprehensible–not because of pronunciation or misuse of words, but because they are missing an international mindset. They say in English a direct translation of what they would say in Japanese, which ends up making no sense to speakers of English because that is simply not the way people communicate in English.

For example, what does “We may wonder whether it is not difficult not to say no to this proposal” actually mean?

Such abstruse statements are hard to make sense of even for Japanese people, but they are commonly used in Japanese as an acceptable from of polite, non-confrontational speech. On the other hand, speaking in this way in English will baffle if not annoy your counterpart, and tends to damage trust.

Most people who study music will never become virtuosi, and that fact negates not of the merit and benefit of doing so. Language learning is the same. An attempt at mastery of English is not just about the mechanics of language. It is about developing a curiosity about the outside world. It is about learning to mimic a foreign viewpoint and a way of communicating that leads to the ability understand others better from their perspective no matter where they come from. It is about developing a connection with others in the world without timidity.

So, if you are frustrated by the mechanics of a foreign language, and questioning the use of persevering, persevere. Look more deeply than the mechanics.

Language learning is about being a better and more connected member of the human race. Click To Tweet

That’s good both for business and for you personally.


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