I was privileged to grow up in an unconventional African family where children had a voice and older relatives easily apologised when they were wrong. I was also opportune to be among highly skilled and successful relatives, two of whom spoke latin and Italian. For some reason, I attributed their successful professional careers to their ability to speak multiple languages and that was how the spark of languages was born. I grew up learning how to speak Igbo and English with great dexterity. Some years later, after I turned 13, I began to actively learn French and Spanish, just for the fun of it. Many years down the line, I am grateful that my mum ensured that I never gave up the struggle. It wasn’t all rosy, it tested my willpower and certainly stretched my mental capacity. A decade later, I can say that there are no downsides to being a polyglot. I made my first million from the translation of a dossier from English to French. It was nice feeling to be an employer of labour while still being a teenager. Less than a year post graduation, I was able to get job offers from two (2) multinationals and during the course of the interviews, I realised I was invited primarily because of my CV which showed a nice blend of technical competence and soft skills. In learning a language, one doesn’t just learn words, alphabets and sentence structures. It opens you to a whole new world of culture and people. It broadens your horizon and certainly expands your worth and network. Ongoing studies have shown that leaning new languages has a deep impact on neurological structures and processes. In todays, world, we necessarily have to work with people of various Nationalities and upbringing, and the ability to communicate without an intermediary always facilitates things. I can tell from my short experience in the boardroom that the ability to be multi-lingual is something that is becoming mire and more required by people in top management positions.
Having understood the necessity to be as versatile as possible, how does one go about this? From the beginning, it would be nice to break the stereotype that some people can learn new languages while others can’t. I think it is more appropriate to say that everyone has the capacity to learn new languages and cultures. Some would have it easier than the others but we all can, the watch words would be: discipline and patience.
I don’t subscribe to the idea of learning languages because people are learning, you have to find out why? In this introspection, you would have to answer certain questions: What is my life work? What type of people would my life work require that I meet? When you have answered this, you can then decide what language(s) to learn. The next question would be, how do I learn? Am I disciplined enough to engage in virtual classes or do I need physical classes? At the realisation of this, you would then seek out a tutor. I recommend that for the basics, it would be more advantageous to have someone guide you through the process. Someone who will understand the struggles and peculiarities. “One should connect language learning with either work or leisure. And not at the expense of them but to supplement them.”
― Kató Lomb, Polyglot: How I Learn Languages
Learning languages takes time. I see people give up after a few weeks or months. Give yourself a year of consistent effort before giving up. It is better to be consistent over a long time than to attempt a ‘pressure-learning’ model. Based on studies carried out by professional bodies for European languages, an average person would take about 150 hours to scale through the basic levels of a language. So, before you give up, give 150 hours of your time to this endeavour. To avoid burning out, I recommend just half an hour everyday. With half an hour a day, in a year, you would definitely have gone a long way.
Another factor to consider is the immersion of oneself into the language and culture. Try to immerse yourself in the language from the very beginning, whether or not you understand. Listen to music, radio programmes, movies, games, etc. They all help in the learning process. You may not understand them at the beginning but in your subconscious, you are becoming more aware.
Do not be ashamed to speak. A lot of people wait for the perfect sentence structures to form before speaking. To learn, you need to be shameless and humble. The more you speak, the better you get at it. No matter how good or confident you get, remember that there is always room for improvement.
Languages certainly help your corporate gravitas. It makes you more amiable and appealing. As a polyglot, you certainly stand out among your peers. This can be one of your professional selling points. You can also make extra bucks from working as a translator or simply reviewing documents. Once you have the skill, get yourself connected with others who have been there before you, form the necessary network and you would be amazed at how things would turn out.
Above all, get on it today because the older you get the more difficult it would be to learn a language.