We all wished for superpowers when we were kids—but no-one begged Santa for a French grammar textbook.
However, in today’s globalised world, languages are more important than ever. Of course it’s possible to get through your whole career without learning even a, “hola”, but your options are far more limited, and the skills section of your CV far less enticing without a second language.
In fact, in 2015, Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates said that his biggest regret in life is that he speaks only English. And before you switch off and think: if Bill Gates couldn’t manage it how am I supposed to, consider this—language learning is more about persistence than anything else. And the aim of learning a second language as an adult (in a business context) is largely social rather than functional.
In other words, unless you’re bilingual, you aren’t going to be conducting meetings and writing reports in your second language. The usefulness of having learnt it comes from your ability to connect with colleagues in overseas offices, being able to fend for yourself on business trips (and being the first choice to be sent on those trips), and prove that you still posses some kind of mental dexterity.
Also if you want to win the hearts and minds of your target market, and that market happens to include people who speak a different language than you do, making an effort to learn a bit of it can go a long way.
In most Australian high-schools, language learning has typically focussed on European languages—French, Spanish, German etc. However, according to Geoff Quattromani, life-style editor at EFTM, the most useful language for an English-speaking entrepreneur to learn is:
“Mandarin—especially if you plan on outsourcing any manufacturing or selling into China.”
Ofer Shoshan, a writer for Entrepreneur magazine backed this up, explaining that Mandarin is, “The most prevalent language in the world with 1.1 billion native speakers.”
Rype, a language learning application, pointed out that trillions of dollars worth of products are made and imported from China every year. And with global businesses like Alibaba making their way to western nations, doing business with Chinese clients, partners, or suppliers is unavoidable.
“If you want an edge in international business, Mandarin is likely one of the most important languages to learn for business.”
So there you have it: if you haven’t decided on a target market: Mandarin could be a good place to start. Otherwise have a stab at Spanish (relatively easy to learn in comparison to many other business languages—allowing you to tap into South American and Central American markets), German—the official language of five countries and a significant secondary language in four others, or French—one of the most popular languages in the word, and an incredibly useful langue to learn for an entrepreneur trying to crack the global market.