Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Can We Be a Good International Communicator?

When we think about international communication, No. 1 tool for communication is language. Do you study a foreign language? What is the motivation for you to study foreign language? How would you select a foreign language you hope to master?
Number of native English speakers is 4.68% of world population. It is 2nd largest next to Chinese, 13.22%. Among English speaking population, USA is 67.2%, UK 16.9%, Canada 5.8%, Australia 4.5%, others 5.5%. What we could see from these figures are as follows:

1. The portion of English speaking population is unexpectedly small.
2. Among English speaking population, USA shares 2/3 of entire figure.

These figures do not include "English speaking as 2nd language" or "people who uses English as business or public language". Most of Northern European business people, who I met, could speak fluent English. Singapore uses English for education. Indian does, too. We can imagine how difficult to know how many in the world use English for some purpose. Rapid development of Internet accelerated this trend. English is the most commonly used, most influential, and most powerful language in world communication. Language ability of English is essential for business, very useful, and powerful in communication.

English is 2nd language for me, too. I am glad that I studied English. English was the most powerful and useful tool for communication in my field of international business.

But there is a question. Is language the most important pre-requisite in world communication? After 20+ years of international business, and English, I cannot help concluding that there is something that is more important than language.

I would like to explain taking 3 examples from my friends. First one is a Japanese. He was an engineering manager in my previous employment. He could speak a little bit of English but he had difficulty speaking and understanding the language. His English was far away from fluent. But, he was the one making sure that his American or foreigner visitors stay comfortable in Japan with his company. When one of them became sick, he stayed up all night in his hospital until his visitor recovered next morning. He was receiving a lot of Christmas Cards from his foreigner friends in every Christmas. Unfortunately, he died young, in his late 40s. In his funeral, more than 300 condolence messages were arrived from all over the world.

Second friend of mine is a Singaporean. He visited Japan every year in summer. He was half studying and half working. In one hot morning, he was seated in crowded commuting train in Tokyo. One old Japanese lady stood in front of him. He offered his seat without hesitation. The Japanese old lady thanked him and seated. I was watching them close by. The old Japanese lady was talking to him in Japanese. He was speaking back to her in half English and half Chinese. I do not know how much they could understand each other, but they were enjoying their conversation.

The last and most important friend of mine is an American. He was my boss in my New York days. He is still mentor and 2nd father to me. He is a smart businessperson. Although he could not speak any Japanese, many Japanese staff including myself trusted him, always wanted to talk with him, and listened to his opinion. When I asked him what is his way of communication, he answered that it is simple, he treated his Japanese friends like he treats his American friends. He added he see the difference of behaviors in Japanese, but he stopped being upset. He said he always try to enjoy the difference and admire the same.

Before being a good communicator, we need to be a good person. My boss used to be taught me that.

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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. a) learning your own language is one thing b)learning English as a 2nd language & continuing to learn ..

So many foreigners in another country don't continue to improve their English - I find that here with the nursing/caring staff - so it makes me have to adjust and work out what they're saying and what they're writing.

I admire people who travel and learn another language .. I touch a few languages - but cannot speak any of them ..

Respect in any country & language is important .. I believe that we should 'behave' as the country we're in expects .. so I should conform to Japanese culture in Japan, American when in America .. and so on - similarly here in England ..

Communication is essential - I have to know what is being said and spoken ..

Thanks Shaw - essential information for us .. Hilary

Shaw said...

Dear Hilary,

Thank you for your profound comment. I know the language is not everything. But it seems to me the people who pay full respect to other culture are aware of importance of language.

Thanks, again!
Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Marketing Unscrambled, learn to earn 14 said...

Hello Shaw,

Thank you for the very informative post. Being a good person is number one. Communicating can be done with a smile and a handshake sometimes.

To know two languages is wonderful. You do it very well. Glad to call you friend.

Communication is sometimes more than just words.

Being a good person can go far to overcome the language problem. We can be helpful without saying a word. But that speaks volumes.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Shaw said...

Hi Dan and Deanna,

Thank you for your comment. A smile and a handshake is the base for communication. We should not forget it. I thank you for being my friend.

Have a nice weekend.

Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link