I found this article addresses the important problem of the consequences of not knowing a foreign language. I believe that when we, as Americans, do not bother to learn another language, we force others to follow our lead if they want to communicate with us. On our side of the conversation we try to hold all the cards. This attitude does not foster goodwill with our conversation partners.
When I try to learn the language of the other, I show that I am willing to work to understand that person. This article says, “Language is a vehicle—a tool—for listening, for communicating, for understanding, for being able to relate to people on their terms.” Even if I speak that language badly, I still demonstrate effort towards communicating.
Putting forth effort to learn a language that you don’t “have to” learn can confuse people. Recently I received a very respectful message on Livemocha asking me (in Farsi!) why I would learn Farsi. True, I’m not in the oil or intelligence business, so that’s a good question.
I’m learning Farsi because I want to learn about another group of people on the planet. I can read books in English on the modern Farsi speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. By struggling to understand their language, though, I get some street cred. I had to move out of my comfort zone–I sound like a 3-year old. I had to work hard to do so, too.
Here’s how communicating unfolds on a practical level. I get my foot in the door with a Farsi-speaker first because I approach him or her to speak the language, and then I get a good reaction to begin a nice conversation. He or she trusts that I am really interested in learning more. This interaction establishes a relationship based on an initial trust.