Developing language education at my job

If we listen to each other, we can learn languages!
If we listen to each other, we can learn languages!

Now I see why American places of business don’t make language-learning an important part of work.  I’m a language enthusiast and a supervisor, and it’s hard for me to incorporate language-learning into my workplace, in spite of opportunities.  We have a speaker of Marathi and Hindi on our team, and we speak every day to people in the Philippines.  Personally I meet weekly on the phone with a colleague in Shanghai, and occasionally with folks in Brazil and Portugal.  Yet I have not emphasized learning languages at work, neither for myself nor for my team.  Because even basic language-study helps empathy and goodwill so much, and deeper language-study improves the mind and problem-solving skills, I will begin incorporating language-study into our work.


We speak every day to folks in the Philippines in a way that we could learn basic greetings really well, though our interactions are not conducive to learning the language deeply. Someone will call in from the Philippines.  A basic transfer of information takes place, and the call ends.  The calls are very short and technical, and the people we’re talking to are very busy.  It’s the equivalent of asking the waiter at a crowded restaurant to offer you grammar tips.

We can limit ourselves for now to basic greetings: hello, good morning/evening, how are you? thank you, good-bye.  I would love to expand it to small-talk: are things busy? is the weather nice?  Maybe we could do numbers, as a lot of the information we get is numbers–though I fear for accuracy, which is important.

One day it would be nice to have a teacher give us a lunch-lesson once per week or twice per month.  He or she could come to our team so we could learn a little conversational Tagalog.  Such lessons offer the full benefits of learning a language.

Marathi & Hindi

One of our teammates is a native speaker of Marathi and Hindi.  He calls Marathi his “mother-tongue,” though he speaks Hindi at home with his wife and child for his child’s sake.  Our interactions are more numerous, longer, and wider-ranging.  We have an opportunity to learn more than Tagalog.

How practical is it to learn these languages?  In reality, our area of town has very few Marathi speakers, though there are a lot of South Indians.  So Hindi could be used much more widely than Marathi.  At the same time, Marathi is no obscure language; it represents the 19th most widely-spoken language in the world with 73 million speakersHindi claims 331 million speakers, the fourth most widely spoken language.  Both of them are official Indian languages, though the latter enjoys more penetration into more of the country.

I would like to incorporate at least Hindi into our daily interactions at work.  All of us can build from each other as we greet our colleague in the morning, ask how his evening was, and offer our greetings to his family at the end of the day.  I would like to have a lesson in the room–if he’s up to it–that would be open to me and the rest of the group.

Mandarin & Portuguese

My team is not exposed to these languages on a regular basis–only I am.  In my weekly meetings with my Chinese colleague, I try to speak a little Mandarin, for example, “Hello” and “Thank you.”  Many Chinese people, including my colleague, pick anglicized names for themselves.  I try to use the actual, un-anglicized name of my colleague as much as possible.

I don’t run into much Portuguese, but it’s around.  Another group is working extensively with folks in Portugal, and I occasionally interact with some counterparts in Brazil.  If I needed to, I could learn this language quickly on my own, since I already know French and Spanish.  Greetings and basic phrases are a breeze, since this is a Romance language.

A Plan

I think it’s time to breach the divide.  I will bring languages into our team.  Hindi and Tagalog would be the most common languages.  I will plan to learn and teach a word or phrase per week at our team meetings.  The phrase will focus on daily interactions and IT.  I will ask my teammate to teach me some Hindi in the room, for maybe 20 minutes once or twice a week.  I can get a book to do a little work on my own to (like for learning the alphabet).  We’ll wait for Marathi, Chinese, and Portuguese.

What are the languages you run into at work?  Are you trying to learn them?  If so, how?  If not, why not?

Photo credit: abhiomkar / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


9 thoughts on “Developing language education at my job

      1. I just thought of a theory: no Jews. Most of the first waves of former Soviets were Jews, both in the late 70s and in the late 80s. They were some of the most eager to leave, and there were plenty of US Jewish groups sponsoring them.

        They were the pioneers. Then the other former Soviets followed and went to the Russian-speaking communities.

        Texas does not have many Jews, even compared to Minnesota.

        That’s my theory. But I guess I would have to find a map that shows the clusters of Jewish communities to see if they match with the Russians.


  1. Pingback: Selfish acts of tourism: Languages at home and abroad – Loving Language

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