Learning other languages brings cultural understanding that is critical to working—and living—in a global society, experts say
Educational technology consultant Alan November is fond of telling a story about a conversation he once had with a senior executive at a global investment bank.
During the course of their discussion, November asked the executive: What’s the most important skill for today’s students to learn, so they are prepared to succeed in the new global economy?
“Empathy,” the executive replied—the ability to understand and respect different cultural points of view.
Most of today’s companies do business with customers all over the world, and several also have branches in multiple countries. Chances are good that when students enter the workforce, they’ll be working with—or at least doing business with—someone from another nation, with its own culture and its own unique perspective, at some point in their career.
It’s not hard to find employees who are smart, the executive told November. What are hard to find are employees who can empathize with, and be sensitive to the needs of, people from other countries.
Learning other languages is an important way to develop this cultural empathy. That’s why a growing number of K-12 leaders believe that exposure to world languages and cultures—even at a very early age—is critical for students’ success in the 21st century.
But learning other languages isn’t just an important workforce skill. It’s also integral to becoming a more responsible global citizen.
(Next page: What the Education Department says about global competencies—and how teaching foreign languages can help)