By Charlotte Butterfield ’24 Co-Managing Director
Worldwide, over 60% of people have the ability to speak and understand more than one language, however, only 20.6% of Americans can do so. Internationally, language learning is not only commonplace but often even required, and an understanding of the importance of increased communication ability is broadly recognized. The European Union has 24 official languages and nearly all students, 92%, are learning additional languages in academic settings whereas in the United States, just 20% of students are doing the same. This drastic difference in the language learning experiences worldwide has impacts that reach beyond just national education, and play a role in many other key parts of life. One distinct example of this being in doing international business.
Lapse in Language Learning
As mentioned previously, the American lapse in language acquisition is lacking. While there are parts of this issue that can be targeted through the promotion of this aspect of education in schools, the larger draw for efforts to make significant changes in language acquisition rates is at the systemic level. In the US, only 20% of students begin learning a second language before the third grade, whereas foreign language is a required school subject for most European students beginning between the ages of six and nine.
An important and unfortunate fact to note when considering the age of onset of language learning for students around the world is that it is proven that language acquisition is the most successful if started before the age of 10. In a study conducted by researchers at Harvard and MIT, this determination was made on the basis that this age range targets the brain at a stage before it has reached a certain maturity. It is also important to note that the ease of learning a second language decreases significantly year-to-year from the ages around the onset of puberty to 18 because it becomes increasingly difficult for students in this age range to reach a proficient-mastery level of grammar and pronunciation understanding. Second language learning, or SLA, before age 10 increases the likelihood that the learner will be able to reach a native-like level of understanding.
The Successes of Multilingualism
When conducting business, in any form, a key piece is taking the time to understand the relevant market and customer. This can be done through market research, surveying, time spent in the area, or knowledge of the field, but it can also be executed from something as simple as verbal communication. In international business, this verbal communication can pose challenges and hold barriers, as different parts of the world communicate with different languages and in different ways. Increased communication methods through further language acquisition does not just benefit the intercultural relations of business, but also the general success of language speakers. In a research study completed at Groningen University in the Netherlands, it was found that bilingual individuals see additional benefits through increased cognitive control, in which they experience better memory, increased linguistic awareness, visual-spatial improvement, and increased creativity.
In a study by CSA Research, it was found that 76% of consumers prefer to make purchases when the information regarding the purchase is in their own language. Furthermore, 40% claimed they would not consider purchasing from a site that provided information not in their own language. Given this, as well as the significant benefits, both directly and indirectly relating to conducting business, it is clear that there is an under acknowledged value to bi-and-multilingualism in the professional business setting.
Charlotte is a senior from East Greenwich, Rhode Island pursuing a dual major in International Business and Economics and Spanish. This past summer, she worked as a Client Experience Operations intern at Fidelity Investments where she worked with clients and a large team to process and maintain IRAs. Last spring, Charlotte spent the semester in Barcelona, Spain where she was able to both expand on the skills of her majors in an immersive cultural experience and travel to many places throughout Europe. This year she will act as the Co-Managing Director of the Fund and is looking forward to taking on this new responsibility and working closely with fellow associates.