How to develop empathy across cultures

I'm often asked the question “how does one develop greater cross-cultural empathy?”

In my view there's really no better way than learning a new language. It's quite straightforward. In learning a new language, you start to feel what non-native English speakers feel when they attempt to speak English. The ideal experience is a full immersion atmosphere, where you spend most of your time in an environment where only the target language is spoken. This may not be practical for most, or even too scary. We far prefer the comforts of relative anonymity in a packed lecture hall with 35 other students. There's far less risk of getting picked on, and we can enjoy learning about French instead of actually learning French.

No one likes being put on the spot, but sometimes we've got to take beta blockers and viagra that additional step in order to really improve. It's a lot like doing weight training at the gym. The initial work really is about wearing down the muscles, and it

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9;s only the last few seconds, when you've reached the pain threshold, that you really build the muscles. This is why it helps to train with a buddy or with a personal trainer who can push you.

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Language learning is a bit like that.  If you push yourself just that little bit further and start speaking the language, you improve so much quicker. This is why at Euroasia, we limit our classes to no more than 10 people, and keep the classes interactive, so that every person gets a chance to speak every time they are here. We won't embarass anyone, but we certainly encourage people to start speaking. We don't want people to go away learning a lot about the language, but not speaking the language they set out to learn.

The added bonus is that you engage in virtual travel to the distant lands that you wish to explore, every time you turn up for class. It's great stress relief for the busy professional. What a deal…

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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.