Smart Indian kid

I'm unsure if any of you have seen this youtube video before… it's the story of a young Indian kid named Ravi. He sells peacock feather fans at the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai.

What's particularly amazing is that he can speak in a variety of different languages (ie. in the specific context of selling his wares). What's even more amusing is that he knows the accents, specific gestures and non-verbal expressions of the various cultures as well.

The person who took the video returned a couple of years later to find the boy now a teenager, still proficient in the various languages and now an even more convincing salesman. What's even more impressive is that he learnt everything he needed to learn on the streets. What's this guy doing on the streets anyway? My money's on him to be a millionaire by 30.

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I'm absolutely impressed with some of these Indians. I was in Mumbai about 2 years ago, and my Indian friend and I went to a shop to do some shopping. I chose a pair of pants and they had an instant turnaround alteration service. So the helpful sales assistant quickly measured me up, and asked me for my mobile number so that they can call me when they are done. I quickly looked around for my friend because he had the Indian mobile number and I didn't. As my friend turned around the sales assistant immediately recognised my friend as the customer he served some 10 or so minutes earlier. My jaw dropped when the sales assistant went “Sir, don't worry. Your friend's number is 8261739874”.

I was simply awestruck, as any non-Indian would be. My Indian friend said it's not that surprising. Everywhere in the shopping centre, sales assistants can tell you the exact price of every garment you touch, before and after discount.

This is efficiency and customer service at a whole new level.

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How to bring people of different cultures together

I realised that one sure-fire way of generating traffic to one’s blog is to talk about relationships. Cross-cultural relationships is certainly a hot topic. In fact some random Russian blog picked up my previous post and translated my points into Russian. Pity I can’t read Russian, but using Google translator, I figured this was the case.

Still on the topic of building cross-cultural relationships, some people are of the opinion that social groups that are prejudiced towards each other only need mix together in order to reduce this prejudice. I hear this all the time. And this logic drives a lot of official initiatives to promote opportunities for different cultural groups to mix together.

It would be great if it were that simple, but unfortunately contact is not enough.

It is necessary that both groups have equal status, have personal interaction, engage in cooperative activities to achieve collective goals, and it should be considered the norm for the groups to interact.

Source: Aronson, E., Blaney, N., Stephan, C., Sikes, J., & Snapp, M. (1978). The jigsaw classroom. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

This winter, you can witness the power of the collective vision by simply visiting a local sports bar on a night when the All Blacks plays Australia. When the All Blacks Order cialis usa wins the game everyone is congratulating and hugging one another. I’ve witnessed this scene numerous times at different places.

It’s one of those rare occasions where no one cares what your colour, creed or race is.  All that matters is that you’re wearing black.

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Cross-cultural training

It is a truism to state that, as companies wishing to operate successfully in the global economy, we need a global perspective. What is perhaps less widely appreciated is that a key part of that perspective is a real understanding of the people we are working with. We have to see our partners, our staff, in the way they would like us to see them, namely, as rich and complex human beings, who are at once individuals, but at the same time moulded in the light of the culture in which they grew up.

In today’s world, we probably come into contact with people from different cultural backgrounds almost every day. We perceive similarities: we are all human beings. We also perceive differences. But what do we make of those differences? We can, if we choose, see them as a problem, even as alienating; we can pretend they don’t exist; we can treat everyone as if they would really like to be just like us, if only we gave them the chance. cialis price in canada Or we can see these differences as fascinating, enriching, real but not off-putting, a key component of who people are and would wish themselves to be; and then, in the process, we also begin to understand a little more about ourselves.

If we take the positive line, we are half-way towards making a success of cross-cultural relationships, business and personal. Where we come in as cross-cultural consultants is in filling in the other half, in offering you a shortcut to specific information and skills which could otherwise take years to acquire.

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Why New Zealand needs to allow international students to stay

I suspect many New Zealanders think that international students should return home after they complete their studies here. Furthermore, because they are not New Zealanders, perhaps the prevailing view is that we are not obliged to help them. This is especially so when there are plenty of other New Zealand graduates looking for work. I don’t think there’s an obligation on our part to help international students find work after they graduate. Not even if they have paid us $20K per year in fees alone for the 3 or 4 years of their studies, and spending over $120K for a 3 year degree. There’s also no obligation to let them stay because it’s the humanitarian thing to do.

However, if we had more foresight, we would be doing our best to retain talent in this country, regardless of whether they are New Zealanders or not. As it stands, we are losing people at such a rate that when I catch up with fellow employers we begin to question if there are any unemployed skilled Kiwis left in this country.

net migration from nz to aust

This chart from illustrate our net migration loss to Australia. As you can see, we’re certainly deep in the red.We are competing in a global labour market for talent. And we’re losing that battle. I don’t understand why we need to make life so difficult for smart, talented and hardworking people who WANT to live and work in this country. We’re pleading with New Zealanders to return home, and increasingly many don’t want to, as we can see from the migration data. We’re writing off student loan interest to bribe…oops, entice people to remain in this country. All in the name of stemming the brain drain. At the same time, we keep looking for ways to prevent international graduates from “competing” with locals for jobs. Employers who attempt to recruit these “foreigners” are harassed and asked to prove that there are no New Zealanders who can fill these roles. I wouldn’t be whining about “third world countries stealing Kiwi jobs”. I would far prefer to go out and steal their smart, hardworking and hungry people.

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The laid-back life of the English speaker

Business trip to Asia? Of course, they’ll have someone there who speaks English. Holiday in Europe? Well, they all learn English at school, don’t they? And all the signs will be in English. And even if they don’t want to speak English, at least they’ll understand… I say, does anyone here speak English?

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Business trip to Asia? Of course, they’ll have someone there who speaks English. Holiday in Europe? Well, they all learn English at school, don’t they? And all the signs will be in English. And even if they don’t want to speak English, at least they’ll understand… I say, does anyone here speak English?

This must be the way we think. How else could we explain the fact that 85-90% of people living in New Zealand can communicate in one or more of our official languages, but nothing else? Also, if you look more closely at the census results for 2006, you can reasonably assume that a high proportion of those who do speak a foreign language do so because they brought it with them as migrants; not many Kiwis will have learnt Hindi or Hungarian at school.

It would be interesting to know how many native-born New Zealanders or Anglo-Saxon migrants have some mastery of another tongue. The number is likely to be pretty low, and incredibly low compared to figures for non-English-speaking OECD countries.

Nor are things likely to change in the near future. In 2006, only 23% of students taking NCEA at Level Three included a foreign language in their options. In most developed countries, that figure would be 100%; in fact, you wouldn’t be able to secure university entry without a satisfactory result in a foreign language.

New Zealanders are not alone in their lethargy. People are pretty much the same in the other English-speaking countries. The UK has invested vast amounts of money in foreign language teaching over the decades, but the result is still a largely monolingual society.

It’s not hard to see why English speakers are linguistically lazy. The reality is that many of the assumptions we make about other people’s ability to speak English are often correct. Yes, someone here probably does speak English. And even if we do make an effort, their English usually seems so much better than our French or Japanese or whatever that you wonder why you bother. English is the language of travel, of the Internet, of business meetings, in short, the international language.

So why worry? There are many reasons, perhaps three main ones.

The first is simply one of equity. English has become the international language through a combination of historical circumstances, not because it is inherently easier than other languages, still less because it is in some way better than the others. Learning another language is not an easy business, and the people we meet at home or abroad who have mastered English did not do so overnight. In many cases, they will have devoted hundreds of hours of study, and possibly large amounts of money, to get where they are. Isn’t it just a little arrogant, then, simply to expect that they should have done this? And while we take their efforts for granted, we think we’re doing well and deserving of praise if we’ve learnt to say “bonjour”!

The second reason is economic. All other things being equal, will the Chinese trader prefer to negotiate with the monolingual Anglophone or the foreigner who has made the effort to speak the language and become familiar with the culture? Which of the two has the better understanding of the way things work in China? Who gets the deal?

The third reason is cultural. Learning a foreign language opens up a new way of thinking. Languages are not just different words for the same ideas; in many cases, they encapsulate new ideas, or new ways of looking at old ones. Language is a key component of culture, and an appreciation of different cultures is fundamental to understanding the world we live in. You also realise that the way we express concepts in English is just one of many possible ways. In fact, you really begin to understand your own language only when you start comparing it with others.

If learning a language helps you to learn more from other countries, maybe we should look at how others approach the learning of languages.

In most European countries, for example, school students not only have to take a language, they also have to achieve a certain standard in that language. If they don’t, they can’t proceed to the next class. The idea of doing a language for a few years and then dropping it if you don’t like it is quite alien. Interestingly, the aim is not to produce a huge number of graduates in foreign languages – they simply wouldn’t get jobs. Instead, mastery of another language is regarded as a standard adjunct to other skills. At university, you may study law or computing or physics: your foreign language skills were acquired at school, and are largely taken for granted.

Clearly, in a country like New Zealand, our circumstances are not entirely the same as those, say, of Sweden. First of all, we can’t identify one language that we absolutely must learn: we might study Japanese only to end up working for a company that does business exclusively in China. Then we can’t pretend that we depend for our very survival on mastery of another language – much of the world is learning English, and that fact is unlikely to change.

But that does not mean that New Zealanders should continue to be largely monolingual.

First of all, there is a strong case for as many school students as possible to have an experience of learning a foreign language. Every one of them will interact with many people who have learnt English as a second language, probably on a daily basis. They need to understand what it’s like to learn another language, and should also have enough understanding of their own language to help the people they are speaking to.

On the other hand, there is little point in requiring all school students in English-speaking countries to take a language throughout their school careers. This has been tried, for example, in the UK, and the results were hardly an unqualified success. At lower levels, learning a language can be fun. However, it’s pretty hard to sustain the fun for years if there is no real obligation to achieve. And there probably comes a point when you also need to apply mental discipline: you have to work hard to fit things together and to exercise powers of memory to learn the vocabulary. This is a very valuable exercise, but realistically it is not for everyone.

What we really need to do is to look at ways of encouraging language study up to university entrance, and at raising the levels of achievement. The idea of a German doctor not being able to speak English is quite odd. Why don’t Kiwi doctors speak German? Or Japanese, or Arabic? We don’t know which language people are going to need later on, but once you have mastered one, you will find it much easier to learn another, even if it is unrelated. In essence, you acquire a feel for language, and that is what we need to be teaching.

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50 million learning a foreign language in China

I’m amazed to find out that China has nearly 50 million people who are currently learning foreign languages. According to a Chinese Ministry of Education official, 900 colleges offer an English major, and of those, more than 600 can confer a bachelor’s degree and more than 200 can confer master’s degrees.

There are more than 800,000 students majoring in English in China annually!

By contrast, New Zealand produces approximately 21,000 graduates per year across all disciplines, of which approximately 2,000 were classed as “humanities” graduates. I imagine languages, history, geography etc would all fall under this category. As it stands, New Zealand is one of the most monolingual countries in the world. I don’t see this changing any time soon. Perhaps some people reading this article would be thinking why bother with learning a language if everyone is learning English as a second language. Here are some reasons:

1. It seems a little unfair that we expect other people to devote so much time, money and energy to learning English so that they can communicate with us if we’re not prepared to make any effort at all.
After all, it’s just a matter of luck that we were born to speak English and not one of the 6,000 or so other languages in the world.

2. We in New Zealand are reliant upon links with other countries for our prosperity, and the majority of our trade now is with non-English speaking countries. Why should our international partners be keen
to trade with us if we make no serious attempt to understand their languages and their cultures?

3. When you travel in a country without a knowledge of the language, in some ways you only scratch the surface; only when you know the language do you realise how much you would otherwise be missing.

4. If you have never learnt another language, you have missed out on a key experience which millions of other people have had: understanding the ways in which languages can differ, realising that the way your language conveys meaning is not necessarily the “right” way, just one way among dozens of possible ways.

5. If you have never looked at another language, it is doubtful that you can ever really understand your own.

Well, if you’ve always wanted to learn a language, it’s not to late to join Euroasia for the April 08 intake.

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Why a blog on language and culture?

We have been thinking about sharing some of our thoughts for a while. It recently dawned on me that we have access to a community of over 2000 New Zealanders, who have completed a course with us sometime over the past 5 years. Our team members have unique perspectives as migrants and educators in New Zealand. Unfortunately, often our perspectives are not heard, so why not share some of our thoughts here? And maybe provoke some debate along the way?

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