2010 New Year Resolution: Learn a language

In recessionary times, it’s even more important to keep improving and to consider learning a second language. Now is the time to be upskilling to future proof yourself. The ability to speak

a second language puts your business or your job prospects one step ahead of the competition. You are also demonstrating to future employers that you have what it takes to stick to something. Employers realise that people who embark on language learning have some key characteristics that are highly valued in such times: commitment and dedication being some key ones. Part of what makes knowing a language a great skill to have is simply because it’s not that easy for someone to acquire fluency. If it was, it would quickly lose it’s value and won’t be treasured as much. Some of you would already have mastering a second language set as a 2010 New Year resolution.

How do you ensure you achieve your 2010 New Year resolution? Your goals have to be SMART. The reasons people give for not learning a language include lack of time, the cost involved and the difficulty of the subject area. The good news is you can craft a SMART plan to overcome the obstacles mentioned, to achieve your goal of speaking a foreign language by the end of 2010.

1) Specific

What does “speaking a foreign language” mean? Should your goal be to know enough French in order to survive in a remote town in France without relying on interpreters?

We have a specific learning outcomes for people who enrol for courses at Euroasia. For example, at the end of the Level 1 French course with Euroasia, you should know enough to “get by” in French: you will be able to cope with the most common everyday situations by asking and answering simple questions, and you will be able to understand people when they speak to you about the situations covered.

2) Measurable

How do you know you’re on track with your goal? You need some objective measure of your progress. This is the main reason why self-help language courses don’t work. This is because learning a language is not like studying history. You need constant feedback from experienced teachers who know how to provide constructive suggestions and correct you when you make mistakes. CDs and software programs can’t do that as well as humans. You need to be regularly “tested” either formally or informally so that you know you’re making progress. Language schools follow lesson plans that introduce progression over time. As long as you keep on top of the coursework, you will keep improving.

3) Attainable

Your goals have to be realistic. Sometimes we get calls from people who need to master a language within a matter of weeks because of an impending transfer offshore, or because they have to meet the future-in-laws who don’t speak any English. Learning a language, like everything else, takes time. There are certainly people out there who promise the world, and will tell you that you do not have to put in the hard yards and yet will emerge fluent within a short timeframe, simply by spending an hour a week listening to CDs or playing some games on your laptop or iphone. This is obviously appealing, in the same way that expensive infomercial weight-loss programmes are. The real secret to learning a language (and weight loss, saving money etc) is having a realistic plan and keeping to it. At Euroasia, we follow a language learning programme that allows people to realistically gain fluency over time. If we did have magic pills that make clients instantly fluent in Spanish, we would be selling them at a thousand-a-pop and not bother investing so much money in establishing and running a school.

4) Relevant

Why are you wanting to learn a foreign language? If you’re just wanting to learn Italian for fun so that you can order a beer and have a simple chat with hot locals as you roam around Rome, then your goal should be to complete Level 1 or Level 2 with Euroasia. A Level 1 course can be completed within 2 weeks, 5 weeks or 10 weeks, depending on how intense you want it to be. If on the other hand, you wish to conduct business negotiations with your suppliers in China, then a Level 1 course is not sufficient, and realistically it would take a year or two to get a point where you can engage in everyday conversation, comparing your life in New Zealand with other people’s lives overseas; discussing matters of interest, including politics and economics. The more solid your reason for learning a language, the longer the staying power. Visualise your end-goal. When the going gets tough, keep reminding yourself of how it feels to be able to ultimately converse freely with locals. What would also help is if you have career-oriented language goals such as planning to gain a foreign language qualification. If your goal is to pass a formal certification exam like DELE (Spanish), DELF (French) or HSK (Chinese), then you are also more likely to have stronger motivation.

5) Time-bound

What’s your plan in order to achieve your goal? Where do you want to be in 3 months? 6 months? An ineffective resolution is “I will be rich someday”. An effective resolution is “I will save $20K

by December 2010″. You then break this down further into quarterly and monthly targets. In the same way, you would set targets for yourself in learning a language. You may wish to complete the Euroasia Gold Package (4 courses) by the end of 2010.

We wish you all the best in setting SMART goals for 2010!

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ABAC dinner with PM John Key

Earlier this month, I had the privelege of attending the annual APEC Advisory Business Council (ABAC) dinner hosted by the NZ International Business Forum, where the PM briefs members of the business community on what happened at APEC. This year, there’s lots to say about the economy and the PM has just arrived back from the East Asia Summit, Malaysia-NZ FTA, CHOGM, and about to go to Copenhagen.

Ken with PM John Key

The PM talked about 3 key issues:

1) Global interconnectedness. Synchronised recession is illustrative of this. Deep recessions will become more common as economies become more interdependent.

2) Global imbalances. PM cited a savings imbalance, with the West being funded by the East. He thinks the yuan will have to appreciate (given his background as Head of FX for Merrill Lynch, I was thinking whether to start hoarding some yuan) . The major issue is US consumers won’t spend.

The Americans are looking for 20m jobs (7m unemployed plus 13m coming into workforce).

3) Climate change. Unless the big boys (US, China etc) are involved, we can’t change things. It is more of a problem than people think, and will hit faster and with more severity.As the bulk of energy (70%) in NZ already come from renewable sources, and 50% of emissions is from agriculture, addressing this will be a big challenge.

The Q&A was pretty fascinating. One guy asked a serious question “If we want to catch Australia

why not just merge with them?” The PM’s response: I just got back from CHOGM where Australian PM Kevin Rudd asked me the same question. My response was I’m too busy running New Zealand to run Australia as well. This guy can be very funny. I do think John Key is more in touch with the masses than Helen Clark; and has a way with both CEOs as well as joe public. Perhaps this explains his 80% favourability rating throughout a very difficult year.

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UK held back by poor language skills

The UK will be held back as it seeks to emerge from recession unless it boosts the number of language graduates, campaigners say. From BBC this week:

The National Centre for Languages (Cilt) points to a worrying decline in the take-up of modern languages.

Cilt chief executive Kathryn Board said: “English is one of the great global languages but it will only take us so far. Our engagement with the non-English speaking world will remain superficial and one-sided unless we develop our capacity in other languages.”

Recent research from Cardiff Business School suggests improving languages could add an extra £21bn to the UK economy and that export businesses that use language skills boost their sales by 45%.

That's not surprising, simply because foreign-language capable staff make a big difference in terms of engagement with clients. At the moment, many Kiwi firms use amateur translators (friends and family or Google Translate) to process enquiries and then respond to clients. This is tedious and messages can get lost in translation. Worse still, many NZ companies do not even bother translating documents in dealing with foreign language speaking customers. The expectation is that the buyer will deal with us in English.

Much has been said of New Zealand's increasing trade engagement with China, especially since the signing of the FTA last year. But the clomid reality is much of our trade with China involves NZ importing Chinese-made goods. In terms of our exports

to China, I wonder how much we really sell once we strip out the contribution of Fonterra (dairy products), Fletcher and Carter Holt (wood products). Partly our dismal performance in terms of exports offshore is due to our inability to service foreign-language speaking customers.

The reason English is so dominant globally as the language of trade is partly because traders have always learnt the language of the paying customers. Our arrogant attitude in assuming everyone speaks English has been tolerated when NZ firms are the customers (which is most of the time looking at our current account deficit). If on the other hand, we are selling to overseas customers, the onus is on us to speak the language of the customer. Failure to do so could result in us losing the deal to those who can. The scary (or exciting?) thing for New Zealand is that we are becoming far less dependent on our traditional English-speaking markets and more dependent on other foreign-language speaking markets.

The English are getting very worried because of the dramatic decline in the number of students taking up foreign languages at school. In 1997, 71% of England's GCSE pupils (roughly NCEA Level 1 or School Certificate in NZ) took a foreign language, last year the rate was down to 44%. The equivalent rate in NZ is about 14% (8400 taking international languages out of approx 60K Year 11 students).

Cilt's director of communications Teresa Tinsley said: “We are going to be held back as a nation as we seek to emerge from the economic downturn or recession.

“Companies are looking to recruit people with language skills and if they can't find them amongst our home-grown graduates they will obviously bring in people from other countries to fill these gaps.

“We really need to buck up our ideas or we are going to be stuck in a mono-lingual world when everybody else is taking global opportunities.”

If the English believe they will be “held back” as a nation because “only” 44% of their kids learn a foreign language at high school, what about NZ where only 14% of our Form 5 kids do? There is simply no way we can be a serious player in world trade when we cannot even communicate at the most basic level with our customers. We are not even at first base.

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Job summit the answer to unemployment?

When I started working as a graduate in 1999, the unemployment rate was 7.5%. The unemployment rate now is about 4.2%. It just seems to me like everyone is so much more despondent this time around. Is this because we've had so many years of low unemployment and economic growth that we've forgotten what a recession looks like? OK so the New Zealand Institute is projecting a rise in unemployment to 11%. At this rate, it seems it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Everyone knows we're going through a serious recession, but hey, we can't change that.

All we can do is to choose our response. The last thing that we should do is to keep complaining about how bad the recession is to our colleagues, customers and suppliers. That's not the best way to build co

nfidence.

unemployment-rate1
Source: Businessday

So, will the Job Summit on Friday make a difference? I don't know. Ultimately, it's up to individuals to make a difference. People with the right attitude committed to delivering superior value.

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How does knowing another language make you more money?

Times are tough. People are worried that they might lose their jobs as the unemployment rate starts creeping up. Job summit or no job summit. As always, during difficult times, the ones worst hit are the ones who are lacking in qualifications and experience.

It's time to upskill. It seems university enrolments are up around the country, according to various local news articles.  Recent graduates who can't find work are going back to university. But so are many students looking at gaining more qualifications in order to keep pace with developments.

During such perilous times, it's important to understand what skills are in demand and how to stand out from the crowd. In New Zealand, where almost all native English speakers can only speak one language, knowing some basic foreign language can indeed be an advantage. Most of all you demonstrate to prospective employers that you have the ability to persevere with something as well as the ability to work across cultures. As New Zealand becomes more and more multicultural, the ability to communicate across cultures will be as essential as knowing how to use a computer.

New Zealand is an exporting nation. We would be poorer than Samoa or Tonga if we didn't trade with our friends, and foreign tourists stop arriving. There are in fact more Chinese and Spanish speakers than there are English speakers.  Naturally, these are key languages to learn if one wants to learn how to communicate with our future customers.

But learning any language is useful. New Zealanders have traditionally learnt French, German and Japanese at

school. Knowing any one of these languages would be useful. I have written at length about why one should learn each one of these languages, so feel free to check out my blog entries on why learn language

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Why NZ needs more immigrants in recessionary times

There are some sectors calling out for a reduction in the number of immigrants to New Zealand as the economy slows down and jobs become more scarce. This will intensify in coming months as the unemployment rate creeps up. Unions and out-of-work locals will no doubt pressure government to tighten immigration policy. We may see an increase in protectionist measures; more funding for Buy New Zealand made and government bailouts of uncompetitive firms.

In my view, this would be the worst possible response to an already dire situation.

I came across an interesting article in the New York Times by the author of “The World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman a few days ago. He says

If there is one thing we know for absolute certain, it’s this: Protectionism did not cause the Great Depression, but it sure helped to make it “Great.” From 1929 to 1934, world trade plunged by more than 60 percent — and we were all worse off.

Immigrants to New Zealand work the hardest, get paid the least and put their hard-earned money to good use: investing in local businesses and saving for their children's education. Immigrants are less likely to splurge on non-value-adding plasma TVs and imported Italian designer furniture.

Immigrants, by their very nature, tend to be ambitious and enterprising. Why else would they travel thousands of kilometres to a distant land, far away from their families, to start over?

More than half of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants over the last decade. These

immigrant-founded tech companies employed 450,000 workers and had sales of $52 bill

ion in 2005, according to research by Vivek Wadhwa,  in an essay published this week on BusinessWeek.com.

The fear that many ordinary Kiwis have is that immigrants will steal their jobs because they are willing to work for next to nothing. Even if this was true (which it is not), so what? We all need to wake up to the new reality. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and become increasingly less competitive on a global scale. We need smart, resourceful, connected and hard working immigrants in New Zealand. Current immigration policy does not give much scope for low-quality immigrants to enter New Zealand in any case.

The other myth is that immigrants make no economic contribution to New Zealand. Recent studies show the net impact for having an immigrant here is $3.29 billion, or $3547 per capita, while the net per capita contribution of a New Zealand-born is just $915. Immigrants are 4 times more valuable than locals.

Immigrants are willing to work harder and not mind getting paid less. Is that such a bad thing? Are we crying exploitation because we are genuinely concerned for the welfare of immigrants or simply because we don't want anyone to rock the cushy boat?

Smart, ambitious and hardworking immigrants are good for this country. Having more such immigrants in New Zealand would increase not just the number but quality of jobs, resulting in a more prosperous nation in more ways than one.

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New Year resolutions in times of recession

Many of you would be spending the first few weeks of January thinking about your new year resolutions. According to the United States government website USA.gov, the most popular new year resolutions are:
* Lose Weight
* Managing Debt
* Save Money
* Get a Better Job
* Get Fit
* Eat Right
* Get a Better Education
* Drink Less Alcohol
* Quit Smoking Now
* Reduce Stress Overall
* Reduce Stress at Work
* Take a Trip
* Volunteer to Help Others

I can't help but notice that “finding a husband/wife” is not on the list.

Another worthwhile resolution that should be on the list is “to learn a language”. In recessionary times, it's even more important to keep improving and to consider learning a second language. Now is the time to be upskilling to future proof yourself. The ability to speak a second language puts your business or your job prospects one step ahead of the competition. You are also demonstrating to future employers that you have what it takes

to stick to something. Employers realise that people who embark on language learning have some key characteristics that are highly valued in such times: commitment and dedication being some key ones.

The reasons people give for not learning a language include lack of time, the cost involved and the difficulty of the subject area. Part of what makes knowing a language a great skill to have is simply because it's not that easy for someone to acquire fluency. If it

was, it would quickly lose it's value and won't be treasured as much.

Let's think about it this way. What if you manage to land a big business deal in Asia or Europe, or secure a great job, because you speak a second language? What if you get yourself out of a sticky situation in a foreign country because you speak the local language? What if you find the love of your life as a result of your language learning journey? I've certainly seen these things happen in my time at Euroasia.

I would suggest that a worthwhile New Year resolution in 2009 is to learn a second language.

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Different cultural attitudes to navigating the recession

It's a privelege to have my friend Mitchell Pham, Director of Augen Software Group, to be our guest blogger today. We share very similar views on how we should approach the current recession; and we're both perennial optimists. Mitchell has just come back to NZ after having spent a month in Asia. Mitchell's views on how Vietnamese entrepreneurs (and by extension many Asians) approach the recession vis-a-vis New Zealand entrepreneurs should be required reading for New Zealand managers.

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The common view of the cause for the global financial crisis has been largely held to be the over-exposure of the credit systems, with too much credit being handed-out too easily even where the risks of failure of repayment have been very high.

Governments around the world have been putting in place mechanisms to bail/underwrite the credit systems under their influence, so by and large, the ‘crisis’ seems to have been ‘managed’. However, the worry at the moment is that banks are still reluctant to lend as they have swung the other way and become ‘too risk-averse’ through the crisis. Without credit, it is difficult for businesses to develop/grow, which makes it difficult for economies to claw their ways out of the down-turn or recession that they are in. That seems to be the macro picture that we have been seeing.

At ground level where we connect with other businesses from large to small, we certainly see the effects of the crisis every day; from down-turn in demand for goods and services to cash flow crises from delayed payments, companies laying off staff, businesses scrambling, or restructuring, or diverting, or even dissolving. You name it, we have seen it in the market place. The crisis has certainly created a multitude of challenges for businesses to wrestle with. So, the economic down-turn has been noticed and even expected by many to last for the next 12-18 months, wherever we have been. However, in our own experience, what has been remarkable to observe is the difference in the way many Asian businesses seem to see and deal with the down-turn in contrast to that of many of their Western counterparts.

In Vietnam and other South-East Asian countries that we have been to, for example, most of the entrepreneurs we know have already gotten over the fact that there is an economic down-turn and that it will be around for another 12-18 months. They have already updated their busines

s plans to reflect that, and is now more preoccupied with what they can do to exploit the situation, while it is ‘here for a limited time only’. Oddly (and pleasantly) enough, the mood is still positive as businesses aggressively seek out temporary but strategic opportunities to further themselves, even divesting and/or spreading into new areas of activities. Many South East Asian entrepreneurs seem to be in the ‘opportunity’ mind-space no matter what situation the economy throws at them. It is very encouraging to see and

be surrounded by when we are there.

In contrast, few New Zealand entrepreneurs seem to be in the same mind-space right now. Despite the very real effects being felt, many of the businesses that we are surrounded by still seem to be either in denial (that the down-turn is really here and that it will be around for another 12-18 months) or in depression – still going through the emotional processes, with some businesses taking the ‘waiting to see what happens next’ approach to dealing with the situation. They are yet to go through the complete updating of their business plans, and are still a fair mental-distance away from the aggressive and intense focus on looking for temporary opportunities to exploit the down-turn while it is ‘here for a limited time only’.

The new New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, is the first to have come from the private business sector. He has a lot of support from businesses, and the rest of the country also seems to have a lot of confidence in him. He has committed to refocusing government resources to push for growth towards 3%-4% for the New Zealand economy to recover from the down-turn and begin to go places again. As a modest group of companies, we are looking forward to taking part in that push and hopefully seeing the outcome in due course.

Another important effect of the economic down-turn, that we see as positive, is that businesses have been forced to streamline/optimise or evolve for the better.

Even the Augen Software Group has now become ‘leaner and meaner’ than we have been for many years.

We had a good run of growth and success in recent years and became complacent in a number of areas, and so now is a good time to ‘spring clean’ and ‘shape up’ for going forward.

As a New Zealand enterprise, we are very multi-cultural, with more than 15 different nationalities in our Auckland head office alone.

Our board of directors is also very diverse, and is made up of 40% Asian origin, 20% Kiwi origin, 20% European origin and 20% US origin.

So it has been an interesting range of cultures and perspectives in the mix as we take on the current challenges and set direction for the future.

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Fortune favours the brave

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
– Elbert Hubbard

In such perilous times, a common response is for people to hunker down and not try anything new, waiting for the storm to pass. I came across some McKinsey research that I found interesting. One key conclusion is that only 60% of companies that were top-quartile before the recession retained their leadership position after the recession. My guess is the 40% of companies that lost their foothold were the ones that chose to hunker down and not do anything extraordinary in the fear that a wrong move would sink the ship.  In reality, it is in such times that opportunities abound.

In the Aeneid, Virgil writes Audaces fortuna iuvat. Fortune favours the brave. One example of how to capitalise on the current recession is to look for opportunities to export. There are always new niche markets waiting to be tapped. If traditional European and American markets are slowing down, how abo

ut looking at the Chinese, Indian and ASEAN markets? Is there another way of packaging your product to deliver more value to the customer at the same price?

Chapter 1, Sun Tzu Art of War comes to mind: Generals must be assessed according to the following characteristics: wisdom, trustworthiness, benevolence, courage and discipline.

Leaders would need to summon all these attributes in order to navigate the recession and to capitalise on the opportunities.

I've just finished reading Jeffery Archer's “The Fourth Estate”; a recommended novel

in the tradition of Kane and Abel, if you haven't read this. I can see some key learnings for business. The dominant thought for me today is that fortune favours the brave.

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