Three Ways Multilingualism Opens Doors In An Interconnected World

In the past, meeting a person who spoke more than one language was a rarity; before the advent of modern transportation and communication technology, contact with other nations was limited, so knowing more than your native tongue was not, for most people, a necessity.

However, today we live in a very different world. Cell phones, the Internet, and air travel have significantly increased our connectedness to people in other countries, and as the world becomes more globalized, those connections will continue to intensify.

Much has been made about the benefits of being multilingual on the scale of the individual; after all, people who know more than one language have been shown to have greater mental agility, better job prospects, and a sharper understanding of the world around them. But increasing multilingualism around the world also confers distinct advantages on our macro-level, global society.

Take a look at the following ways that greater multilingualism provides opportunities for increased understanding between (seemingly) disparate groups:

More Clear and Open Communication Between Governments

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most national governments have recognized the importance of remaining in close contact with those of other countries around the world. Forging good relationships with other nations is a key to maintaining international stability, which is, of course, to our mutual benefit.

Multilingualism among world leaders allows governments to communicate clearly and openly with one another, and serves to break down barriers where they may exist. For example, it’s hard to forget President Kennedy’s powerful “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (“I Am a Berliner”) speech, delivered in West Germany1963; he gave large portions of the address in German, thereby conveying his camaraderie with the citizens of the divided nation. Despite his famous mistake, in which he accidentally referred to himself as a jelly doughnut, the speech went far in establishing a relationship between the U.S. and West Germany.

It’s important for officials to be able to convey their wants and needs as directly and accurately as possible, especially in a tense situation. Multilingualism allows this, and it helps create a more tangible bond between leaders who are looking for common ground.

Easier Business Dealings and Negotiations

It’s true that the world is becoming more interconnected overall, but more specifically, business has reached international heights more rapidly than most other spheres. For the first time in world history, it’s fast and easy to conduct business transactions between distant nations, and multilingualism is the key making those deals happen.

Although it’s true that English is often the lingua franca, and thus the dominant language when it comes to business deals and negotiations, as countries in the developing world become bigger players in the world economy, multilingualism will be critical in high-stakes negotiations. This is because the nuanced nature of the back-and-forth involved in a business deal requires more than just a basic understanding of one another. Multilingualism among business professionals will allow both parties to convey their interests clearly and maintain a good working relationship. This is why major companies such as Apple, BMW, and Coca-Cola are actively recruiting leaders with the ability to speak more than one language.

Deeper Understanding of Other Cultures

It goes without saying that being multilingual will allow international travelers to interact with other cultures much more easily. For example, having an intimate understanding of Italian will make your trip to Rome a much more satisfying experience.

But the need for cultural sensitivity runs much deeper than a one-week summer vacation; as the expectation that we all become good citizens of the world increases, it’s critical to understand the ins and outs of other societies in more than just a superficial way. Increasing multilingualism provides us with the ability to understand the complexities other cultures in a genuine way. Language is complicated, and word choice means a lot in explanation and descriptions – multilingualism means that none of these fine distinctions will pass us by.

Multilingualism has the power to transform our world – consider learning a language to be a part of the movement!


This blog article was contributed by Sara Collins, writer for NerdWallet, a site that helps users stay informed about the best ways to save money on travel.

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Travelling Abroad: The Power of Physical Gestures

Hand gestures are frequently thought of as a universal language—one that everyone, regardless of country of origin, can generally understand to a certain extent. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the local language, pointing towards a train at the subway and then to your wrist will most likely indicate to a local that you need to know what time the train leaves. Read on to find out about some gestures that will be universally understood, and some seemingly common gestures that won’t exactly be well-received abroad.

Some Universal Gestures

Here are some gestures that will serve you well while travelling outside New Zealand, Australia or the United States, which can be appreciated and easily understood by locals everywhere.

  • A Smile

This simple movement of 12 facial muscles will go a long way for you in an alien country. Smiling is an effective way to convey that you mean well, making locals more willing to assist you as you tour their city. In Eastern countries especially, conveyance of emotion, through smiling for instance, plays a more pivotal role in communication than the mere verbal transference of information, that we are more accustomed to here in the West.  A smile can help you send out positive vibes as you travel through unknown countries.

  • A Head Bow

A gesture that will be understood world over, a slight bow of the head can be a positive gesture that can take the place of several common phrases, including greetings, thank you’s, and affirmative statements (i.e. “yes”, “of course”, “that’s fine”, etc.).  A head bow helps you come across as a humble, understanding individual, a necessary impression to create when you are the visitor.

  • Body Language

While travelling, maintain a fluid body language rather than a rigid one. A more relaxed body language will help you come across as a more amiable, approachable individual and will reduce the awkwardness of trying to find your way around an alien region.

Some Gestures to Avoid

Common gestures that one may assume are universal here in New Zealand or North America, may unintentionally offend some folks overseas. Read on to find out which ones to avoid.

  • The Okay Sign

This gesture formed using your thumb and forefinger may be a normal way to tell the chef that the meal’s delicious here in America, but in parts of Europe and Asia, this gesture is not appreciated in the least. In Greece and Turkey, this gesture has a vulgar, offensive connotation, while in the Middle East it is representative of the evil eye.

  • Pointing

“Is this the way to the local place of worship?” you ask innocently pointing down the road. A gesture not very well-received abroad, pointing is extremely rude is several nations. Instead, try indicating the direction in question using an open palm—save yourself the trouble of an unintentional insult.

  • Thumbs Up

Here in the West, the thumbs up gesture is used for all kinds of things, from signaling that all’s well to wishing someone good luck. However, in many regions worldwide, including the Middle East, South America, and West Africa, this gesture is a hideously obscene one. Avoid at all costs. Try a smile to indicate your happiness or satisfaction instead of risking this gesture.

Travelling is exciting, but can prove to be quite daunting when you don’t speak a word of the local language. Employ these gestures to more effectively communicate with locals and develop a positive relationship even with those whom you may not be able to verbally communicate with. Though your language may not be generally understood, simple actions like a smile or slight bow of the head are indeed universal. Just be sure to avoid those not-so-universal gestures wherever you are.


This blog article was contributed by Sara Collins, writer for NerdWallet, a site that helps users stay informed about the best ways to save money on travel.

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Wellington Mayoral candidate Jack Yan on why multilingualism matters

In this article, Jack Yan talks about growing up in Wellington, and how being multilingual has helped him with living life to the fullest. Jack is a renowned businessman from Hong Kong/Wellington, and publisher of fashion magazine Lucire. He has been very successful at building a global brand, and now delving into politics. If Jack has his way, Wellington City will get free wifi, one car-less Sunday a year, perhaps even solar-powered council buildings.

Jack has a good chance of becoming the next Mayor of Wellington City. If you google “Wellington mayor”, you will see Jack’s campaign site displayed prominently on page 1 (after the official Wellington site and Wikipedia), further demonstration of Jack’s internet marketing prowess. Jack is impressive not just because of his amazing business credentials. I remember chatting with him a few years ago and discovering he is one of very few Kiwis who can speak both French and Cantonese – and putting his language skills to good use in business.

I hope Jack’s story will inspire you to learn another language, perhaps to finally work on the new year resolution that keeps reappearing on your list every January.

In the 1970s, New Zealand was a far more monocultural place. When I was four, two of my cousins, who were slightly older, were attending primary school and started speaking English at home, instead of our native Cantonese. I asked my parents if I could do the same.

My parents were usually pretty good at rationalizing things to me. Mum explained, ‘No, because it’s important that you speak Cantonese at home, and leave English for outside. Wouldn’t it be better to speak two languages well rather than one?’

That sold me.

A similar argument came at age six, when my parents asked if I would like to learn an extra language.

The choices offered in 1978 at St Mark’s Church School, Wellington, were French and Japanese.

‘Wouldn’t you like to learn Japanese?’ asked Mum. ‘The Japanese have some characters that are the same as ours, and you can learn to write your own language.’

While none of my Japanese friends would like to hear this, the thought that went through my mind at that age was, ‘I’m not learning a form of Chinese with the wrong pronunciations.’ Hey, I was six.

However, I never regretted that decision.

Of all my travels, I only have visited Japan once. Few business opportunities ever availed themselves in that country. However, I have visited France over half a dozen times, with most of those times for work.

It’s especially handy given I own a fashion magazine, Lucire, and Paris is very much the centre of that industry in so many respects. Even things as simple as filling in a form present no challenges.

At the Medinge Group, a think-tank where I am a director, we hand out Brands with a Conscience every year. We do so from Paris, rather than our usual Swedish location.

Even back in Wellington, French is very useful when chatting to expatriates or dealing with the diplomatic corps.

It’s been a good foundation for other countries. For example, I was able to travel through Italy and understand the locals. The languages are dissimilar, but there are enough common roots that you can get pick out key words and get about the place.

I would hate to think where I would be without these languages. Certainly in business, I would have lost plenty of opportunities dealing with French designers, photographers, and make-up artists. I would not have been able to develop business in Hong Kong, my home town, where Cantonese is the norm. I would have been pretty lost in various American Chinatowns, unable to get proper medicine if I was sick, if I did not have any Taishanese.

I also have a limited grasp of Swedish, which has helped my work at Medinge and some of the work I do in Sweden.

While 90 per cent of Swedes speak English, Swedish is still the language in which they conduct most of their lives, so being able to read and write some of it, even if my comprehension has some way to go, has been incredibly useful.

With understanding a language comes understanding a culture, often the biggest barrier in international business.

The extra language is an extra means to get inside the other side’s mindsets, and attempt to find that common ground where you can do business or form a friendship.

As a mayoral candidate, I have discovered that the skills you acquire in learning languages come into play in politics.

Over the 18 months, in preparation for my mayoral run, I have attended more diplomatic events, in part to pave the way for better relations with other countries should I be elected.

You can’t just go and demand sister-city relationships with others if you don’t lay the groundwork first. To do that, you must have some accord.

In all these conversations, you are acutely aware that you are an ambassador for Wellington and New Zealand, and you are finding a way to promote us in a way our foreign visitors understand.

They respect you in return because you know your own language and heritage, those of the country which you

have adopted as your home for 34 years, and you have extended your goodwill by embracing theirs.

Beyond business, arts, cultural exchanges and politics, multilingualism gives a person one extra thing.

It shows that you are complete, and you have a sense of self. That equates best to the Māori concept of mana. It is the greatest advantage one has over others in so many facets of life.

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November / December Euroasia update

OK This is going to be a long-ish post, to update you with all the goss over the past month. I have been very busy with various projects, travelling, attending all sorts of forums and events, and trying to keep up with everything else. It’s Christmas eve, and I finally get to do some blogging. I dread to think what it must be like in the shopping malls right now, so this is a welcome reprieve.

We had the annual Euroasia Christmas party late this year (11 Dec 09). We had a decent turnout of around 80 clients and friends of Euroasia, which is OK seeing we clashed with many other corporate parties. File note: next year we definitely have to do this the first week of Dec, perhaps even late-Nov. As you can see, those who managed to make it had a great time.

We didn’t

do any Christmas carols in Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Japanese like we did last year… but our team did organise some cool games. It was also a great opportunity for me to thank all our clients for their unwavering support to us over the past year. Dr John Reynolds spoke eloquently in 3 languages about his language learning experience at Euroasia.

Ken with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and fellow businessmen from Australia..

A few months ago, I accepted an invitation to speak at the World Chinese Economic Forum in November and held in Kuala Lumpur (which happens to be my hometown). I’m really glad I went, as I managed to meet a number of very interesting people. At my session, I talked about how overseas Chinese can assist businesspeople from Western nations, including New Zealand, to access new markets in Asia generally and China specifically. I provided examples of enterprising Chinese businesspeople facilitating trade opportunities. In the past, New Zealand chicken producers had to spend money to dispose of chicken parts like chicken feet (that Westerners don’t eat, but Chinese love). Through the intervention of Chinese traders, NZ chicken producers have not only saved money from having to dispose of these chicken parts, but are now profiting from the sales of these parts. There are plenty of business opportunities in China that New Zealanders are missing out on because of the DIY mindset. A far superior approach is to collaborate with Asians who live in NZ and have an entrenched knowledge of the language and culture in the target market. I’m hoping to devote more time and energy to work on these Asia Bridge initiatives in 2010.

At the Forum, I managed to have a chat with the Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng. When he found out that I lived in NZ, he said “you Kiwis qualified for the world cup”, referring to news that New Zealand qualified for the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa and demonstrating his knowledge of New Zealand. I had to break it to him that NZ also qualified for the Hockey World Cup, beating Malaysia the day before the forum.

Ken with PM John Key

Earlier this month, I attended the annual APEC Advisory Business Council (ABAC) dinner, 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.

I have previously blogged about this but one funny anecdote worth sharing is from the Q%A where a 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.

Mock up of Euroasia’s new website to be launched in 2010

In the new year, you will see the launch of Euroasia’s new website and enrolment system, which we have spent the last 2 months working on. Some people have asked us why we want to spend money on this, especially seeing this is a particularly difficult time. My response is that in order to maintain Euroasia’s position as a leading provider of foreign language courses and cross-cultural services, we have to keep investing in the business, and to keep improving our service offering, especially when times are bad. Recessions don’t last forever, and I’m optimistic that 2010 will be a spectacular year for Euroasia. As it stands, our forward bookings for 2010 are already way ahead of this time last year.

Over the next two weeks, I will spend some time hopefully relaxing and reflecting on the past year. If you’re like me, and need some help with the reflection process, I’ve found this guide pretty helpful. Ask yourself 20 questions that cover all facets of life, not just material prosperity.

Last Christmas, we produced a video compilation of Euroasia staff bringing Christmas and New Year greetings in their native languages. I hope you don’t mind me recycling (seeing it’s in vogue now) this message. Once again we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Why Auckland will attract more migrants

Economist Intelligence Unit just announced their list of most liveable cities in the world. Vancouver came out tops. The City of Sails was ranked the 12th best city to live in. Wellington is ranked 23rd. This is a poor showing for Auckland compared to the April 09 announcement by Mercer that Auckland is the 4th most liveable city in the world. According to Wikipedia, the EIU and Mercer surveys are the most authoritative surveys of liveable cities.

When Mercer announced the list of most liveable cities for 2009, the Aussie paper Daily Telegraph headline was “Auckland beats out Sydney in Worldwide Quality of Living Survey“. If there is one thing the Aussies hate more than losing, it’s getting beaten by the Kiwis. Anyway, the order 5mg cialis cheap online latest survey from EIU released this week will surely make the Aussies happy. Their 3 major cities, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth all rank within the top 10 list.

These most liveable city surveys look at factors like stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, infrastructure etc in deciding the rankings.

I think most people choose to emigrate to New Zealand because of one or both of these reasons:

1) Clean and green environment, generally safe ie. great quality of life

2) Children’s education


As more and more people get burned out living in the larger European and Asian cities, I’m sure the appeal of New Zealand will only increase. Most migrants end up in Auckland, largely because it’s a good compromise. Auckland may be the big smoke in a South Pacific context, but not really if compared to

the major European and Asian cities. 1.4m is approximately the population of an average Shanghai suburb.

Living in Auckland is about getting the best of both worlds. Easy access to some of the most beautiful spots in the world, reasonable climate, and generally good quality of life. These reasons will surely keep people coming.

Immigration policy should focus on facilitating easy access for skilled migrants. We also need to define skills pretty widely. Smart people may not have university degrees. In fact the majority of the self-made billionaires on the Fortune Magazine Rich List don’t either. Current immigration policy makes it difficult for people who may not be well qualified but could add a lot of value to New Zealand to be granted residency.

EIU’s list of most liveable cities in the world 2009:

Vancouver Canada
Vienna Austria
Melbourne Australia
Toronto Canada
Perth Australia
Calgary Canada
Helsinki Finland
Geneva Switzerland
Sydney Australia
Zurich Switzerland

Auckland ranked 12th

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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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How to develop cross cultural empathy

Understand how learning a foreign language helps you develop greater cross cultural empathy. In this video, I share some observations on

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how you can better understand people from other cultures.

Euroasia offers cross cultural communications courses and cross cultural solutions to people who work across cultures.

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Is culture ever wrong?

It's almost a truism that liberally-minded, progressive people of the world make an effort to understand and appreciate other people's cultures, no matter how different they might be from our own.  We might find practices ranging from arranged marriages to initiation ceremonies among Papuan tribes people a little strange, but we would not, heaven forbid, stand up and denounce them as “wrong”.  To do this would smack of cultural arrogance, imperialist hangovers or worse.

Does this mean, then, that everything deemed to be part and parcel of any culture is acceptable?

I think we have to distinguish between cultural practices and cultures in their entirety. No, we should not dismiss any culture in its entirety as “wrong”. There may be certain aspects of the culture which we find distasteful, but that does not justify our dismissing it out of hand; anthropologists have taught us to see that people with cultures which seem quite alien to us may actually lead happier lives than we do. When it comes to cultural practices, however, I would suggest that we might take a different point of view.

Culture is not static: very few cultures in the world are exactly the same as they were 200 years ago.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it would have seemed entirely normal to most people within our western culture that children would labour in factories, that people would be sent to the other side of the world for stealing a loaf of bread, or hanged for poaching. Our culture has moved on from that, and most of us are happy to see that it has. Closer to home, cannibalism was once part and parcel of the culture of certain Pacific nations, including New Zealand – it no longer is; the culture has moved on.

Undesirable practices can be eliminated from cultures without the culture in its entirety turning to dust. And perhaps there are today still certain cultural practices which we really should not be tolerating. The problem, though, is how we determine what is “undesirable”.

We come back to cultural arrogance. We might well denounce some “primitive” initiation ceremony, yet perhaps the practitioners of such ceremonies might well denounce certain aspects of our culture, possibly the materialism and greed which threaten the stability of the earth. Which of the two cultural phenomena represents more of a threat?

I think there are criteria which might help us to determine whether we can, and perhaps should, denounce certain cultural practices with a clean conscience. For example, if the practice clearly results in permanent physical harm, if it is inflicted upon children or anyone against their will – then I think there is a clear case for condemning it. A case in point is female genital mutilation, practised in certain African cultures. In this instance, the criteria just mentioned clearly apply, and I think we can say this practice is wrong and should be stopped. That does not mean that we condemn lock, stock and barrel the cultures espousing it, but it does mean that this one aspect of their culture should disappear.

This is fine, but what actually do we say in response if we asked to change one of our cultural practices and stop destroying the planet?

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Global migration: #1 management challenge

Understandably, the foremost issue in the mind of most managers today is how to deal with the global recession. The focus, at least in the short term, is how to survive the downturn. This should be the time to be thinking about how to capitalise on the next upturn. Recessions do not last forever, and we'll no doubt get out of this rut. Which leads me to the point of this article. One significant management challenge in the coming decades is how we manage global talent flow.

Research by consultancy KPMG has argued that managers will need to be prepared for a completely new, international management environment over the coming decades as the flow of skilled and unskilled labour between the developing and developed economies increases.

This convergence, or a net flow of skilled and unskilled workers migrating between the developed and developing worlds, will mean companies will need completely to rethink how they manage their workforces, argued the author of the KPMG report.

Organisations are pretty unprepared for this. Global migration is a recent phoenomenon, driven by cheaper airfares, and Gen Xers who surf the net every day researching new destinations and sharing travel and OE stories. It seems to me that people will continue travelling despite environmental concerns. The only difference is that we seem to feel a bit more guilty about it. Somehow I don't think we'll see a drop in air travel figures anytime soon.

The successful organisations of the future will be highly innovative, truly order diflucan understanding how to harness diversity and capture talent from around the world. The offices of the future will have people speaking different languages dealing with clients and suppliers from around the world. The essential skill to have in that environment is the ability to understand and work with people from other cultures.

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