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Communication is crucial to entrepreneurship, especially when it comes to dealing with somebody who doesn’t speak the same language. And although you can pay for the services of a translator, and probably should do so when sealing important deals, making an effort to establish communication in the other party’s language shows goodwill and goes a long way to building trust. As such, if you find yourself frequently dealing with business partners from a certain country, you may even wish to go the extra mile and start a language course.
Worry and unease are some of the main obstacles to learning a new language. While most learners suffer from some level of foreign language anxiety, others can find it downright debilitating. No matter the extent, any negative emotional reaction associated with learning a new language can undermine your achievements and performance.
Mary Tse, quadrilingual language coach and the founder and CEO of Fluency Flows, understands what it takes to learn a new language. Born in Hong Kong, the Cantonese speaker was immersed in an entirely new world after she was sent to a boarding school in England at the tender age of 13. Not only did she have to adapt to the new culture, she also had to master a new language. Tse has since obtained a postgraduate diploma in teaching English as a foreign language from Brighton University and today helps others overcome learning barriers.
While babies and young children have little difficulty learning new languages, the story isn’t as simple for adults. Often, the older we get the more we start to question our abilities. “Uncertainty can affect our ability to learn,” Tse says. “Whether it’s a job interview or speaking a new language, we all want to make a good impression on others. It’s important to remember, however, that when it comes to learning a foreign language, we are bound to make mistakes. After all, this is how we learn—by making mistakes.”
According to Tse, in order to overcome foreign language anxiety, we need to let go of any unrealistic beliefs. “Let’s face it, there’s no way you—or any other new language student—will be speaking like a native after a few classes,” she says. “After all, even native speakers make mistakes in their language.”
In a world of internationalization and globalization, language ability can be crucial to business success. After all, cross-cultural communication can help you access a whole new world of possibilities and business partnerships. And even if you’re far from fluent, knowing a few phrases in a foreign language can be a game changer when it comes to establishing rapport.
However, Rome wasn’t built in a day. As such, it’s important not to make the mistake of thinking that you’ll become proficient in a new language in a matter of weeks or even months. Realistically, learning a new language can take years. For Tse, jumping into the deep end doesn’t work for language students and can actually increase foreign language anxiety. Instead, she recommends baby steps.
“I find that spending time listening to the target language is the first task of learning any foreign language,” Tse says. “You can also play the language very softly, like background music, before you go to bed. You will be practicing even when you are sleeping. Another alternative is practicing some simple sentences in front of a mirror.”
“Once you build up your confidence, seek out one-on-one conversations,” she adds. “Ideally, this will be with someone you already feel comfortable with. You can also join various online communities where you can practice your writing skills without any pressure. Finally, you can try to mingle with people who already speak the language and just immerse yourself in that environment. Try making friends with native speakers and if there is something you don’t understand, ask them to explain it to you.”