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IC Communication Competency 2: Language Learning

The Importance of Language Learning
Language learning is rarely prioritised in collaborative endeavours and sadly, this is particularly true where native speakers of English are involved. With English being the number one choice of lingua franca in the world, many native speakers assume that making the effort to acquire even some basic phrases in another language is an unnecessary time-waster which will not really achieve very much. However, even when the interactional partners are highly proficient in the chosen working language, language learning efforts are never in vain. Despite the fact that learning a language can be time-consuming, daunting, and challenging, it can also be highly rewarding.
One benefit of learning another language lies in the fact that language proficiency is a window into the other person’s culture and may reveal the collaborative partner’s values and beliefs. It can thereby promote understanding of the partner and their practices, and aid more effective interaction. For those who are fluent but who nevertheless choose to use an interpreter, it has further advantages. If you can understand what your partner is saying in his/her native language, you will be able to make use of the duration of the translation to formulate your response, thereby enabling you to prepare better for your reply. Even the most basic skills in another language will be of help in trying to establish good relationships and positive impressions and will most likely be very well-received by interactional partners. Language learning is important for relationship building and maintenance, as it demonstrates an interest in the other’s language and culture and a willingness to make an effort. It offers multiple benefits, advantages and rewards, even at the most basic proficiency level, including signalling good-will to the collaborative partners.
Case Study Example: Choosing to learn Chinese
It was obviously impossible for any of the British members of the eChina-UK projects to become proficient in Chinese within the lifetime of their project, and during the first phase of the eChina-UK Programme, no one paid attention to language learning at all. Only the overall Programme Manager, among all the British members, had learned Chinese, and this made a bad impression on some of the Chinese partners. One of them commented as follows:
Chinese 16:
I think we should show consideration for each other in terms of language. China is now developing very fast; they should know some Chinese to communicate with us. … We have learned a lot of English, it’s their turn to learn some basic Chinese, as it is two-way communication. I find it weird that they don’t know even a word of Chinese.
The British partners learned from their mistake in this respect, and in the second phase many of them started to take Chinese lessons and learned to use some common phrases. One person was particularly interested in Chinese characters, and learned to recognise quite a lot of them during visits to Beijing. This interest in the Chinese language was hugely appreciated by the Chinese partners, and helped considerably in building rapport.

 cift_arrow Tip: Reflect on your attitude towards language learning, and explore options for learning your partner’s language or improving your proficiency in it.