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Gini Dietrich

A Look At An Innovative Communication Tool

By: Gini Dietrich | July 20, 2010 | 
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Guest post by Ryan Knapp, a recovering linguist

What if I told you there is an innovative communication tool that allows you to talk with millions of new people in a way you’ve never been able to before? What if I told you this new way to communicate would integrate seamlessly with all forms of social media you currently use?

What innovative tool would I be talking about?

Language.

Language is the most basic, yet forgotten, tool for communication. I’m not talking language in terms of writing copy or producing press releases. I’m talking about English, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, French, Arabic, and the other 6,909 languages spoken in the world today.

In a time where everyone is clamoring to figure out the newest technology to help increase their network and get the word out, most completely ignore the opportunity to learn how to communicate in more than one language.

Monolingualism – the ability to speak only one language – is extremely common in countries where English is the native language, especially in the United States where only 17% of people are bilingual.

Why is this important?

Social media has broken down the initial contact wall on a global scale. We now can connect with a buyer in China or a CFO in Norway with a click of the mouse. Making the initial contact has never been easier.

Instead of the initial contact wall, the language wall is built when we tap that company president from Brazil on the shoulder and lack the ability and linguistic tools to understand him or her when they turn around.

You may never be a polyglot – someone who uses many languages fluently – but learning how to say hello and a few words in multiple languages will extend your network further than Twitter, Facebook, and any other social network combined. In fact, it will open you up to different social networks you didn’t even know existed.

You want to talk about standing out in the job market? Minor in a language in college or take a class now. You want to find new clients? Learn (or find someone who speaks) the language in a new target market. Looking to increase your media coverage? Hit up some non-English magazines, blogs, and websites.

My self-taught native fluency in Spanish allows me to communicate with around 500 million Spanish speakers, effectively covering the Western Hemisphere. In Polish I can open up a conversation with another 40 million and in Catalan I can make 6 million people in Barcelona smile. Without my ability to speak Spanish, roughly 35% of my leads and contacts in soccer would be gone.

My advice? Don’t fear language. Go find a local continuing ed Japanese class, or reach out to a local college and take that French class you’ve been thinking about. Open your mind and ears.

So why not learn a second language yourself or use one in your company? There’s no better time than now.

It’s easier said than done, right? Or is it del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho?

Editor’s note: HUGE congrats to Ryan on his new job and a BIG move from Buffalo to Kansas City. All you KC peeps look out for him! He’s going to need some local friends!

Ryan Knapp is a recovering linguist who writes “my life in soccer,” a look at the (sometimes not so) beautiful game, at www.ryanjknapp.com. When he’s not working 14 hour days and teaching himself random languages, you can find him out for a swim, bike, or run as he prepares for his first 70.3-mile half-Ironman in August and a 140.6-mile full-Ironman in 2011.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

9 comments
Amy Akomas
Amy Akomas

That's it Ryan! I'm going to take that Italian class after all :) That'd make me uhmmm, multilingual! Yay!!!

On a serious note, you are right. I've seen where many conversations get "lost in translation" where it shouldn't have been the case, and like you said, learning a new language is not only easy; it's also intriguing. I wish most people will go for it.

Gabriel
Gabriel

While in London for my PhD studies a few (!) years ago, I'd reply to my British friends who'd marvel at the 5 languages I speak fluently with an encouraging "But you DO speak several languages! British English, American English, Australian, etc."... :-)
Totally agree with you Ryan: some of us often take it too much for granted, but in my view, there's no other single subject you can teach yourself which comes close to the impact on personal and professional life that an extra language has!
One tip I often use when arriving in a country whose language I do not (yet) speak: ask to be taught just a few words of civilities (thank you, please, hello, good bye, etc.), learn how to pronounce these to absolute perfection, and meet new people by greeting them with just these words, in their mother tongue. Often I end up being (briefly...) mistaken for a local, and have to apologise to the other person for not speaking more of their language. This just has a magical effect: it shows you have tried to enter the other person's world, and they open up like they rarely would, even if the conversation has to continue with a 3rd language (often English).

Bonne préparation pour ton Semi-Ironman cette année, et ton Ironman l'année prochaine! :-)

Kathy Babb
Kathy Babb

Excellent post, Ryan. And welcome to my hometown, Kansas City. I hope you'll enjoy living there. The climate should be much more tolerable than Buffalo (NY, right?).

I now live in San Antonio, Texas, where Spanish-speakers are still a minority, but about 60% of our city is Latino. With so much opportunity here to learn and interact with the language, you have inspired me to jump back into Spanish classes. I know that being trapped on our continent makes it too easy for us to only speak English, yet at least being bilingual will benefit me no matter where I live or travel.

Nikki Stephan
Nikki Stephan

I love this suggestion, Ryan! In college, I double majored in PR and Spanish, and I studied abroad in Chile for a semester. Knowing a second language definitely helped me stand out from other job seekers during interviews. While I'm not currently working with clients who are reaching out to the Hispanic market, knowing a second language has come in handy countless times. Like you said, I would recommend people do the bare minimum and at least learn how to say the basics in a language other than what they primarily speak.

Ryan Knapp
Ryan Knapp

Italian? Well done. Four out of six of my groomsmen speak it fluently along with Sicilian because their parents are straight from the homeland. You would have thought I'd pick it up by now!

Lost in translation is right. We will never get over that fully, but at least having an open mind to another lg can help in those situations.

Ryan Knapp
Ryan Knapp

Good point Gabriel! You definitely have an advantage with your multilingualism, and I'm completely jealous of five languages. Maybe one day I'll get there.

Your tips for just learning a few words are spot on. Along with those I usually learn 'I'm not a native, do you speak english' because after they think you speak the language fluently, they fly off the handle.

Good luck for your Ironman and triathlon training as well!

Ryan Knapp
Ryan Knapp

Thanks for the welcome to Kansas City Kathy. I'm excited to give it a go and see how I like it. Good thing is there is lots of open road to explore on my bike!

Glad to hear you are going to jump back into classes. With the loads of Spanish speakers there, you could just organize a group of people who want to learn the language, similar to a book club. I've done it before and it helps keep everyone on track.

Ryan Knapp
Ryan Knapp

Thanks Nikki for the comment. Like you said, you might not be working with clients now who are Spanish speaking, but when someone randomly calls and speaks only Spanish, you can jump right in and take care of it. Even if you only know how to say "I don't speak Spanish, please be patient' you still know more than you did before.

I bet Chile was beautiful!

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