Communication doesn’t have to mean a long and intense discussion. Just knowing how to say “hello” and “thank you” in another person’s language can completely change your relationship with that person.
Decades ago, when I was hitchhiking around the world (OK, yes, some buses and ships too), I would exchange handwritten phrase lists with other travelers making their way in the opposite direction. Hello, thank you, excuse me, where, how much. You can communicate a lot with those, some gestures, showing fingers for numbers, pointing for direction, things like that.
In Transparent Language’s Byki and Rapid Rote software, we’ve shown many times that basic words and phrases can be learned, including pronunciation, in about one minute per item. Hello. That’s one minute. Thank you. Excuse me. Where? How much? Five minutes.
Obviously, greater mastery of a language takes longer. I’m familiar with one language proficiency scale in which level 2 is labeled “Limited Professional Proficiency.” At this level, someone is expected to be able to converse socially and handle most workplace interactions successfully to a limited extent. How long does that take? One prominent language school estimates that for a relatively easy language, such as Italian, achieving Limited Professional Proficiency might require 750 classroom hours. For a more difficult language, such as Chinese or Arabic, reaching the same level of proficiency might require 1,800 classroom hours.
But here’s the thing. People who enjoy languages spend their entire lives getting better and learning more. Certainly no one I know has ever learned all of the English language. We’re all still working on it. Think of yourself as a user and learner your chosen language, and you’re just like everyone else.
You never finish learning a language. But how long does it take to learn enough of another language to make a difference? Five minutes. A word or two can make bring a smile, make a sale, help you find your way, and bridge distrust.
With hello and thank you mastered, you now know more of your chosen next language than most people on earth. After that, it’s just about having fun and getting a little better at it every day.
- Michael Quinlan, CEO, Transparent Language, Inc.