There's a lot of talk in the business world, most of it in English, that the next generation of workers should be required to know a foreign...
There’s a lot of talk in the business world, most of it in English, that the next generation of workers should be required to know a foreign language.
Educators, using government grants, have studied this issue for years. They’ve hired consultants, written “papers,” conducted hearings, organized seminars, scheduled a few snow days and dined at fancy restaurants until they forgot about the whole thing.
That is, until the next report came out that showed U.S. schoolchildren score behind the Chinese on standardized tests.
Business leaders, in turn, complain constantly about young workers whose language skills are limited to: “So, like, how much, like, vacation time do I get after, like, the first week?”
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That’s why, every few years, there’s another “call for reform,” after which someone like former California Congressman Leon Panetta sums up the problem:
“I believe it is in the highest national interest to guarantee to the maximum extent feasible that the people of our country have been exposed to other peoples and languages, that they comprehend the limits of unilateral action and the growing necessity of international cooperation on this small, measurable, finite planet.
“Now, where are we going to eat?”
That speech was from 1979, the same year a presidential commission concluded that “Americans’ incompetence in foreign languages is nothing short of scandalous, and getting worse.”
I feel the time for lip service is over.
Every American should be forced to study a foreign language so he or she will be better equipped to compete in the global economy.
As Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen put it: Americans can buy in English, but we must sell in the customer’s language.
First, some ground rules: Pig Latin does not count as a foreign language. Neither does attaching “izzle” to every other word, my frizzle.
And you can forget about that “special” language shared by you and your twin sister, which is as weird as it is creepy.
No, we mean a completely foreign tongue.
Trouble is, the language most foreign to Americans these days, at least those in the workplace, is English.
You know what I’m talking about. Or maybe I should say: “You’re cognizant of what I’m referencing.”
They call it bizspeak, the weird words and funky phrases that spread among offices and cubicles like a bad head cold.
Most of us speak it. Few of us know what we’re talking about.
I got an e-mail with some great examples, courtesy of America Online (screen name: bigpimpdaddy1).
The list was stolen from Forbes, which is a big magazine in New York where my boss says they eat guys like me for breakfast:
• “Paradigms.” I always thought it meant you were a nickel short of having change for a quarter. I have since learned the true definition: More than one paradigm.
• “Synergy.” A great name for a stripper, but meaningless otherwise.
• “Out of the box.” Everyone wants to be “out of the box.” Bet they’d change their tune if the box had a minibar and satellite dish.
• “Effort.” As in: “We really need to effort this idea.” The next person who says it should be “fisted” in the nose. The same goes for anyone who wants to “grow” their business.
• “Hey, were you just rummaging through my desk drawer, freak?” (Actually, I heard this phrase for the first time only recently, but I’m sure it will catch on.)
The point is, bizspeak is just as important as any other foreign language when it comes to success in the workplace.
Without a firm command of bizspeak, our best and brightest will be outpaced in the global arena.
On the bright side: “Welcome to Burger King” is pretty much the same in any language.