When I taught English in Japan years ago, we used to have a joke among us gaijin (foreigners in japan).
We would use one simple word or phrase in a conversation and our Japanese friends would say, “Nihongo jozou” which means, “Your Japanese is really good.” Well, our Japanese was not at all good and sometimes the sentence would be the equivalent of “My name is ____” or “Thank you.”
So why did we get this kind of reaction? Well, I think they were just happy we were trying. By trying I mean, trying to embrace their culture, trying to embrace their language and trying to communicate with them.
This gratitude for us trying often came out as, “Your Japanese is so good.”
When I look back at what I’ve gained from studying foreign languages like Japanese, French and Spanish, I see something that goes beyond my initial interest in these languages. I see a trend that has nothing to do with the salary increase I may have had in mind.
Fluency in a second language is ultimately about connecting.
Something transpires between you and another human when they know you’ve taken the time to understand them. This can happen even if you just do a few words in the second language as your opening for a business meeting then do the rest of the speech in English.
It can happen when you sneak in a few words here and there to a customer who can’t explain what they want.
It can happen when you make a connection with someone you would have never have talked to otherwise; if you didn’t speak their language.
So here’s to one of the best hidden benefits of speaking a second language. In the end, it’s all about connecting.