lundi, octobre 08, 2007

Being multi-lingual is important, isn't it?

In office, we communicate in french. But since most of our clients are international, we communicate with them in english. In Singapore context, it will really mean that in office, we communicate in chinese and with our clients, we communicate in english. Can you imagine that? I'm posing this because based on my 5 years working experience in Singapore, all internal and external documents were written in english.

Being bi- or tri-lingual is really important. In Helsinki, during our meetings, the users were speaking in swedish or finnish among themselves. My colleague and I spoke in french while the other consultants spoke in english. Having a foreign language helped as we were able to discuss on internal issues. When the users clarified on certain issues among themselves, we had no idea what they were talking about. When the english consultants spoke among themselves, we could understand their constraints and problems. They could not hide their game. You might think that it was rude to be speaking in a foreign language in the presence of other people. I agree too but only if you want to include the others in your conversation. During the meeting, it was sometimes necessary to have private discussion among ourselves.

I can speak chinese well. But am I able to work with the chinese language? I doubt so. My written french is better than my written chinese. If I have to go China to work one day, I wonder if I can write documents in chinese. I have a few Singaporean friends working in China. I often thought that the working environment would be in english as I had doubts on my friends' chinese. Maybe I was wrong. I better check with them.

In any case, just being fluent in english is not enough. It is important to know other languages as well. When I was in Chinatown yesterday, I felt so at home listening to the roast meat seller speaking in Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and French with the customers. It just reminded me of the market back in Singapore. I wish I can speak Hokkien with someone. With my mom, we speak mandarin and english. I wonder if the young generation can speak our dialects now. It is so important to be able to speak our own mother tongues keeping in touch with our roots. At the same time, mastery of other languages can really get you further.

This revelation of being bi-lingual only hit me when I am here. Just knowing English in France is not enough. Just knowing French in France is essential but if you know English, that is a plus. I am glad that my circumstances in France obliged me to learn french. On the other hand, I hope that I will never lose my Hokkien.

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