Since there are a lot of tech managers in the forums I thought it would be a good idea to ask you about spoken languages.

If you had to learn a second language - which one would be the most beneficial to your career?

About me: I am a tech project manager in the US. I currently have teams in india and pakistan doing software, have travelled to Japan on business, and will be traveling to China in the next year.

Here is my current perspective on things - the India and Pakistan team members already speak english ... so I don't feel the need to learn hindi.

Chinese is spoken by over a billion people and the market is rapidly growing so there's definitely a strong pull there.

Japan has a strong business market and frankly I like Japan. I also picked up a good amount of Japanese while I was there.

Spanish ... definitely wouldn't hurt, but no strong business reasons there. There is no shortage of bilingual people in my area so learning wouldn't give me a significant advantage.

What do you think? Also a little info on the type of field you work in would be helpful. Thank you.


Peter.westley's picture
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Bottom line is it probably has to be a personal decision and within reason pretty much anything you chose would be of benefit. If you have the opportunity to imerse yourself, and help you to really learn it well, I think that would be a bonus i.e. don't learn a little of several languages, learn one really well.

Mine would be a flavour of Chinese I think - for the reasons you noted. Also, I have a smattering of Indonesian already which is very similar to Malaysian.

Of course I have a bias to the Asian side of things because I live as Asia's neighbour in Australia....

I'm in telecommunications services with responsibility across Asia Pacific but in a large multinational company.

Hope that helps.

Nik's picture

Chinese is a very tricky language to learn for Westerners. Japanese is slightly less so. If you have a head start, that may be a good way to go, and then you can move from Japanese to Chinese somewhat easily due to commonalities in the written language.

dsfsystems's picture

Thanks for the responses.

I have plenty of opportunities to emerse myself in Spanish being down in Arizona, but I just don't have any desire to learn it. I can already get around mexico pretty easily in a non-business situation and I'm surrounded by bilingual people so I don't feel the need.

As far as Chinese vs. Japanese - I am currently leaning towards Japanese ... I feel like the resources I have to learn Japanese are a little better and I've already been over to Tokyo.

Today I sought the advice of someone I've worked with (who was born in china) and her response was this: She said that due to business laws and regulations or lack there of in China she would recommend learning Japanese. She said that if I wanted to work in China the best approach was to hire someone out of Hong Kong to manage the chinese group. She said most of them are bilingual so learning Japanese would allow for the strongest advantage.

AManagerTool's picture

In the pharma research industry, Mandarin (common Chinese) is a very usefull language. I plan to take a few Berlitz Mandarin classes to actually speak with my internal customers in their native language. It should be fun and if I get good at it who knows where a valuable skill like that can take a Westerner.

What they tell me is that to take it on, you must have enough speakers around you to practice it constantly. I believe them.

Mark's picture
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Chinese and Spanish.


dsfsystems's picture

Thanks for the responses. I'm going to have to spend some time finding other bilingual people to help me along my way. I think it will definitely pay off in the long run.

Till's picture

...Are to be found here, somewhere around 10$/hour. Along with great self-study material which somewhat reduces the need to constantly have real Chinese speaking people around you (you can instead take your iPod or iRiver along).

dsfsystems's picture

Yep I found those too. I've been meaning to post here about it. Those can be found through itunes, but not nearly as many as can be found directly on their website. If you subscribe through the site you can break it off into different experience levels as well.... which is good for a newbie.

cowie165's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]Chinese and Spanish.




Mark's picture
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Chinese because China is the fastest growing significant country in international business, and Spanish because it is the fastest growing demographic of the American population.

This is a strictly utilitarian decision for me.


cowie165's picture

Thanks Mark.

I was interested in your rationale so I might apply it to the Southern Hemisphere. Many more to Pacific languages to choose from.


cowie165's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]Chinese because China is the fastest growing significant country in international business[/quote]

I have nearly finished 'The World is Flat' audiobook. Wow. You said it Mark. Such a thought provoking piece of work.

PierG's picture

I would suggest italian: not such an emerging country but a lot of nice people and a very warm language!! :)

LearnChinese's picture

I am interested in Chinese culture and history, so I begin to learn Chinese. There are a lot of learning Chinese website on the Internet, but I find a characteristic website. I highly recommend Learn Chinese Website. It is a very interesting site to learn Chinese.

littlejus's picture

Speaking Chinese, and Listening, isn't all that hard.  The phonetics take some getting used to but after that communication comes surprisingly quickly (4-6 months for simple conversations). 


Reading and Writing - you're looking at investing 2-4 hours every day and after three years you'll be able to read part of a newspaper.


Chinese will be incredibly powerful in the future.  Get your kids to learn it now.