Believe it. Live it! – For the love of language by Greg White

Ni hao! Hola! Guten Tag!

I have been fascinated by foreign languages since I was a small child, when I found books in Italian at home and started to learn French at the age of eight years old. Now, many years later, I am still thinking about what language I would like to learn next, probably Spanish I think, or maybe Hindi.

Here at the BMMI Group we use three main languages across our operations – English, Arabic and French, and I am fortunate to be able to get along in those three.  Yet, with 44 different nationalities among our two thousand plus employees, we probably have speakers of maybe 60, 70 or more different languages and dialects at different levels - just imagine that!

There are an estimated 6,900 languages in the world, in many different families (eighteen in the family of Arabic languages for example, and several hundred in India alone), and if we consider different dialects too, it is clear that many of us in the world speak or experience more than one language on a daily or weekly basis.

Of course, many people around the world speak English (most of them better than I do!), and in a place like Bahrain, you do not need to know Arabic to live here as an expat. Yet, I always find that I get a better and richer experience of any place where I stay when I learn and use even a few words of the local language. Look at it this way; if you know a few words of Mandarin Chinese, the most popular language in the world, you have the potential to communicate with more than a billion people in their own language!

The best thing for me about being able to speak other languages is that you get a wonderful bonus through learning them – the experience of learning about other people’s cultures and countries. With all the different languages and cultural experiences of our employees, we really do have a real treasure box here at the BMMI Group. I don’t think we have opened that box enough yet – there is so much more we can take advantage of and learn from each other!

I believe that you are never too old or too young to learn a new language – and a new cultural experience along with it. A lot of people  think that it is extremely hard to learn a new language once you’re older, but in most languages, the most common 100 words account for 50% of all conversation, and the most common 1,000 words account for 80% of all conversation, so you don’t need to learn a lot to manage the basics!

Recent research has also shown that learning different languages helps the brain develop and stay active as you get older, so keep in mind that it’s very good for your health - no matter if you’re younger or older!

There’s also so many ways to learn! When I started out, there were only books and tape recordings to learn from, but these days, there are many different ways to learn lots of languages online through BBC or Rosetta Stone for example, or on your phone by using apps like Duolingo, Memrise, and many others!

However, any way you do it, you still have to work at it! Make use of the diversity around you, practice your language skills with your colleagues who speak the language you’re learning and learn to say hello and thank you in as many languages as you can! Most importantly, have fun, remain curious, and stay open minded throughout the process!

Here are a few of my best tips to help you along the way:

  • Don’t worry about being fluent, most people are just happy that you are trying to make an effort to speak their language, and they will help if you ask them – those first hundred words will be a good start for you!
  • You are going to make mistakes, sometimes very funny ones, but it’s ok, that is how you learn!
  • Talk as much as possible with real people - you learn much faster that way than talking to a computer or reading a book - and that’s why you are learning after all!
  • Do lots and lots of listening to other people when they speak.
  • Always think about why you are learning the new language, there can be many reasons – travel, work, curiosity, love or for business! This will keep you motivated to carry on.

I am very pleased to know that some of my colleagues here in Bahrain are trying to learn French, and some of my colleagues in Gabon are also keen to learn English. Good luck to everyone trying to learn a new language and culture and remember to have fun along the way!

I will finish here with some wise words from Nelson Mandela:

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Best regards,
Greg White
HR Manager, Contract Services & Supply