Nurturing language skills for future generations
Communication skills crucial for career and personal success in a globalised world
Language has always been our main way of communicating with one another. We begin to develop our language skills in infancy, learning intuitively from our parents and those around us the native language we speak today.
Centuries ago, people only knew what they could reach and see in their immediate surroundings, and that was reflected in the language they used. As our world advances and new technologies are introduced, the more we are exposed to elements beyond what we know from daily experience.
Travel and communication technology, from movies and TV to the internet, have made huge contributions to shrinking the world in the last few decades, exposing us to different cultures and languages. Some countries are home to different languages and dialects spoken within their borders. Learning more than one language is growing in importance as we expand our personal and business horizons to new countries and regions.
Although it is never too late to learn a new language, nurturing this skill should begin from childhood. There are many ways that we and future generations can benefit from learning new languages.
First, and most obvious, it helps us connect with more people. Language — if practised regularly — stays with us all our lives. In addition to being a practical skill that we can apply in our jobs, it enriches our personal lives when we meet new people or travel to another country.
Learn the lingo online in lockdown Is education killing our creative minds? The new language of leadership Second, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, many schools and universities have turned to using virtual classrooms. In addition to keeping children active physically, helping them develop other skills, such as in language, is a great way to keep them occupied when things get boring or slow.
Third, successfully learning new languages boosts confidence. With confidence comes strength and a greater willingness to try new things, thus bringing us new experiences and learning.
Fourth, learning new languages increases your competitiveness. In a world that is getting even more competitive when it comes to finding a job or running a business, being able to communicate in two or more languages is a highly desirable attribute to have in your skill set.
Finally, learning more languages not only gives us an edge in our global skills, it expands our opportunities. Whether we are seeking to achieve career or personal goals, language skills can help us find great new opportunities to build onto our experiences.
One of the main languages used worldwide is English. Although many Thais are already well-versed in the language, many still struggle to keep up. This not only affects how they connect with other people from different countries, it also affects our competitiveness in the local and international landscape.
In fact, according to the EF English Proficiency Index 2019, Thailand placed 74th among non-native English speaking countries and was categorised as “Very Low Proficiency”. It is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless, that we must find opportunities to improve and rise up the table.
It is a fact that we can still continue to learn as we get older. But the best way to acquire a language is to nurture those skills while one is still young. So, how can we help ourselves and future generations develop new language skills including English?
First, we need to identify the languages we want to learn and our current proficiency levels in each one. Once that’s done we move to the second stage – prioritise. We are not computers that can be programmed to do everything. As with any tips for learning, always take them as guidelines rather than a must-do.
We can learn one or two languages at the same time, or more if we are capable, but the idea is to be fluent enough to hold conversations and make meaningful connections. Starting with one language might be a good starting point as it allows focus and attention to building fluency.
Third, during the current pandemic, it is tough to learn at a physical language centre, so going online is the best way to proceed. Many language centres already offer online learning. There are even some mobile applications that help build language skills.
Finally, practise — a lot! Without the required practice, we tend to lose what we have learned. It is similar to going to the gym to build muscles; if we don’t work out consistently, we lose the progress we’ve made.
One great application that utilises artificial intelligence to help learners develop English pronunciation and good practice habits is called ELSA Speak. At the moment, ELSA Speak offers three-month free subscriptions for Thai students from Grade 1 to university.
On the writing front, an amazing application is https://rephraser.ai/, a free web app which allows you to input your non-native English, and it is instantly rephrased into native English. You can use it as much as you want to practice your English writing.
Language is such an important part of communication. Especially during times of crisis like the one we are facing today, effective communication is critical. It is never too late to nurture our language skills, but let’s do our part in helping future generations build the capabilities they need to succeed as well.
By Arinya Talerngsri, Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC - Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center, first published on https://www.bangkokpost.com/ on April 6, 2020