Every time I’m at International Departures at Kennedy, I’ve got to laugh when I see the Rosetta Stone language learning kiosk. I can imagine the checklist of the international traveller who stops off there to pick up a language program. Let’s see… socks, toothbrush, passport, and, right, pick up a language at the airport.
Is the plan to learn the language on the flight over? Or is it just no plan at all? I’ve tried it, when I was selected by the University of New Mexico as an exchange student with my Japanese University (Kansai Gaidai). In typical UNM student fashion, I decided it would be easier to put off learning the language until departure. In a 14 hour flight, I mastered “yes” and “thank you,” and was still working on “no” when we arrived in Narita. In retrospect, I think my study time would have been better spent had I concentrated on learning “where is the bathroom?”
So I got a kick out of the survey sponsored by Rosetta Stone that finds Americans fear their lack of multilingual skills may cost them high-paying U.S. jobs.
Tom Adams, Rosetta Stone president and CEO, believes that speaking more than one language is no longer just an asset in today’s job market; it is a requirement. “The United States risks falling behind in the global economy if we do not strive to be a multilingual society,” he says.
Aside from the fact that the U.S. is a one of the most multilingual of societies in global history, what does multilingualism have to do with economic growth? In a May 2010 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “An issue that affects our ability to compete and collaborate on the world stage [is] the need to increase the foreign-language fluency and cultural awareness of all our students.” I am genuinely curious to know if there is any basis in fact for this statement. I always thought learning a foreign language was to meet girls, or boys, depending on gender preference. Well, according to the survey, many Americans share that view:
“Roughly half of women (48 percent) think someone who speaks multiple languages is sexier than someone with a full head of hair. Additionally, more than four in five (84 percent) Americans are impressed by someone who speaks more than one language fluently―and 62 percent believe people who speak more than one language are smarter than the average person.” Wow, for the follicly challenged, 48% is pretty good odds.
I’ve never used the software, although I hear it’s good, but the price point is a little too rich for my blood, and the time required to pick up another language or two is just not in my schedule. I would imagine that’s a problem for a lot of multilingual wannabes, too. But we buy this kind of thing anyway, and with the best of intentions. I suspect that this is because purchase with intent provides the same endorphin rush as actually doing it, and with far less trouble. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of those Rosetta Stone boxes end up in the garage stacked on top of a dusty Nordic Track. Derek Siverson speaks on TED about the danger of publically affirming goals. Saying you’re going to do it is a really positive experience, which waters down the emotional pay-off of actually doing it. But when talking hair loss, all bets are off. If Rosetta Stone represents a cure for the effects of baldness, it might just be worth a try.