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4 Reasons Why “Global Fluency” Matters – an open letter to 6th graders everywhere
by Jim Vanides


Having just returned from another business trip in Europe, I am reminded again why learning in a global context is more important than ever before. So I am writing this blog post in two parts – the first as an open letter to students around the world who are in “Grade 6” (approximately 11 years old); part two will come later, where I share some thoughts about how students and teachers can use technology to make “global learning” more possible than ever before.

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Dear 6th Grader,
 
I hope you’re having a great time in school. It’s an amazing world out there, and going to school is a key ingredient to making the most of your life now and in the future. I know that graduating from school and beginning a career seems like a time that is WAY out into the future, but I am writing you now so you can be thinking about your own future and taking steps to get ready to make a positive difference in the world.
 
The world is enormous and growing, and by the time you graduate, it will be full of inventions and businesses that today only exist as an idea. What I can say with confidence is that you’ll graduate into a very global and intertwined economy. It’s that way now, and it will be even more so in the future.
 
Think about something as common as a mobile phone. The electronic components inside come from several countries, the raw materials to make the parts come from many other countries, the assembly is done in even more countries, and the research and marketing is most likely accomplished by a multi-national company with offices in MANY countries.
 
So if your teacher talks about the importance of teamwork and projects, it’s true. What your teacher may or may not be saying is that teamwork across languages, timezones, and cultures is even more important. For example, I work in California (USA). In the morning I’m talking to colleagues in Europe. In the evening I’m talking to colleagues in Asia. In one day, I can be in 14 timezones.
 
Yes, the “standard language of business” within the company I work for (HP) is English. However, many of my colleagues are fluent in at least 3 languages, and they can be “friendly” in one or two more. But it's more than just "learning a foreign language". Global fluency, by my definition, is the ability to understand and collaborate across the complexities of language, culture, and multiple timezones. Here’s why this matters:
 
GLOBAL FLUENCY BUILDS RELATIONSHIPS – In my experience, conducting business is about relationships. People may not be your “friends”, but they may be your colleagues with whom you work or they may be vendors who provide you with what you need to do your work. All of this starts with trust, and trust grows by developing relationships that prove you are trustworthy.
 
GLOBAL FLUENCY HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND, NOT JUST TRANSLATE – It’s not enough to be able to translate words from one language to yours. Many words and phrases do not translate well, and if you rely on Google Translate, you may be surprised, confused, or embarrassed. So go ahead and explore your “talking dictionary” and online translation tools – but know that what you will need is “meaning”, and this requires vocabulary and experience combined.
 
GLOBAL FLUENCY BRIDGES CULTURAL DIFFERENCES – When you learn another language, you also have an opportunity to learn about another culture. If you have a chance to spend time in another country while learning another language, jump on it! You’ll see what you have in common, and you’ll learn about new points of view. If you do, you’ll be much more patient in the future as you work together with colleagues from other countries. If you don’t pay attention to cultural differences, you may miss an important nuance that means the difference between “I agree” and “I am politely withholding my opinion”. Even “body language” and “tone of voice” can be easily misunderstood, frustrating both parties.
 
GLOBAL FLUENCY IS THE NEW RESUME DIFFERENTIATOR – Would you like to graduate and have a world of opportunities at your door? Would you like to be first in line to be promoted? Would you like to make a positive difference in the world? If so, be sure to view ALL your subjects in a global context. This is especially needed in math and science, because their application in the real world will require collaboration and understanding with many people who work across languages, timezones, and cultures.
 
So enjoy your time in school, and grab every opportunity you can to see the world from a global perspective. There’s a big and exciting world beyond school waiting for you...

 

Jim Vanides is currently a Program Manager in Philanthropy for Hewlett-Packard, responsible for worldwide higher education grant initiatives (www.hp.com/go/hied-blog). He also teaches an online course offered through Montana State University for elementary teachers on the Science of Sound (www.scienceteacher.org). He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.



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