Friday, October 3, 2008

Which Language To Speak?

I'm terrible with languages. It took the military over a year to pound Spanish into my head at the Defense Language Institute, and I've been working diligently on Japanese for many years as well. I barely have a grasp of English. Yesterday I was confronted with the question of which is the best language for a international bodyguard/executive protection agent/security consultant to learn. I believe the answer to be, none of them, and all of them. How's that for a zen koan?

I contend that it would be best to learn a smattering of several different languages instead of trying to wrap your head around just one. When you consider it, how much of your native language do you really use on a day-to-day basis? Studies have shown that people rarely use more than 3000 words, and generally could get by with as little as 500 or so. Thus my advice would be to take five or six languages and work on them simultaneously. I realize that this is heresy to some, but for someone that is going to travel extensively I believe that it has great utility. Things to work on would be:
  • Key phrases
  • Interrogatives (Who, What, Where, When, How)
  • 10-15 verbs with a basic understanding of tenses
  • Courtesies (Please, Thank you, Excuse me, I'm sorry...)
  • 500+ word vocabulary
Having said that, what would be the languages of choice? Although they are highly debatable, my list would be:
  • English
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • German
  • Russian
  • Japanese or Chinese
Spanish will get you close to French, Italian and Portuguese. I believe Arabic has more utility than Farsi. Japanese and Chinese are a toss up, but I don't know many guys doing security work for the Chinese, while there is a lot of work for Japanese clients.

Once you have an understanding of 5-6 languages at an extremely basic level then adding additional languages is fairly straight forward, as is augmenting any one of them with greater skills and capabilities.

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