Language and its importance to our development



As recent migrants to Spain, the question of language raises its head almost daily. We don’t speak much Spanish but are acutely aware that we need to. If we want to enjoy this country to its fullest we have to. Otherwise we will always be isolated and dependent on a handful of like minded expats who also haven’t put in the work to learn the local language.

Yesterday we were surprised to come across a school in the hills behind us in Marbella that is a German School with a Spanish bilingual stream. Who would have thought that this would be available. We had been grappling with the question of language for family offsprings. As we are English speakers in Spain on German passports, German should be part of the mix we have been thinking. And here was a possible solution. English at home, German and Spanish at school.

So while checking the school’s website, the TED newsletter dropped into my inbox and I decided to view some on a Sunday for fun. Don’t normally get the time. And I discovered a talk from a previous TED session, in fact from 2011, that was totally fascinating. It was about language and what that meant to human evolution.

In fact the point this speaker, Mark Pagel, made amongst other amazing points was that having a universal language allows people to share ideas, innovate and create together and this was what was causing such enormous growth in our technological advances across the board.

In my lifetime alone, the mobile phone, internet, organ transplants, space trips, natural regrowth of human organs and so much more has appeared. Far more I think than previous generations have experienced. And the reason for that is that we can steal ideas so much quicker if we can understand the language that somebody else used when developing and describing his invention.

As a total different story though, but very much along the same principle of language, that popped into my inbox was a report (5 of them and worth reading) by Steve Blank on China and his recent visit. Talking about such things as China’s innovation hubs, investments & VCs. China invests (both private and state funds) in billions of dollars every year in innovation mostly in telecommunications, media and technology.

Yet at the same time, China bans contact to the rest of the world. No YouTube, no Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Flickr. All of the people and info sharing tools are restricted to Chinese products that China’s authorities are able to control and censor where required.

So the contrast between what Mark Pagel states and what China does highlights the principle that the more people can talk to each other in a common language across all borders the better and easier new technologies can be developed.

What does that mean for China, and as a matter of fact for Vietnam a country also dictated and censored by its communist government, and the billions that that country invests in innovation hubs? It’s not going to be as effective. In fact it is mostly more focused on copying and making something from overseas work in China rather than inventing something totally new and adding to the development of the world. The 10th Groupon site anybody? Sure. It’s available in China.

Imagine if China opened it’s doors to international thought – or at least allowed its citizens to. What this amazing giant could achieve. With it’s hard learning and hard working citizens who are alway striving to get better at what they are doing, this huge world power player could contribute so much to the well being of the global community. If only it opened its doors to the language of the global community.