Sunday, 12 August 2007

International Internet Language Learning

Globalization is great. It brings the world together so they can do business. However, with greater integration of the world's economy there comes challenges. One of them is the differences in languages and culture around the world. When many people think about culture, they tend to think only about cultures in terms of nations, e.g. Japanese culture or American culture. But culture can be defined by other variables like income, e.g. poorer Americans behave differently and have different values to richer Americans.

I live in Australia. Suppose the governments of France and Australia decide to remove all trade barriers between the two countries. Suppose I wanted to buy French cheese and suppose the only place it is made is in France. If there were no free trade then I cannot get any French cheese. If there is free trade then I can go to France, talk to a French guy, and then buy French cheese. However, if I speak English and the Frenchman speaks French, I cannot communicate with him. This is a problem. Does this mean free trade is bad? No, because had there been no free trade I couldn't even go to France and there is no change I could get the French cheese. Now that there is free trade I can go to France to get the French cheese but unfortunately there is a linguistic barrier between us.

To really improve the efficiency of global business then it is better for the world to start moving towards one language or at least a few languages. Assuming that a parent wants the best for his child, then to set him up for future career success, the child should learn languages that are used most by rich people around the world. So then the English language is a must. Japanese, German, French, and even Chinese would be good as well. There is no inherent reason why these languages are good other than the fact that projected wealth in the future will fall upon people speaking these languages.

Today we see this sort of phenomenon. In Asia almost all parents serious about their children's careers teach them English. In America the demand for Chinese languages learning is soaring.

Language is best learned when you are young. It is too late for me to learn French but it is not too late for my children to learn French. The benefit of learning when young is that it is more effortless. There is no need for structured classes. To get a child to learn, say, French, simply speak French to the child. Let the child play with French children. This will allow the child to develop not only a type of French that is conversational and therefore more sociable but it also allows the child to develop good accents. The problem is the scarcity of French children in Australia. How can I import a French child to Australia if I want my child to learn French? It probably can be done but only if you bribe the parents with enough money to persuade them to give up their children. Chances are most people won't be able to afford it.

The Internet however can save the day. Why not start a company that brings together children from all over the world and let them play online, letting them talk to each other over webcams, allowing them to develop conversational linguistic skills as well as good accents? One way of making money is through arbitrage, buying where something is undervalued and then selling it where it is overvalued. In France there is an excess supply of French children, which creates under-valuation. In Australia there is excess demand for French children, which creates over-valuation. Simply bring the two together and profit from it.

Of course, is a virtual friendship the same as a non-virtual friendship? Can a distant relationship via webcam last? That is yet to be seen. Even if it doesn't last, the desire for Australian parents to teach their children French as well as the desire of French parents to make money will see a solution. If the two children don't get along, simply shuffle and introduce the children to different friends. Start over again.

Image from Flickr by Tom Purves, posted under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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