Humble or haughty?

Imagine you’ve started a course of English because you need to understand what the management of your company expects you to do, and you need to make them understand what you have achieved. Now imagine you’re having your next English lesson tomorrow at 17.30, but your department calls a meeting to discuss new targets for the next quarter – right at the end of the day, at 16.30.

Do you inform your manager you can’t attend the meeting, or do you cancel the English lesson?

I guess I know the answer. As a language teacher I’m still, after all these years, in a great dilemma. Should we, language teachers, be modest, or proud?

It’s obvious that people are not born with an interest in languages. Companies even less. People, like companies, have objectives, strategies, plans, resources and availability for certain activities that might bring them closer to their goals. People get qualifications for a job, then go ahead and earn money: make phone calls, keep records, attend meetings, visit customers or partners, submit reports etc. Companies, in their turn, set up goals, study markets, think of new ways to sell the same products or invent new products, take care of the cash flow, make sure they have the right staff, the right location and the right costs.

Learning a language is nowhere among these activities. It is usually a hobby, if considered in itself. In more common cases, it is a means to reach an objective: put it into the CV and meet certain requirements. ¬†Even if language is important to do business (for the companies) or to fulfil job requirements (for people), learning the language is a sort of “backstage”, or “internal kitchen” thing. I’ve yet to meet the person who cancels a meeting because they have an English lesson. I’ve yet to find the company that plans its meetings according to the timetable of the English courses.

On the other hand, I do know that poor language knowledge may get you to close a lousy deal. It may make you look silly or unprofessional. It may bitterly limit the market of a company. It may even limit the recognition or appreciation of a product. There are scientific studies that reveal what big percentages of business are lost due to poor or no language knowledge.

That’s why learning a language – the right, useful language – belongs ideally to the “core business”. To the capital search for resources to complete your – or the company’s – projects. To the crucial preparation that is so much preached in business, before negotiations for example.

And yet, is this maybe just an ideal? People know smoking is not good, they know abusing children is a horrible crime, they know violence is the weapon of the foolish (as a Romanian saying goes), but this doesn’t really change the world.

So somebody tell me, should I be humble as a language teacher? Or should I be proud and haughty?