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Is cultural knowledge more important than language skills?
Learning the local language might seem an obvious goal for anyone moving abroad. But in an increasingly globalised world, whether this is an effective use of time is increasingly up for debate. English is spoken so widely that working abroad, it is potentially easier to socialise with young locals by speaking English than in the past. The British Council estimates that by 2020, two billion people will be using it, well over a quarter of the world’s population.
“You can exist quite easily in many locations globally without speaking any of the local language,” agrees David Livermore, author of Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success.
However, his research spanning over a decade in 30 countries on the concept of cultural intelligence (CQ), highlighs four key areas:
- Having the drive and interest to work in cross-cultural environments
- Knowledge of cultural similarities and differences
- Having a strategy to help monitor, analyse and adjust plans in unfamiliar cultural settings
- Having the ability to act by choosing the right verbal and nonverbal behaviours, depending on the context
What are your experiences? Do you work abroad and have you learned the local language? Do you think it is important to do so, or can you just get by with English?