When it comes to trade barriers, none is more ancient and fundamental than language. After all, you can’t negotiate what you don’t understand.
Today, approximately half the world’s population communicates using just 10 languages. From online media coverage, to local classes, to do-it-yourself programs such as Rosetta Stone, the resources to learn these languages are relatively close at hand.
But what about connecting with the rest of the world’s 4 million citizens—those who speak nearly 6,000 additional languages and dialects? What if it’s not Spanish-speaking Santiago, Chile, you need to reach but the Aymara-speaking people of the north? What if you want to access the continent that nearly every expert believes holds the most potential for long-term growth: Africa?
Enter SCOLA, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting businesses and schools to the world’s most obscure dialects. It’s a unique organization for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its unexpected location: rural McClelland, Iowa.
“As an organization, we believe everyone should have their voice heard,” says SCOLA Program Contracts Manager Dave Decker. “You can use our resources to discover how your next big idea fits into a larger global picture—and even how to communicate it so it gets heard.”
How SCOLA Works
Every day, some two dozen satellite dishes on the McClelland campus pull down content from countries as far away as Bahrain. These feeds are supplemented by foreign-language content gathered on DVD and shipped from hundreds of providers around the world—everywhere from a remote jungle radio station in Peru to a yurt in Mongolia. Nearly all of this content is delivered by FedEx.
“Many years ago it could take a week to 10 days to get a package from rural Africa,” says Decker. “But now almost anywhere on Earth is accessible in 48 hours by FedEx.”
The end result is the internet’s premier database of authentic foreign-language media. Subscription services, including SCOLA Insta-Class and SCOLA People and Places, provide daily classes and content to subscribers.
How to Learn a New Language
Inspired to learn? Decker says a few practical tips apply:
1. Some languages are more difficult to learn—plan accordingly. Finnish, Korean, Japanese and Mandarin are among the world’s most difficult languages to tackle, especially for native English speakers. Adjust your expectations.
Decker says simply finding a local resource or friend—or a native speaker who can communicate with you remotely via Skype—can provide the one-on-one experience that can shrink the time it takes to learn a difficult language by 10 to 15 percent.
2. Reach out to a local cultural society. Whether you’re learning Korean or Croatian, there’s likely a local cultural organization in your area run by recent immigrants fluent in that language. In addition to being a place to practice your skills, it’s a great venue to network.
Decker says, “Ask them: ‘What are the top things I need to know to do business with people over there?’” You might gain a valuable contact in that country.
3. Read the news—and experience the drama. While consuming the news makes a great supplement to language lessons, watching a play or a TV show can be even more beneficial. “Every year, cultures add vernaculars, and languages create new pop words,” says Decker.
Training the Next Generation
To fulfill its mission to connect the disparate communities of the world, SCOLA partners each year with the United States Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI) to provide tuition-free telecommunications training to people in developing countries. SCOLA hosts a team of four to six USTTI scholars at its McClelland campus for a two-week training session—training sponsored by FedEx.
The goal is to graduate a small team of trained communicators who can go back to their communities and bring the news of the world to your desktop.
“So many problems in the world are a result of unintentionally poor communication,” says Decker. “As powerful a tool as Google Translator is, opportunities for misunderstanding still abound. We believe the best way to work together as global citizens is to continuously learn about one another.
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