Why We Need to Apply the Third Metric to Language Education

January 26, 2015

As people around the world celebrate the beginning of spring and nature’s awakening, I cannot help but think of how we may embrace this season as the time for growth in our personal wisdom, hope and life. Isn’t this the time when we rejoice in our love of new creations, blossoming mindsets and vibrant environments? These were the thoughts running through my mind as I was heartily enjoying the recently published Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life by Arianna Huffington. In this book, Arianna argues that to live the lives we truly want and deserve, we need a Third Metric — a third measure of success that goes beyond those of money and power and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and willingness to give. Being a linguist, I was contemplating how we may develop this concept beyond our personal growth and apply it to our communities and cultures, to the new languages that emerge around the globe and to those that deteriorate with time.

There are about 6,000 different languages spoken around the world, and nearly 400 languages are spoken in the United States, alone. However, for the past few years, various sources of mass media have been chanting in unison about the alarming consequences of the decline in language-learning that is becoming evident in the United States. Forbes magazine reports that “in a global economy, where foreign language competency is critical, eight in ten Americans only speak English (with no foreign language capability at all)” and “only 1.4% of American students study abroad, mostly in Europe.” According to The New York Times, thousands of public schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade. I find this heartbreaking: The data paints a rather bleak picture for a country that needs an increasing number of linguists for its global diplomacy and business.

For me, and for many other like-minded individuals in the language industry, merely accepting the fact that our next generation will perhaps be less linguistically able is not an option. Personally, I believe that we must strive to challenge the trend and attempt to change our approach to language education. Don’t you think that maybe it is time for us all to start thinking beyond the paradigm instilled within us by the market economy? Perhaps there are more factors to consider than just current financial burdens? In her new definition of success, Arianna highlights the importance of nurturing our human capital — our knowledge, skills and experience that we can use to make our contribution to society. I agree with her wholeheartedly regardless of how often we forget that, in addition to our professional lives, we also have to navigate an increasing number of social and cultural situations on a daily basis — this includes our families, our friends, our communities.

Throughout our history, language programs were always seen as a bonus, or addition, to the traditional batch of must-have qualifications, opening more proverbial doors into employers’ offices and widening our employment prospects. Nowadays, however, as we move headlong towards an increasingly globalized world, the importance of language learning must be recognized as a career goal in its own right. On a national scale, lack of language training can lead to shortages of qualified professionals across critical government departments. For companies with a global presence, a second language is consequently an increasingly important trait. For ethnically diverse communities and multicultural workplaces, this is the reality of everyday life.

Only through nurturing our human capital, embracing new cultures and remaining open to different experiences can we achieve this Third Metric of success. We must take care of our well-being, cultivate our wisdom, maintain our sense of wonder and show our willingness to give. The combination of these four pillars can help us enjoy the ride — enjoy the process of learning, acquiring new knowledge and investing in our human capital. This is our time to recognize the worth of learning another language to our well-being, personal development and inner wisdom.