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Leveling the Playing Field Worldwide

April 5, 2005
at 12:00 pm PST

Please check out a snippet in the New York Times today from Thomas Friedman’s new book, ”The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,” to be published this week. Read the article adapted from the book here (Free registration is required). He states, “…I encountered the flattening of the world quite by accident. It was in late February of last year, and I was visiting the Indian high-tech capital, Bangalore…” He talks about how geography is becoming more and more irrelevant because of language and technology.

I heard Mr. Friedman deliver the gist of this article in a speech he gave in February at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) Economic Summit and while it was well done and well received, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it until today. I read his article this morning and still didn’t give a lot of thought to it. I gave more thought to it when my Spanish colleague from Brussels and my French colleague from France arrived this afternoon to San Jose.

The content of our conversation is not important, but the fact that we were having an easy conversation made an impact on me after the fact. My Spanish colleague living in Belgium speaking perfect english. My French colleague living in Paris speaking perfect english. I took four years of French in high school and college and spent a couple of weeks in Spain one summer and can say, “Let’s go to the beach” in French and “I would like two beers, please” in Spanish…that’s about it.

Yes, I know that English is currently the “international” language and the language of economic power generally rules the day, but as the world gets flatter and the rules of the game become a little more flexible it stands to reason that those who can communicate in multiple languages will be more successful. Just as Cisco has become a successful company helping multiple computers communicate using internet protocol, those who can speak more than one language will have more chance of success in our flatter world. Which, of course, brings us to our education system in the US, but I won’t rant anymore. I might just start learning Spanish, however…or French…or Chinese…or Italian…or Russian…or…

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