A mastery of language: Lessons along the way – Part Five

What do Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King Jnr, Winston Churchill, and Barack Obama have in common? They were leaders first of all, but they are each remembered for their oratory. Each of these individuals at some point used the power of words to move nations in a particular direction. Without their mastery of language, however, their public speaking would not have existed. Language is the vehicle of communication. It allows you to communicate your thoughts, feelings, ambitions, and aspirations to others. It is what they hear from you and what they understand.

You cannot lead if you cannot communicate. Communication is the lifeblood of human interaction. It is how ideas become projects and how projects become successful. A leader therefore must master the art and science of communication and having a complete grasp of language (or languages) is key. There are approximately 7,100 languages in the world. English is still the most spoken across the world, followed closely by Mandarin and then Hindi. Spanish is 4th and then French is 5th.

There are so many scientific studies to prove the benefit of the mother tongue and I am by no means diminishing its value but if you want to participate in the global economy, consider mastering some languages that transcend borders (of course in addition to your mother tongue).For African languages, Swahili, Yoruba and, Hausa have large native speakers.

Learning French may bring back interesting memories for many of us in anglophone West Africa and generally my impression is that we were taught in a way to help us pass our required French exams rather than actually communicate in French. In spite of the difficulties, I’ve come to learn that it is a language I cannot do without.

There are so many tools to help you learn any language, but the best way is to practice. So like I do, anytime I meet a French speaker (French is the language I want to master besides English), I practice. Not being afraid to make mistakes and boldly responding to their “tu parles francais”, with a smile and a confident “Oui, un peu un peu” makes a difference. If the discussion progresses and I don’t understand something, I am not ashamed to tell them and ask for clarification. Humility is a requirement for learning.

A commitment to mastering language will require an investment of your time and money.

Reading is my favorite language-learning hack. Read. Read. Read. Reading is how you develop a broader repertoire of words in your language of choice. It is how you get better at mastering the options available in the language you want to communicate in.

If language is the vehicle, then if you don’t know how to drive it properly, you are heading for a crash! Picture this. You walk into a room of your teammates and you want to share with them the focus of your team for the rest of the year. Just as you begin to talk, someone raises their hand and says, “We don’t understand English, can you please say what you are saying in Twi?” Even though you have the technical competence, the authority, and the need to be in that room, if you cannot communicate in Twi to this group, you will not be able to reach them with your message.

This is why it is important to speak to your audience in the language they understand.

Nelson Mandela, another powerful communicator once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

This does not just mean the choice of language but even the selection of words, gestures, the examples, these all add to the meaning of the words you speak and the message received by your audience.

A leader is a learner and I recommend you learn and continue to learn the language of your environment consistently and with intentionality. It is not our “mother tongue” is not an excuse to be sloppy at it – butchering the grammar, tenses, and construction. If it has to be done, a leader does it masterfully!

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