Language as an economics tool

By Mehvish Riaz

MASTERING a variety of languages can be a distinguishing mark of an individual in this era of competition, multiculturalism, diversity and globalisation.

Foreign trade, job opportunities, tourism, political dialogue and access to literature and technology need expression and we need not rely solely on our national language along with a mother tongue. Language can play a vital role in introducing us to other cultures and peoples.

Many a times we come across questions like, “Why should we learn English,” and “China and Japan are making progress without learning English. Why can’t we make progress?”

According to a recent report, the English language training market in China comprises more than 50,000 English language schools. China is a flourishing and revenue-generating market for digital English learning products. There is high demand for such apps in the country, specifically for business, tourism and aviation.

It is time to learn not only English but also other foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese and Russian as part of an all-round education. This suggestion is obviously not pertinent for everyone, but at least it does apply to many professionals with varied degrees of significance or necessity.

In most European countries, a foreign language is studied as a compulsory school subject. And in more than 20 European countries, it is a must for university students to learn a second foreign language for one complete year. In various universities in the US, it is mandatory for students to attend two language courses in order to graduate, and Urdu is being taught as a language in many renowned universities in the US.

We are fortunate to have a youth bulge while many countries are facing the challenge of an aging population. About 1.5m people enter the working age in our country every year. The promotion and teaching of foreign languages, along with other professional traits, can open up huge opportunities for the export of our human resource.

The promotion and teaching of foreign languages, along with other professional traits, can open up huge opportunities for the export of our human resource

Developing strong relations with the fast growing economies is as essential as breathing. As nations rise, so do their languages. When the Mughals ruled, learning Persian was essential to progress. We have to progress first and then others will recognise us and become interested in learning our language.

In addition to its economic benefits, language fosters people-to-people contact, increases understanding and helps reduce misunderstanding.

Learning other languages is also essential for reaping the full benefits of regional economic opportunities. During our visit to Thailand, we visited some prominent Thai national universities. After joining the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), our Thai counterparts shared that they are opening foreign language departments at their universities in order to prepare their professionals to become skilled in regional languages.

The hierarchies at some Pakistani universities have also realised the significance of equipping our youth with foreign language skills. One example is the Comsats Institute of Information Technology, which has established a China Study Centre.

The centre not only allows undergraduate students to study Chinese language as a regular course but also offers short courses for others interested in learning the language. This coincides with the commencement of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor umbrella.

Leaning a different language opens doors for learning from other cultures. But there is a lack of culture here in learning other languages. Besides, what can one say about international languages when we do not bother learning languages belonging to different provinces within the country.

We, as a nation, need to reject this rigidity and develop flexibility to promote a culture where we learn different languages with a sense of pride and exchange knowledge and skills with other communities and nations.

In short, foreign and domestic languages should be learn as an art and skill. Parents, teachers and linguists should take steps in promoting this culture of learning multiple languages.


Mehvish Riaz is an assistant professor of English, UET, Lahore, and is currently a Fulbright Scholar at NYU, New York.