0. Before we begin: please watch this
There are many videos of this event already, I’m choosing this one because it’s got subtitles. Click through to the Guardian site to see the video.
Now that you’ve watched it, your first thought might be: so what? He’s clearly among the most privileged people on Earth. He could probably afford to have the best Mandarin lessons, whenever he chooses.
This is true, but for now, I’m going to stand in his corner. I think there are a few things which this short video can help you with – and they all relate to language learning in one way or another. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Everyone gets stage fright.
You’ve just watched a terribly powerful, rich, outspoken tech maven – whose voice trembled a little and whose body posture suggested quite a lot of stress. This is someone used to making and breaking million-dollar deals on a daily basis – a professional for whom microphones and Q&As are just part of the job description.
He got scared. The Mighty Zuckerberg was afraid of a foreign language.
That’s cool, though. Your stage fright is now in good company.
2. Everyone can have fun being bilingual.
I wonder if learning Mandarin was more fun for Mr M.Z. than running Facebook? From what I could gather, once the initial stress faded, he seemed to be having fun – in a nerdy, getting-through-this, adrenaline-filled way. Remember: this was a business trip, and there were things he needed to get done in China. But there was still more than a hint of genuine joy in his eyes on a few occasions.
3. Everyone’s intentions are different.
You can hear Zuckerberg describing his motivation for learning: his family speaks Mandarin (sometimes exclusively), and he wanted to learn to avoid feeling left out. But there were many comments after this speech – which, basically, amounted to “yeah, right.”
Of course Facebook’s boss would have business in China. Of course it makes a good impression when he makes the effort to learn. And, clearly, all this was designed and planned in advance.
I cannot deny either of these motivations. Why does he learn? Why did he choose to speak Mandarin there and then? That’s for him to know and rely on. Whatever the motivational cocktail is, it seems to work for him.
4. People love it when you speak their language.
You’re reading this in English – which, for a long time, was the only language you ever needed. This is changing, but you probably don’t need this blog (or Mark Zuckerberg) to tell you that.
What I want to leave you with is this: no matter how crap your foreign language is – no matter how badly you think you use it – people will clap and cheer and smile and help you along the very moment they see you try. Of course there will be grammar maniacs and purity pedants – but ironically, they tend to defend English the most, so you’re safer trying to be bilingual!
PS Mark Zuckerberg still not doing it for you? 10-year-old ski-jumpers will teach you about flow and motivation instead.
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