How to Make Your Child Globally Competitive

As a parent, ask yourself: Am I raising a globally competitive child?

If your answer is "no", or at the best "not sure", this article may be for you. While I don't have any kids of my own yet, I am going to take a page out of the Book of Oprah and give the world's parents some advice.

As Thomas Friedman outlined in his seminal work, "The World is Flat," technology has leveled the international playing field into one where the weakest fall by the wayside and only the brave, bold, and adaptable will survive.

Scary, huh? Until U.S. schools get their act together, it will be up to parents to ensure that their kids obtain the tools necessary to compete. Fret not, moms and dads, you don't necessarily need to have these skills yourselves to help your children obtain them. Fortunately, we are living in an age where if you can't do something yourself, help is only a mouse click away.

So what's the first step for children with dreams of conquering the world?

Become multilingual!
The mastery of multiple languages and world cultures is quickly becoming a critical 21st century skill set as American students prepare to live and work in a global society. Regardless of career, students should count on interacting with others around the world whose native tongue isn't English.

So what language(s) should kids learn? Actually any language is useful, as studies have shown that learning foreign languages improves cognitive thinking; increasing creativity and overall critical thinking skills. However, you definitely want to focus on a language that is and will remain relevant in the world arena.

Top 10 Countries by Gross Domestic Product, 2007

Rank

Country

GDP (millions of USD)

1

United States

13,840,000

2

Japan

4,384,000

3

Germany

3,322,000

4

China (PRC)

3,251,000

5

United Kingdom

2,773,000

6

France

2,560,000

7

Italy

2,105,000

8

Spain

1,439,000

9

Canada

1,432,000

10

Brazil

1,314,000

Data from The CIA 2007 World Factbook.

A quick look at the top world economies would make you think that your language choices should focus around a future either driven by Japanese automaker Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) or programmed by German software giant SAP (NYSE: SAP  ) . However, despite the strength of these companies, their countries will not be the likely origin of the world's future growth. In fact, Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) is predicting a significant reshuffling of the major global economies over the next several decades.

Top 10 Countries by Gross Domestic Product, 2050 (projected)

Rank

Country

GDP (millions of USD)

1

 China

70,710,000

2

 United States

38,514,000

3

 India

37,668,000

4

 Brazil

11,366,000

5

 Mexico

9,340,000

6

 Russia

8,580,000

7

 Indonesia

7,010,000

8

 Japan

6,677,000

9

 United Kingdom

5,133,000

10

 Germany

5,024,000

Data from Goldman Sachs Paper No. 99: "Dreaming With BRICs: The Path to 2050."

Assuming Goldman has it right (as they often do), Standard Mandarin, also known as Standard Spoken Chinese, looks like the growth language to beat. But don't just take their word for it; look at what a couple of the world's smartest investors have to say.

The Best from the West on the East
Jim Rogers, co-founder (with George Soros) of the Quantum Fund, recently sold his New York mansion and relocated his family to Singapore. Among his rationales, Rogers cited the desire to immerse his daughter in a Mandarin-speaking environment. "The best gift we can give our children is to let them learn Chinese and prepare them for the future", Jim told The Sunday Times.

Even Warren Buffett uttered supporting sentiments while speaking to students in London stating, "The 19th century belonged to England, the 20th century belonged to the U.S., and the 21st century belongs to China. Invest accordingly."

How the East was won
For students in the West, complacency is not a viable option. China, a nation of 1.3 billion, is brimming with optimistic youths who are intellectually hungry and determined to enter the global marketplace as bilingual capitalists. No wonder companies like New Oriental Education (NYSE: EDU  ) , ATA (Nasdaq: ATAI  ) , and Noah Education (NYSE: NED  ) are staking their futures on providing robust, multilingual curriculums to the upcoming generation of Chinese learners.

So find your child the nearest language tutor, class, or even a copy of "Pimsleur on Mandarin" from Simon & Schuster's (a division of CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) ). Get them interested in what's going on in China, as well as the other emerging markets. It won't be easy, but they will definitely thank you later.

Zhu Ni Hao Yun! (Good Luck!)

Related Foolishness:

New Oriental Education & Technology Group is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Andy Louis-Charles is fluent in both English and value investing. In addition, he has decided to put his article where his mouth is and will attempt to add basic Mandarin to the three other languages he speaks poorly. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 26, 2008, at 12:07 PM, JrIIIx wrote:

    Nice article Andy. I'm living and working in China and so see and feel firsthand some of the things you mentioned. I agree and thought I'd contribute to our American global competitivness by pointing out that your Chinese is wrong. The second word should be Ni( which means you) instead of Nu. Its a minor mistake but you better change it quick before any Chinese people see. The way it stands now is open to a number of interesting translations...=)

  • Report this Comment On September 26, 2008, at 12:12 PM, MrWhoopee wrote:

    A large portion of Europe speaks more than one language but that alone doesn't make a difference. Unless you know how to apply your knowledge of a foreign language, along with other more pertinent skills that you should teach your children first, then it is useless. Thinking outside the box and putting yourself in a foreigner's shoes, that makes you a lot more globally competitive than just knowing the language.

  • Report this Comment On September 26, 2008, at 12:56 PM, weiwentg wrote:

    "Among his rationales, Rogers cited the desire to immerse his daughter in a Mandarin-speaking environment"

    Just to clarify, the lingua franca in Singapore is English. Chinese kids learn Mandarin in public schools. Of course, interested non-Mandarin speakers could fairly easily immerse themselves if they chose.

  • Report this Comment On September 26, 2008, at 3:24 PM, gooser008 wrote:

    Interesting article... and good call on Pimsleur. I'll have to try Mandarin the Pimsleur way!

  • Report this Comment On September 29, 2008, at 3:21 AM, none0such wrote:

    I agree with MrWhoopee. I think the most important aspect of this article is the immersion in a Mandarin-speaking environment - to be bilingual in Mandarin and English is not the point. Decades ago when Japan was beginning to be termed as a developed nation, a friend mine from the US studied Japanese and went on to apply for a job in the banking sector in Japan. After stating in an interview at a bank that he is fluent in Japanese, he was told matter-of-factly that so is everyone at the company.

    In the US there has been a rise in children of Spanish speaking origin (a few years back the name most used for a boy there was Jose, nudging Micheal out of the top spot). Perhaps choosing a Spanish environment for our children would be be sufficiently global in effect and more pertinent to US demographics

  • Report this Comment On September 29, 2008, at 10:31 AM, tjmacke wrote:

    The article focuses on countries; but the subject is language. Clearly the US, Canada, and the UK are covered by one language (in terms of comprehension, if not exact structure/grammar), and it can be argued India and others can align with English too. Spanish is another language common across multiple countries, though other than Spain and Mexico we don't see them on these lists. In aggregate though, Spanish and English will likely stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mandarin in the future as they do today.

    Ultimately, the topic is business and investing opportunity, and China is the _country_ that will garner all the focus.

    But this article is constructed poorly. I'm confused about how teaching children Mandarin will make them competitive GLOBALLY. I would argue that it makes them competitive in China, in Sino-American business. It ignores the rest of the world.

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2008, at 3:36 PM, Nuoffer wrote:

    This is a great article, if for any reason, supports my wife and my decision to enroll our daughter into a Chinese (Mandarin) immersian Kindergarten program at City Terrace School in Los Angeles (LAUSD). It is a public school Collaborating with the Pacific Rim Institute of the California State University, Los Angeles.

    What is scarry, is that the program, which is free (public school), had trouble filling seats.

    If you live in the Los Angeles area and you have a child starting Kindergarten next September, I would highly recommend you check out this program. The program just started last year (2007-2008 school year), so there is only the 1st grade and the Kindergarten class, but the goal is to have grades K-5th. In only 3 weeks, my 5 year old child is able to carry on a simple conversation, count to 100, ask questions, all in Mandarin, with no accent (as told to us by native mandarin speakers). These kids in the class will be writing characters by the middle of the year. We are truly amazed.

    We are giving our kid a competative advantage, where she will be able to communicate with almost 20% of the worlds population in their native language, and I say again, It is a FREE program.

  • Report this Comment On October 04, 2008, at 11:05 AM, KLVirginian wrote:

    I just got back from a business-cum-tourist trip to Western China, and two things struck me: First, how much of both business and tourism potential there is in the area, and second how little English is spoken there. Thankully I was with a group of my Asian colleagues who could translate for me, however I am no simple Fool: I am planning to enroll in Mandarin classes immediately.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2008, at 11:03 AM, ExpatChinese wrote:

    Andy, I hope you are right, but somehow I feel the bright economic future of China will be stopped prematurely by its own force from within. I am from China originally and know too much of China to be as optimistic as some outsiders are.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2008, at 11:21 AM, ExpatChinese wrote:

    My biggest cocern is the wealth polarization in China. Out of 1.3 billion, maybe 300 million are much better off today than before. However the remaining 1 billion Chinese are worse off economically with inflation and under employment. I think investment in China is still very risky. I do agree learning Chinese Mandarin and culture for today's children is a good call. But, readers, please don't go crazy by plunging too much of your investment dollars in China. Want an example? I bought a nice condo in China just about 10 years ago, which has appreciated 4 times in value. That should be good except that I would have to jump through myriad of bureacratic loops to sell it as a foreign citizen. China passed a real estate law last year which would prohibit foreign citizens from buying and selling real estate in China. Thanksfully, it wasn't tons of money. But live and learn. China has a very different system, which might reinforce your point that Americans should learn more about them.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2008, at 2:40 PM, MattFoolS wrote:

    @ExpatChinese:

    You state: "I feel the bright economic future of China will be stopped prematurely by its own force from within."

    Beyond your further comment, can you elaborate on this? What are the issues within that will be most damaging?

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2008, at 4:14 PM, ExpatChinese wrote:

    @MattFoolS

    I have two big concerns about China's future as an investor. One is the polarization of China's have and the have-not classes. As stated earlier, 1 billion Chinese are still very, very poor. They are much worse off, due to the massive inflation as some 300 million Chinese become more affluent. If this wealth gap continues to widen, someday the billion poor Chinese will either rise up to take over the country, which the government is afraid of and has set a harmonious society as its ultimate social, political goal, or become an extreme burden for the country. Either way, it's not going to be good for China's economy. Hence, your investment dollars. Second, as you have probably read, China is the motherland of all things fake and unethical business practice. A large percentage of milk powder has been found to be contaminated. A few babies hasve died from it and tens of thousands more have become severely ill because of it. That's not because of the lack of production techologies or higene standard. The real problem is their lack of ethics and their greed to make a quick buck. Foriegn investors should be very concerned with both problems.

  • Report this Comment On February 19, 2010, at 7:30 PM, Rosa734 wrote:

    I guess its very important that our children should be competitive and not easy going like what we did earlier. So they should be trained to take head on with challenges of later age or young age or higher studies. Once I was passing by one street and saw one ad and visted them found that they train children into whole brain development and personality development training on life skills to infuse confidence, concentration, focus, leadership etc etc quality and making efficient & smart in every thing what child does. Guess what the concept is old south asian and company operating in USA. Its doing fairly good and getting serious parents who want life training for their children. You may learn on this company or similar companies through internet. Its www.brainobrainusa.com I wanna put my child into that but I have to wait as my child is 4 yrs old. thanks

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