Reuters Staff/ReutersBeing bilingual can be helpful in business.
Researchers have uncovered that people who speak more than one language are better at something called inhibitory control, which involves being able to filter out irrelevant stimuli and to develop more measured responses to events.
In addition to an increased attention span, learning a new language can benefit your work in other ways, including being able to connect with a greater number of people, and gaining a new perspective on the world.
If you decide to learn a new language, you’ll be in good company. Here’s a look at some of the world’s top business leaders who speak more than one language.
Mark Zuckerberg, Co-founder and CEO of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg made headlines in 2014 when he surprised students at Beijing’s Tsinghua University by answering every question during a thirty minute Q&A exclusively in Mandarin. While addressing the students, Zuckerberg stated that he studies the language daily, and his reasons for learning are personal; he wanted to be able to communicate better with the family of his wife, Priscilla Chan, including her grandmother, who he says speaks only Chinese. Of course, as many have noted, there are also business reasons for Zuckerberg’s study of Mandarin — Facebook, and other websites including Google and YouTube, are blocked in China.
Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba
Alibaba is China’s largest e-commerce company, and the sixth largest Internet company in the world. The man at the head of this tech giant is Jack Ma, the visionary leader of an incredibly successful company that accounts for 80% of China’s online shopping market and handled $248 billion in transactions last year — more than eBay and Amazon combined.
Ma also speaks two languages. He grew up in Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang Province, and became interested in learning English at age 12. He rode his bike each day for 40 minutes to a hotel where a lot of foreign tourists stayed, and to practice his English, he would give free tours around the city to these visitors, which he did for eight years. Ma studied to become an English teacher, and would later be exposed to the Internet for the first time while working in Seattle as an interpreter for a trade delegation in 1995.
Sergey Brin, Co-founder of Google and President of Alphabet
The search company was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who met as graduate students at Stanford University and later dropped out to pursue the vision they shared for Google.
Brin was born in Moscow, and moved to the United States with his family when he was six years old. Leaving Moscow wasn’t an easy choice for his parents, but they made the decision because of the anti-Semitism they faced in the former Soviet Union. Brin continues to speak Russian at home with his parents.
Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit
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Ohanian co-founded Reddit in 2005, which bills itself as “the front page of the internet.”
Ohanian grew up speaking German, and minored in it at the University of Virginia, adding on his LinkedIn profile “but this was kind of cheating since my mom is from Hamburg.” Ohanian tells the story of his family, including his undocumented immigrant mother, and his great-grandfather who fled the Armenian genocide, in an open letter opposing the travel ban, writing that without immigrants and refugees, “there’s no me, and there’s no Reddit.”
Marissa Mayer, Former President and CEO of Yahoo!
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Marissa Mayer joined Google as employee number 20 and was the company’s first female engineer. She oversaw the creation of Google’s iconic homepage, and rose through the ranks working on a range of Google products — most notably AdWords — which is responsible for the vast majority of Google’s revenue. In 2012, Mayer became president and CEO of Yahoo!, where she was responsible for turning around the legacy tech company. She stepped down in June of this year following Verizon’s acquisition of the company, and is searching for her next CEO position.
She speaks some Spanish, and some German/Swiss German, and cites an experience living abroad in Switzerland while she was still at Stanford and didn’t speak the language as helping to show her how to move past discomfort and push herself to grow in new ways.
Jan Koum, Co-founder and CEO of WhatsApp
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Raised in a small village outside Kiev in Ukraine, Koum came to Mountain View, California at age 16 with his mother and grandmother. Eventually, he came to work for Yahoo!, where he met his WhatsApp co-founder, Brian Acton. The pair took a year off together to travel around South America, which he’s said made him realize the limitations of the existing communication tools like Skype. Fast forward a few years, and WhatsApp is a success — it was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion. Today, it has 1 billion daily users.
Although he has lived in California since he was 16, Koum speaks fluent Russian, and has built WhatsApp into a truly global company that supports 60 languages with users all over the world.
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