The languages we speak

The languages of the world.
The languages of the world.



Years ago I was invited by King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia to review their oil reserves.  After a whirlwind tour of the country we met back at the main offices of the Armco facility that controlled production for the entire country.  There we met the oil minister (Ahmed Zaki Yamani and a number of other people.

Our goal was to better understand the oil reserves and how they would be drawn down over the years to come.  The meeting began early in the a.m. and went on past lunch.  Whereupon the oil minister asked that we all take a break.  Not that kind of break.  Instead, he asked that everyone around this very large conference table to: restate their name, their title, the company they were with, where they went to school, the degrees they held and finally the number of languages they spoke.

I was the invited guest sitting immediately to the left of the oil minister.  Conversation worked its way around the table.  There were people from all over the world and most held multiple degrees including Ph.Ds and spoke many languages.

I knew I was going to be embarrassed, I just didn’t know to what extreme.  When it was my turn I answered all of the questions and when it came to the languages I spoke I answered, “I speak English.”

Almost immediately, a chap from England (the U.K.) said, “Excuse me Sir, you do not speak English, you speak American!”

We often forget that our country fought a war to be independent (from England) and therefore free to develop our own language (which we’ve done quite nicely).

Since that meeting (1983), I have given a great deal of thought to “The languages we speak.”

Whenever I’m asked that very specific question: “How many languages do you speak?”  I always answer like this:

Actually, I speak three.  The first is American.  I’m extremely conversant and literate in my native tongue (I was born in Independence, MO and grew up in CA).  The second is English, I’m told I do quite well and that I’m very articulate.  Finally, I speak “the bottom line.”  I’m extremely fluent in the language of business, the world over.

If we’re being technical, I could add that I speak IT, oil, plumbing, steel, insurance, over head lifting, advertising and healthcare to name just a few of the industries I’ve been directly associated with over the years.  Each has its own unique set of acronyms and phrases.

We all speak more than one language.  It’s been said that Mathematics is the universal language.  English is probably a close second and American follows.

Whatever language you speak, it wouldn’t exist if it were not for the bottom line. To me, it is the most important, influential and meaningful language.

Hey, let’s talk!


  1. says

    I love this story! You turned an embarrassing situation into greater insight. And I never realized that I speak American (as well as math and mime, two other universal languages).

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