New Study on How the Language We Speak Affects Us

“The structure of languages affects our judgments and decisions about the future, and this might have dramatic long-term consequences.”

On October 1st I read an interesting article in Scientific American, entitled, “How Your Language Affects Your Wealth and Health.” Dr. Keith Chen, of Yale Business School, had conducted a study analyzing individual-level data — economic decisions, retirement assets, smoking and exercising habits, and general health in older age — from 76 developed and developing countries. He also analyzed national savings rates, country GDP and GDP growth rates. Premised on the fact that some languages have explicit future markers while others have more ambiguous markers between present and future, Dr. Chen correlated the economic and health data with language structure, with striking results. “Speaking a language that has obligatory future markers, such as English, makes people 30 percent less likely to save money for the future,” according to Scientific American.

I shared the article on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and today I came across a terrific little video that summarizes the study’s findings. Good visuals nearly always help me make sense of information; it’s why I made this video, summarizing a different cross-cultural study, earlier this year. I bet you’ll find the movie below helpful as well:

The original study is entitled, “The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets,” written by M. Keith Chen, Yale University, School of Management and Cowles Foundation, April, 2013
Published in the American Economic Review 2013, 103(2): 690-731
Editor’s choice, Science Magazine, Vol 339(4)
Permanent address:

Remember, Cultural Detective is a leading-edge process not only for understanding values and behavioral differences across cultures, but for navigating them successfully.

How are You Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month ?

national-hispanic-heritage-month(or do you even know it is happening now?)

September 15th to October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the USA.

I’ve always been interested in the application of intercultural communication concepts to domestic diversity issues. Perhaps this has to do with where I was living when I first learned about intercultural theory—a racially mixed neighborhood where people of good intentions occasionally had minor misunderstandings.

Working with the Cultural Detective: Latino/Hispanic package renewed my interest in the link between USA diversity and intercultural, specifically about Hispanic issues and how they impact USA society today. Latinos are a vital and dynamic part of the country, yet many in the USA do not know much about the underlying values that may influence Hispanic world views and behavior.

The Pew Research Center recently published an article in their FactTank, “5 facts about Hispanics for Hispanic Heritage Month.” It inspired me to prepare the following short quiz, to see how much you know about Latinos and Hispanics in the USA. Check your answers in the original article.


1. More than half of the USA’s Hispanics live in three states. Which three?
    • New York
    • Florida
    • New Mexico
    • Arizona
    • California
    • Alabama
    • Texas

Latinos are moving to all parts of the USA, and are no longer only living in the areas where they have more traditionally settled. A comprehensive report by the Pew Research Center, based on analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, shows Hispanics residing in every state: Mapping the Latino Population, By State, County and City.

2. How much did the Latino population grow between 2000 and 2011?
    • 22%
    • 36.4%
    • 57%
    • 47.5%
    • 63.5%

Not only did the number of Hispanics grow tremendously between 2000 and 2011, Pew found that Hispanics account for more than half of the nation’s growth in the past decade. The human resource potential is enormous, and understanding the underlying values of this group will allow organizations and communities to be more inclusive and utilize these resources more effectively. Cultural Detective: Latino/ Hispanic explores the important core values that may guide behavior and influence decision-making among Hispanics.

3. The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” embrace a wide variety of backgrounds. What percentage of Hispanics/Latinos trace their heritage to Mexico?
    • One-half
    • Two-thirds
    • Three-quarters
    • Seven-eights

In the USA, people who trace their heritage to over 20 nations consider themselves to be (or are considered by others as) of Hispanic origin. Statistical information on the largest groups are examined in the Pew report, Diverse Origins: The Nation’s 14 Largest Hispanic-Origin Groups.

4. Over the last decade, college enrollment has increased among Latino high school graduates. Can you match the correct percentage of USA high school graduates who enrolled in college in 2012 with their ethnicity?
    • Hispanics                                                  • 45%
    • African-Americans                                    • 49%
    • White Americans                                       • 47%

What are the current educational trends? Latinos now make up one-quarter of all public school students in the USA, the rate of Hispanics dropping out of high school continues to fall, and more young Latinos than ever are preparing to go to college. In fact, among recent high school grads, Hispanic college enrollment rate surpasses that of whites.

5. According to the USA Census bureau, how many of the nearly 52 million Hispanics (age 5 and older) speak Spanish at home?
    • 47 million
    • 35 million
    • 25 million

Spanish is the most frequently spoken language other than English in USA homes, and it is also spoken among non-Hispanics. Among Latinos, most agree it is important for future generations to learn Spanish as well as English, even though a growing share of Latinos get their news in English.

As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s take a fresh look at our organizations and communities. Are structures and policies in place to facilitate the contributions of Hispanics? Do we respect a different point of view, and can we incorporate it to better our communities for all members? How can we get from “here” to “there”?

If you are looking for a resource that can be easily woven into existing training to learn about Latino/Hispanic culture, Cultural Detective: Latino/Hispanic is your answer! By exploring the core cultural values and using the Cultural Detective Method to analyze real-life situations, you can offer practical skills to build bridges within your workplace and community.

Cultural Awareness Eases Expatriate Assignments

Mercer has released some useful new infographics, based on the findings in their 2012 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices.

You all know that using Cultural Detective combined with reflexivity and good facilitation, you can do WAY better than “awareness”—developing the ability to collaborate across cultures.





Let’s save the lost money, the aggravation and stress on our people, and the potential loss of talent, by equipping expats and their families for their assignments! Also best to equip the receiving team, and to conduct team building, ongoing mentoring and coaching. Cultural Detective Online, along with good coaching or facilitation and organizational support systems and processes that reward intercultural competence, will make the difference.

Endangered Languages Project

Experts estimate that only 50% of the languages that are alive today will be spoken by the year 2100. The disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information, comparable to the loss of a species. Tools for collaboration between world communities, scholars, organizations and concerned individuals can make a difference. Such is the raison d’être of the Endangered Languages Project, an online collaborative effort to protect global linguistic diversity.

The first thing I noticed on this site is the incredibly high quantity of red dots on the world map, each indicating a severely endangered language. The site enabled me quickly and easily to look up endangered languages in Mexico, where I live (the closest red dot to my home is the Seri language, one I’d never even heard of!). I also looked up the language that first interested me as a pre-teen in the southwestern USA: Navajo (it is labelled “at risk” and is currently a featured language on the site). Even in my adopted homeland of Japan, as I expected, the Ainu language is ranked “critically endangered.”

The languages included in the project and the information displayed about them are provided by the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat), produced by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and The Institute for Language Information and Technology (The Linguist List) at Eastern Michigan University. The list of collaborators in the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity is indeed impressive. The project site is definitely worth using!

Global Edge: Terrific resource

Are you familiar with GlobalEdge? Funded in part by the USA Department of Education, the project provides free, centrally located international data from a variety of sources.

  • The Global Insights section includes data sortable by country, by 11 trade blocs, or by industry.
  • The Reference Desk includes a resource directory, online course modules, tutorials on international business, and a glossary of international business terms.
  • Their Knowledge Tools, my personal favorite, include tests of knowledge, economic rankings, a terrific “Database of International Business Statistics” to help you generate the custom reports you might need, an index to evaluate emerging markets, diagnostic tools to aid your business decisions, and a country comparison tool.

Many thanks to Cultural Detective facilitator Janet Graham, Baker University professor of international business, for highlighting this resource !