When thinking in English makes us successful: a story in Antananarivo Madagascar

Does English make us rich?


“Does English make us rich?”, “Can it change our life for the better?” Success is not an accident and I had the chance to check this again with this story. The US Embassy in Antananarivo Madagascar interviewed a dozen of young Malagasy, all of whom were awarded a six-week training in the USA (the YALI 2017: Young African Leaders Initiative). At the end of their interview, each student shared a message to inspire their country mates. Their level of English agreaably surprised me and on top of that, the common mindset that they have.

Therefore, we could hear: “Dream big”, “it’s possible”, “try to make your dream come true even if it’s difficult”, and “If you don’t work hard on your dreams, you would be working for somebody else to make their dreams become a reality”. Rarely did I meet Malagasy students having this mindset. Little did I know I could hear “Tony Robbins”, “Les Brown” or any American coaches’ quotes from my peers here in Madagascar.

Yet, maybe it could be a confirmation bias, a cognitive bias that filters what we perceive, and focuses only on what we want to see. But, I think these future leaders won this award because of these winner-mindsets they have. I even believe that they would be successful, because of what they believe now. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe we can learn a new foreign language, chances are, we would end up mastering it. On the other side, if we don’t believe we can make it, we would give up quickly or wouldn’t even try. As Confucius once said: “He who says he can and he who says he can’t, are both usually right”.

What is the best language: A better language than the others?

First, I wouldn’t argue if there is a better language or not. But there are a certain mindsets that are prevalent to a language than the others. English and the Anglo-Saxon culture in general tend to promote a positive attitude. This mentality encourages entrepreneurship, self-reliance and proactivity.

Second, “Dream big” is a widespread expression and accepted within the English-speaking community. It’s even a daily expression and isn’t pejorative whatsoever. It would be less used in French “Voyez les choses en grand” or literally “try to see things in big”. It’s even less common in Malagasy, the language spoken in Madagascar. “Aza manofy eo!” or “Don’t even dare dreaming!”. That’s the expression we would hear the most when an atypical idea is shared. On the contrary, here in Madagascar, we perceive dreaming as a bad thing. “Try to confront the hard reality, the real world”, as if the real world is nothing but negativities and scarcity, just as if pessimism is the only way to live.

Finally, in Chinese for example, we would endorse hard work and material success among other things. Many chengyu 成语 illustrate this (an idiomatic expression composed with 4 characters extremely used in daily conversation.)

Motivation - watch your words

Knowledge and action are power: the advantage of learning English

To answer the question, we must realize that mastering English is already a huge asset. In the information era, English remains the most used language on the Web. In the information era too, ignorance is a choice. It is now possible to get free access to the MOOCs offered by the best universities around the world such as Harvard, MIT or Oxford. Learning English online for free, the vocabulary, the pronunciation, the grammar, it can all be for free. 

For instance, frustration motivated me at first to learn English. I remember I wanted to learn the basics of Photoshop. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any interesting tutorials; most of them were in English. It was the same when I searched for free books. I recently heard that the best seller “The E-myth, why most businesses don’t work and what to do about It” a book by Michael E. Gerber was finally published in French, over 30 years later!

Finally, as long as a way of thinking triggers a certain behavior, no matter where it comes from, it is most welcome. My point here is that there are many untranslatable concepts that only exist in one language. Yet, they can make us successful. I can now say that learning English was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made so far.