Tom Talks to Steve about His Work

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LingQ founder Steve in casual conversation with his brother Tom, who is visiting Vancouver from Toronto.

Steve:   Today I’ve got my brother Tom with me.

He has come from Toronto to visit; I hope he doesn’t stay too long.

But, no, I’m just joking, of course.

Tom:    Did I tell you I was going to stay for a year?

Steve:    Well, we’ll move you outside then.

Tom:    Okay, next to the dog.

Steve:    Next to the dog.

You, aside from your lecturing activities, are a marketing consultant for Lenovo.

Tom:    Correct.

Steve:    Now what exactly is Lenovo again?

Tom:    Well, Lenovo is a company that started many moons ago in Beijing, China.

They were called, I think, Legion or Legend Computers and then they added “novo” to it, as in “new”, because now they’re new.

They bought IBM’s Computer Division, Microcomputer Division, the PCs, laptops and so on and soon to be Servers.

Steve:    Now let me just stop you there.

Tom:    Yup.

Steve:    I mean that’s quite an interesting example of how the world has become multi-national, multi-polar, you know, the global community.

I mean who would have thought 25 years ago that IBM and their Personal Computer Division would be bought out by a Chinese Company.

(A) because you wouldn’t have thought that IBM would want to sell to a Chinese Company and (B) for a Chinese company – 25-30 years ago we thought of Mao’s China – to be in a consumer product and for them to have a company that is sufficiently strong in a consumer product that they would want to take on an American manufacturer of consumer products.

Actually, I read somewhere that the president of Lenovo now lives in the States because he wants to better understand American culture or something like that.

Tom:    Well, maybe you know more than I do in that area, but I certainly am not familiar whether he’s doing that.

What is interesting is…well, one of the subjects I do teach at college is Global Economy.

It’s interesting to note here that IBM made no bones about the fact that they were losing money with their PC Division and so they were looking for a buyer.

Here Lenovo, deep in the heart of China, says, okay, how do we go global with this?

Well, let’s buy it and let’s move ourselves into the world stage of computers and become one of the top-tier computer manufacturers.

They bought everything, the whole lock, stock and barrel, so now they are doing the manufacturing, so now you will see Lenovo’s name on what used to be IBM’s products before.

Steve:    Okay. Now, we are used to the idea that computers are manufactured in China.

Tom:    Yup.

Steve:    We are used to the idea that there are even technical, you know, research laboratories in China…

Tom:    Yup.

Steve:    …whether on software or hardware-type issues.

So not only are they a manufacturing center, we can see them eventually becoming a source of technology.

There are many Chinese, you know, computer technicians working in the United States in the Silicon Valley as there are people from India and from Israel and Hungary and I don’t know where else, Rumania, Russia, but now we actually see Lenovo getting into sort of what is a very culturally, you know, ah, what would you say, culture-heavy area which is in distribution, which is all of this kind of stuff.

It’s an interesting development.

Tom:    What is very interesting is that people don’t realize that part of the emerging nations, although they haven’t got fully democratic, are slowly drifting into the capitalistic system.

So it’s interesting that I read that although the Chinese may run around in Levi Jeans and have McDonald’s they’re not fully democratized.

Steve:    Right. You know it’s interesting…we wander around a lot of subjects here.

Tom:    Yeah.

Steve:    It’s very interesting, I was at a dinner the other night and this is a friend of mine who is from India originally; it was his 85th birthday.

And so there were a number of people there, including a fellow from Iran who is married to a Chinese lady, okay?

So it was a fairly international collection there.

Tom:    It happens, I hear.

Steve:    Yeah, yeah, fairly international collection of people.

He said “You know Turkey is a tremendous Muslim country because it’s the only Muslim country where people have, you know, genuine sort of social cultural freedom.

You know one lady might wear the hejab and the next girl is wandering around in a miniskirt and they can do what they want there, which is great.

The Turks, you know, they don’t fool around, you look how they cracked down on the Curds.

That’s what I like, you know, I like that, that’s the kind of government I want.”

So, you know, we talk about exporting our democracy…  I listen to Russian radio now that I’m learning Russian and they kind of like the heavy-handed approach; they like the muscled approach.

It’s not obvious that a majority of countries…in fact, Putin criticized the U.S.

Congress for, you know, not being able to make up their mind.

In other words, for not simply executing what the President wanted; that there was a vote and it actually voted against the rescue measures.

In Russia they get to talk in their Duma, maybe, but they don’t get to disagree.

Tom:    There’s one opinion, it’s mine.

Steve:    Yeah.

Tom:    And, and…

Steve:    But a lot of people like that, that’s the point, you know?

So the Chinese…I mean I know that Chinese and even a lot of people in Russia get very upset at all this criticism, where the West is saying we live…our society is organized this way and yours isn’t, so therefore yours is bad.

Many of them may, in fact, recognize that there are things in their own society that they would like to improve, but they don’t particularly like outsiders telling them that they should improve or change.

Tom:    And what many people don’t like is the certain amount of dominance that, for example, the United States has had over the global village for many years.

Now that a lot of emerging nations are improving their economy and their lot they can sort of switch over their economies.

They tend to go to the middle of the road and it’s what we call a “mixed economy”.

Although they don’t take all the Western ideas, including capitalism, they certainly enjoy the benefits of capitalism, even though they keep their culture and they keep their form of government.

So it’s sort of a mixed bag of culture, economy and legal systems that is taking place in the world today.

Steve:    Well, absolutely.

That’s why I thought this whole issue of a Chinese company buying Lenovo was so interesting.

I mean the next thing you know a Chinese company is going to buy McDonald’s.

Tom:    Well…

Steve:    Why not?

Tom:    Listen, they’re on the hunt right now.

I don’t know if many people know this, but the biggest industry here in Canada is mining.

The Beijing folks are coming over here to try and buy metal fabrication, mining companies, lumber companies.

They’ve come over here with money in their pocket and they’re looking around.

Steve:    Right.

Tom:    So I hope the next language you learn is Mandarin.

Steve:    Well…  I know there’s all this talk about…mind you, there again, English has been the international language and it’s simply because it’s spoken in so many more countries.

Tom:    The language of business.

Steve:    The language of business and it’s spoken in a lot of countries and it sort of has so much momentum behind it as an international language.

Tom:    Yes.

Steve:    Chinese is going to struggle a bit because it’s…I’m not aware of many situations where you would have conversations between two people, neither of whom are native speakers of Chinese, who would use Chinese as their common language.

That’s not very common; whereas, it is common for English, for French, for Spanish, for Russian, for Arabic, for a number of other languages…

Tom:    Let’s not forget Hindi; Hindi’s in there.

Steve:    And Hindi.

No, but I’m talking about as a language that is used by people who are not native speakers of that language.

Tom:    Correct.

And the most spoken second language is English then comes, if I’m not mistaken, French and then comes Spanish.

Steve:    Right.

Tom:    Mandarin is still spoken by the most number of people in the world…

Steve:    Yeah, as a total.

Tom:    …as a primary.

Steve:    As a primary, as a total number of speakers.

Tom:    Yes, yeah.

Steve:    But…  I mean part of the whole motivation behind LingQ is the idea that this sort of dominance of English…I mean it’s pointless to be against something that’s there.

Tom:    You can’t.

Steve:    But, part of our belief is that if you make it easier for people to learn other languages…obviously, a person who learns three or four languages has the benefit of having learned those languages, so if you can speak Spanish and Chinese or Hindi or whatever I think it makes your life more rewarding in some ways.

Tom:    Well, let’s take my example of being fully French-bilingual selling all across Canada.

A lot of American companies approach me simply because I have the technical background as an engineer and because I was fully bilingual.

That helps, so guess what?

If you’re going to go into another country or if you’re going to do business with other cultures and other countries where other languages are spoken, it is to your advantage to be able to speak those languages.

You are a typical example of that going to several countries.

Steve:    But, you know…and it’s fun.

It’s kind of fun, you know?

We started out talking about Lenovo and increasing globalization.

We mentioned McDonald’s, which is…to some people it’s kind of a red flag.

It’s sort of American culture being forced at people and blah-blah-blah.

Tom:    Typical American, yeah.

Steve:    And so then people when they get angry at Americans they get angry at McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is just a hamburger shop.

I mean they had lots of them.

Tom:    Yup.

Steve:    When we were growing up there were lots of individual hamburger greasy-spoons on every street corner and they, somehow…McDonald’s came along and came up with a marketing scheme that made that a world empire.

But, yeah, if they have McDonald’s in the Forbidden City in Beijing, I think a lot of people think that’s not very appropriate.

Tom:    People in their native countries may not think it’s appropriate, but it’s amazing how if you don’t go in there…that’s how the multi-nationals look at it, if you don’t go in there somebody else will.

Sony…it doesn’t have to be American.

Steve:    Right.

No, no, nothing wrong with Sony and products, I’m just saying that you take the Forbidden City, you know…

Tom:    Yes.

Steve:    …or the Louvre in Paris or something, for that to be a place where McDonald’s has an outlet, you know?

No, I don’t go for that.

You know, at the Vatican we’ll have a Chinese restaurant there.

No, no-no-no, I don’t go for that.

Tom:    Well I think the cultural barriers are still very much alive and well.

Typically what I teach the Chinese when I teach them English is keep your Chinese culture, for example, but certainly integrate into the Canadian culture.

So you can think and speak English, but keep your Chinese culture and that way you don’t lose your identity which is, for example, a big factor in French Canada.

Steve:    But you know what Tom?

That’s an excellent subject which we’re going to take up in our next podcast because I’ve got lots to say on that and I’m sure you do.

Tom:    Beautiful.

Steve:    Thank you.

Tom:    Thanks.

Steve:    Thank you and we’ll talk again.

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