I’m a history buff and an armchair linguistic anthropologist. I love learning about languages, where they came from, how they evolved, and how they shaped culture and civilization.
The reason is, when I learn where words come from, I can also understand how they evolved and how that evolution was either an indication of how society has evolved, or how society’s evolution forced the language to change.
I other words, to me, learning languages and how they changed is a great way to learn how society has changed. One is a reflection of the other.
Similarly, my favorite videos on YouTube are from polyglots. I don’t know why, but it fascinates me deeply to see other people speak so many languages — and many of them speak these languages at an almost perfect level.
Take this Netherlander polyglot who speaks 23 languages interviewing a young 13-year old American girl in 20 languages. Wow. Not only does she speak every language perfectly, she can also read and write in them — including Korean, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and more.
Another type of video I follow are polyglots who travel the world and go “undercover,” where hidden cameras catch them shocking the locals by speaking their own tongue, including some hard-to-learn regional dialects.
(As one native Chinese person said in another video of YouTuber Xiaoma: “Your Fuzhounese is better than mine!”)
But of all the channels I watch these days, one of them is Polymathy with Luke Ranieri. A polymath is one who knows much about many things (a jack of all trades if you will, or better, an expert on many topics).
One of Luke’s favorite bits on YouTube (he teaches Old Latin and Old Greek, among others) is when he explains the etymology of words. I love learning etymology for reasons I already expressed. But in Luke’s case, his videos explains them in the form of stories.
For example, in one video he talks about where the word “Ciao!” comes from. It’s the typical greeting in Italian and in some other Romance languages. But did you know that the root of the word came from the Slavic peoples? And from slaves? Yes, there is a relationship between “slave” and “Slavic.”
Now, what does this have to do with marketing?
First, I love learning about what makes people tick. History and linguistics are helpful in that regard because it gives me a deeper understanding of why people act the way they do.
Marketing is all about connecting with people, understanding them, and helping them in the way they want to be helped. So I guess you can say it’s psychology to some degree. But I like languages because it offers many other benefits.
Studying new languages is shown to enhance creativity and problem-solving skills. And I do believe that creative problem-solving, the hallmark of a resourceful person, is actually the most important marketing skill.
As one study put it: “Skills like problem solving, dealing with abstract concepts, are increased when you study a foreign language.”
Learning new languages is also shown to enhance listening skills and memory. You not only need to memorize entirely new vocabularies, but you also have to carefully listen to the other person to understand what exactly are they saying.
Professor John McWorther, a linguistics teacher, is one of my favorite scholars in language. I’ve bought many if not all of his courses and University lectures. My favorite is, by far: “Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage.”
Something Professor McWorther often says resonates with me (and I’m paraphrasing): “By expanding your understanding of the human language, you can learn ways to argue and persuade others.”
Ergo, by learning other languages you also learn about marketing.
Finally, while solving problems is the greatest marketing skill, the greatest marketing tool we have at our disposal is the ability to tell stories. Stories are at the heart of all great communications and communicators.
Stories are also at the heart of culture, civilization, and language. I also believe they are at the heart of marketing and sales.
Stories predate history. In fact, story is derived from the word “history,” which comes from ancient Greek to mean “to know something” or “to inquire about something.” Another way to look at it is that history is a true or known “story.”
If you want to learn how to sell more effectively, to argue more convincingly, to communicate more persuasively, then you need to learn how to tell a good story. Because by doing do, you learn how to capture people’s attention, how to connect with your audience, and how to make your case.
When I was learning copywriting, I was reading and studying a lot about marketing and sales. I bought every course there was, from Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy, Tony Alessandra, Zig Ziglar, you name it. I bought every copywriting book and course out there.
But what has taught me more about marketing has actually nothing to do with marketing. They are books about storytelling. From Stephen King’s “On Writing” to Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” (and everything in between).
So if you want to get good at marketing, become a problem-solver. But if you want to become good at selling the solution, become a storyteller.
Average marketing sells great products. Good marketing solves great problems. Great marketing tells great stories.
As Seth Godin so eloquently said:
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make but about the stories you tell.”Seth Godin