Executive protection professionals who speak a foreign language will always have better job opportunities than ones that do not. The same applies in business, finance, and in academia. This article presents some basic concepts about foreign language learning as well as realistic expectations about acquiring languages. The author adds personal experiences and lesson’s learned while offering the reader a clear and well defined pathway to competency. 

Do people who speak more languages make more money? 

If you speak a foreign language you will most likely be paid more. This is probably the single most important incentive for those working in the security industry. But it depends on what sector of security your are working and in what country. Statistics show that those who are bilingual or multilingual can earn 5% to 20% more per hour than those who are not. [1] Let us take an example of 10% more. A $50,000 annual income with 10% language bonus is $55,000. Even if you straight-lined it, ¢5,000 per year for 20 years is $100,000. Not a bad bonus for retirement! 

The English language is by far the most important language with around 1.3 billion speakers. English is the leading language of science and technology, business and the financial world. [2] Those who were fortunate enough to be born into an English speaking family have a definite advantage over those who did not. Linguists refer to this first language as “L1”. That is known also as your “mother tongue” or your “native” language, or even simply as, “native tongue”. Your second language is referred to as L2. [3] If you live in the Western Hemisphere, the second most important language for you to learn would be Spanish. There are 480 million Spanish speakers in the world [4]. Do the numbers. If your first language is English (L1) and your second language (L2) is Spanish, you now have the possibility to communicate with 1.78 billion people. Not that you are actually going to interact with 1.78 billion people in real life, but you have that potential. So think of it as increasing your potential.

"Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom." - Roger Bacon 

If you live in the Europe Union and your first language (L1) is English then you should learn German (L2) because German is spoken by 36% of that demographic. Not only is German an important social demographic, “Germany is the largest economy in Europe, followed by United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Russia. These five together hold a 50% share of the European economy.” [S] The third language (L3) you should learn to speak in the European Union would be French, spoken by 30% of the E.U. The fourth language would be Italian with 18%, followed closely by Spanish at 17%. [5]. In the increasingly globalized and interconnected world, being able to communicate in more than one language is a highly marketable skill set. And that skill set often commands a higher salary. 

Second Language Influences in the Home 

Your second language (L2) historically depends on your economic needs and geographic region. If you live and work in the Western Hemisphere, your most important language will be English, followed by Spanish, Portuguese and then by French (North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean). Most people that speak a foreign language acquired that L2 language in the home environment from their parents. I lucked out because both my parents were multilingual. My dad was from the Philippine Islands (Cavite City) and my mom was from Germany, (Offenbach). Dad grew up speaking first Tagalog (L1), then learned English (L2) and then German (L3) while in the military stationed in Germany. Mom from Germany (L1), then learned English (L2) in middle school, then French (L3), then Spanish (L4) and then Italian (L5). Mom worked as an interpreter for a private export technology company and also for the United Nations later on. I did hear German when growing up. The sounds (phonemes) were then easy for me to reproduce later on in junior college and university. 

"He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

When you learn a foreign language you definitely learn more about your own language. You actually re-learn your own language, and during that process, you develop a better sense of language in general. You learn about language’s structure, its components (remember the eight parts of speech: articles, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjection) [6]. (Now I don't know why the call it the "eight parts of speech" verses the "eight parts of sentences"). You also learn about the rules of how

these elements are put together (grammar, remember the 12 rules of grammar?); Rule 1: Every sentence should start with a Capital letter in the first word. Rule 2: Every sentence should either end with a full stop/period (or) a question mark (or) an exclamation mark. Somehow I still have my old grammar text book from Mrs. Johnson’s 6th grade English class here on my shelf. Wow, talk about a "time machine", eh? 

Foreign Language Requirement in Education 

Most of us growing up in the United States of America and Canada have a foreign language requirement in high school. We are required to study two years of a foreign language [7]. Students have to choose principally from one of the following; Spanish, French or German. Most people choose Spanish as it is considered the easiest of the three foreign languages. And in most four year universities, there is a two year language entrance requirement for that institution. I studied two years of Spanish during high school and two years of German in junior college. Later in university, I continued with another year of German. At the time, I honestly did not have any clear intentions or objectives for those languages. I just knew I liked foreign travel and exploring different foods, music and cultures. 

"I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand." - Confucius 

You really don't know a language until you put it to work. Learning German in an academic setting was only half of the equation for me, the other half I learned by visiting the country and interacting with the people. To really understand a language you really have to eat, drink and sleep with it. I am not talking about the simple phrases such as "Ein Bier bitte" (One beer please) when you sit down in a German pub and then ask for the bathroom "Wo ist der W.C.?" (Where is the bathroom?) after three or four beers. However, those are generally the phrases we remember on our European vacations during summer break, we commonly associate those phrases with experiences lived. It is important to get beyond all those fun and games, and start communicating more advanced ideas and concepts. “Broad spectrum” learning (or holistic learning) across many areas of stimulation in that target language is what you need. This concept is often referred to as the “sociolinguistics” of that language. Sociolinguistics includes the placing of words and sounds of those words in context. That

context is usually about the food, the drinks, the religion, the social and political activities of that culture. It is about the cultural anthropology of that region. 

How much of a foreign language do we have to know to make it useful? 

We have all asked that question. And the answer is simple, it depends on our needs. Before we commit to something we want to know how much time and effort is needed. Well, let me say this, the Spanish I had in high school was not enough to help me observe and orient in security operations in Central America. And I would say the same for the German I had in college when I was in Europe. An academic level of understanding of a language will give you a solid baseline of linguistics. Recall that "linguistics is the systematic study of the structure and evolution of human language, and it is applicable to every aspect of human endeavor." [8] It was just pure coincidence that I took a linguistics course at the University of California at Davis, and it was then all these words and word related concepts started to make sense. It gave me the big picture of human communication. 

What is the CEFR and what are the A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 levels? 

One classification that is used in foreign language acquisition is A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. Have you heard of those terms or designations? Yes, they are in order of difficulty or skill level. The classification scheme comes from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR officially launched in 2001, the beginning of the European Year of Languages! [9] Those KSAs or “Knowledge, Skills and Abilities” are described more specifically bellow: 

A1 Level: The “A” Levels are just a "basic" user, or beginner. A1 is Beginner. A "basic user" is someone that can, "Understand and use very basic expressions to satisfy concrete needs. Introduce themselves and ask others questions about personal details. Interact simply as long as the other person speaks slowly and clearly." 

A2 Level: A2 level is a language learner that can, "Understand frequently used expressions in most intermediate areas such as shopping, family, employment, etc. Complete tasks that are routine and involve a direct exchange of information. Describe matters of immediate need in simple terms."

B1 Level: The “B” Levels: Independent User, B1 is consider an "Intermediate" level, where the language learner can, "Understand points regarding family, work, school or leisure-related topics. Deal with most travel situations in areas where the language is spoken. Create simple texts on topics of personal interest. Describe experiences, events, dreams, and ambitions, as well as opinions or plans in brief. 

B2 Level: At the B2 CEFR level, a learner can, "Understand the main ideas of a complex text such as a technical piece related to their field. Spontaneously interact without too much strain for either the learner or the native speaker. Produce a detailed text on a wide range of subjects." 

C1 Level: A "Proficient" user is classified as "C". C1 is "Advanced" and at the C1 level a language learner can, "Understand a wide range of longer and more demanding texts or conversations. Express ideas without too much searching. Effectively use the language for social, academic or professional situations. Create well-structured and detailed texts on complex topics." 

C2 Level: The C2 level, a proficient language learner can, "Understand almost everything read or heard with ease. Summarize information from a variety of sources into a coherent presentation. Express themselves using precise meaning in complex scenarios."[10] 

As we can see from the above language proficiency levels, as the level of proficiency increases, the more abstract the descriptions and abilities become of the language learner. 

About how many vocabulary words are needed for each level? 

Another way to classify the CEFRs would be to assign an average quantity of words for each level. This estimate are the number of words one would need to learn and understand to complete those CEFR levels. The CEFR does not specify a vocabulary list or a vocabulary size for each level. One article that I found on the internet had a pretty good approximation of the number of words needed for each CEFR level: [11] 

A1 = 500, A2 = 1000, B1 = 2,000, B2 = 4000, C1 = 8,000, C2 = 16,000

This rule fits Zipf's Law: (I only first learned about this law researching this article. I do understand that the growth rate is non-linear, just as most natural phenomena. Zipf’s Law is similar to Moore’s Law which asserts that this growth is exponential in the effectiveness (number of transistors) of microchips doubles every two years). Linear growth in vocabulary would mean that if we started with the A1 level with 500 words, then the A2 level would be 1,000 words, B1 with 1,500 words, B2 with 2,000 words, C1 with 2,500 words, and C2 with 3,000 words. But that would be a growth rate of 500 words for each level. That is just not the case in vocabulary acquisition. The real world reflects a "geometric" growth rate of "doubling" at each level as we have seen above. The number of words for each level corresponds roughly to what other sources report as well. The idea here is just to give the reader a better idea of each level of the average number of words needed for each level. How about the factor of time in hours or weeks? 

Are there other foreign language schemes for language proficiency? 

Yes, there are other classification schemes for language ability. The U.S. Government’s official language skill level descriptions come from the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR). The ILR has a numbering system that ranges from "0" to "5", where "0" is "No Proficiency" and "5" is "Native Proficiency". Below we see the entire scheme range: 

0 – No Proficiency. 

1 – Elementary Proficiency. 

2 – Limited Working Proficiency. 

3 – Professional Working Proficiency. 

4 – Full Professional Proficiency. 

5 – Native / Bilingual Proficiency. 

That ILR scheme is a rather generalized and simplified description. Let us take a closer look of a more detailed description listed below [12]: 

0: No Proficiency. At this lowest level, there is basically no knowledge of the language. The person may know a few words, but can not form sentences or carry on any type of conversation. 

1: Elementary Proficiency. At this language proficiency level, a person can form basic sentences, including asking and answering simple questions. This is

essentially the starting point of the language proficiency levels. This level reflects someone who is traveling to a new country and who has just begun to study a language. 

2: Limited Working Proficiency. Someone at this level can handle basic work commands and social phrases. They can carry on limited casual conversations at the office and discuss their personal life. Someone at this level still needs help with more extensive conversations in the language. They can only operate independently in basic conversations. 

3: Professional Working Proficiency. Someone at this language proficiency level can make contributions to office meetings, have conversations with clients, and carry out most work functions requested of them. A person at level 3 can speak at a normal speed in the language and has a fairly extensive vocabulary. They likely still have an accent at this level and probably require help understanding subtle and nuanced phrasing. Some employers consider this level or above as basically acceptable, depending on the specific job. 

4: Full Professional Proficiency. Full professional fluency is desired by most employers. Someone at this level can have advanced discussions on a wide range of topics about personal life, current events, and technical topics such as business and finance. People at this level may still have a minor accent and may occasionally misspeak or make minor mistakes. Their vocabulary is extensive and they can carry on conversations with ease. Most employers consider level 4 or above acceptable. 

5: Native / Bilingual Proficiency. Someone at this language proficiency level was either raised speaking the language as their native tongue or has been speaking it so long that they are completely fluent. They have little or no accent. 

If you need a more advanced or complete set of descriptors for each of those six levels you will find them on the Defense Language Institute’s website [8]. That institute is the Defense Department’s premier school for culturally based foreign language and training. 

What would be the equivalent values from the CEFR to that of the ILR proficiency levels, as well as the approximate number of words needed to know? 

0 – No Proficiency 

1 – Elementary Proficiency = A1 (500 words)

2 – Limited Working Proficiency = A2 (1,000 words) 

3 – Professional Working Proficiency = B1 / B2 (2,000 to 4,000 words) 4 – Full Professional Proficiency = C1 (8,000 to 10,000 words) 5 – Native / Bilingual Proficiency = C2 (16,000 to 20,000 words) 

How many hours do I need to study for each level of CEFR? 

Remember high school foreign language? That was an entire semester of foreign language. A high school academic year is 180 days of instruction. That is 50 minutes of instruction per class, 5 days a week per class. So 180 days x 50 minutes = 9,000 minutes a school year. Take those 9,000 minutes and divide them by 60 minutes to give us 150 hours of instruction. So one year of language training is about 150 hours. One year of Spanish or French is roughly 150 hours of instruction which is equivalent to the CEFR A1/A2 levels. And to continue, two years of high school foreign language would be a total of 300 hours. That is about equivalent to the CEFR B1/B2 levels using the number of “Guided Learning Hours” ( GLH … the number hours of learning required for each CEFR level under the immediate guidance or supervision of a lecturer, supervisor, tutor or another appropriate provider of education or training.) 

I would like to emphasize that receiving academic instruction behind the desk is one thing and actually applying that knowledge in the real world is another. It is entirely different thing when you are in an operationally focused type of instruction. For example, utilizing your foreign language skills and abilities in interviews with immigrants entering the country is far different than academic language instruction. It is engaging the complexity of the real world. 

"How do you eat an Elephant?" (Part of an old African proverb) 

Remember to break complex problems in to smaller parts. Do not get into the mental trap of trying to take on too much. Recall those ‘old timely sayings’ or idioms, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Below we observe the approximate number of Guided learning hours (GLHs) to achieve each level to the next level below: [13] 

A1 (the beginning level) from no knowledge to about 90 to 100 hours. A2 (the next level) 100 to 150 hours. 

B1 (intermediate level) 160 to 240 hours.

B2 (high intermediate level) 180 to 260 hours. 

C1 (proficiency level) 200 to 300 hours. 

C2 (native level) 300 to 400 hours. 

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” 

- Zig Ziglar 

Be realistic and ask yourself how much time is possible to dedicate to this endeavor. Ask yourself the following questions, such as, “Why am I doing this?”, “What is the payoff?”, “What are the benefits of learning a foreign language?” “Will help me advance in my profession?” Like everything else, you need to draft up a plan to move forward. Write down your plan of attack and answer the big six (What?, Why?, Who? Where?, When?, How?) Start off by asking yourself, what part of this foreign language will I start to learn first? Then give yourself a good reason, (Why?), Who? (I will do this, I can do this), Where? (In my home office were it is quite, or in the car when driving to work), When? (at night when people are not calling, or after work), How? (Through an audio CD Rom in the car, or YouTube on the internet), how much time am I willing to commit per week to learning your chosen foreign language? That plan needs to be realistic (that realism also needs to incorporate some flexibility as well). If you say 1 hour a day, that would be 7 hours a week. Multiply that by 4 weeks (1 month) that is 28 hours. So, you know that to prepare for a CEFR test A1 you will need 4 months (16 weeks) of language training. That is a very realistic goal. Put it on your calendar and make it part of your checklist every day. Remember that a lot of little things do add up. Remember that old African saying, "How do you eat an Elephant?" raised earlier? The answer to that question is, "One bite at a time." 

"To have another language is to possess a second soul." 

- Charlemagne 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, martial arts training in groups went down a lot due to restrictions on proximity of people in groups. So what did I do with those additional hours in my weekly schedule? Well, I decided to shoot for a simple goal of basic French. In my mind I was resolved to reach that level. I knew it was a time commitment of around 100 hours (About 25 weeks). Since I knew that I have already German and Spanish under my belt, this would be something “doable” for me. (Listen to that internal coach that we all have within ourselves, “I can do this!”. Remember what the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero

once said, “No one can give you better advice than yourself.”) And so I set out to reach the CEFR A1 level in French. That was in June 2020. I needed a guide (Guided Learning Hours) to help me accomplish that task. So, I started with “Duolingo” which was an “app” for languages that is easily downloaded to your smart phone. It was a simple application that I could interact with while sitting in traffic. It is an excellent program that can get you started with those first 100 words. After about 40 hours with Duolingo®, I switched to Busuu®, another guided language instructional service for another 40 hours of practice. Through the Busuu® service, I took my first A1 level exam in French, and received a C- (or 71%). Okay, so what?! Accept it, “It is what it is.” At 80 hours of guided practiced exercises, I realized I just needed to study a little more, more vocabulary and more grammar. Eighty hours was just not enough. It wasn’t until March of 2022 that I received the note I wanted on that French A1 exam. In all honesty, it probably took me about 200 hours, slow, however persistence pays off! 

Let us visualize a “quick and dirty” graphic of all of those language schemes from CEFRs, ILR, average number of hours, weeks and years. Remember these are averages based on statistical results of thousands of language learners. 

0 – No Proficiency 

1 – Elementary Proficiency = A1 = (500 words) = 100 hrs 

2 – Limited Working Proficiency = A2 = (1K words) = 250 hrs 3 – Professional Working Proficiency = B1 / B2 (2K to 4K words) = 750 hrs 4 – Full Professional Proficiency = C1 (8K to 10K words) = 1,050 hrs 5 – Native / Bilingual Proficiency = C2 (16K to 20K words) = 1,450 hrs

ILR  CEFR  Words  Hours  Weeks  Years
A1  500  100  25  0.5
A2  1,000  250  63  1.2
B1  2,000  490  123  2.3
B2  4,000  750  188  3.6
C1  8,000  1,050  263  5.0
C2  16,000  1,450  363  6.9


A weekly breakdown would translate into: A1 = 25 weeks, A2 = 63 weeks, B1 = 123 weeks, B2 = 188 weeks, C1 = 263 weeks, C2 = 363 weeks, given a commitment to a guided learning program of 2 hours of class per week plus 2 hours of homework each week [7]. This really depends on the student and their commitment to learning. You need to find a reason, a justification as to why you want to learn this foreign language. And once you find this reason or reasons, you just chip away at it every day or every couple of days. 

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." 

- Lao Tzu 

If you have ever run a marathon of 26.2 miles you will understand this concept from a training point of view. You just don’t step outside your doorstep one day and run 26.2 miles. You train for it. On average, it takes about 6 months to train for a marathon of 26.2 miles. That is what I did, I researched it for about a week and went with the “Galloway” method. I started training for it the next day. I started by getting into cardiovascular shape by running 5 Km and 10 Km footraces. And then finally half marathons at 13 Km and so one. My first Marathon I ran in 4:43, four hours and 43 minutes. Most of the guys I trained with ran it in 3:30 or so (those guys are the real bad$%#es!). But speed and efficiency was not my goal. My goal for that footrace was to just run a Marathon. And just as in training for languages, you get to a point where it just gets easier. Something happens around B1 and B2 levels of foreign language comprehension, a flexibility, a fluidity. Around 2,000 to 4,000 vocabulary words gives someone an operational command of the language. That is the level that most private military companies (PMCs) and U.S. Embassy’s guard forces around the world require for working as a security professional. This B1/B2 level is usually also what is expected of an executive protection professional operating in a foreign country. 

Attitude is everything, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes! 

Have the right attitude about learning a foreign language. Again do not think of it as a 7 year commitment first off, don’t “Shoot for the Moon”. Rather, break the problem down into manageable parts. As the saying goes, “take it one day at a time”. The best way to pick up a language is to surround yourself with it. Remember how cryptographers broke the German Enigma machine in World War II? They did not attack it randomly, they attacked the problem through the use

of statistics. They started intelligently with knowing what were the most common vowels used. So start learning the 100 most frequently used words in your target foreign language. That should take you around 40 hours. That is 40 hours of the most common nouns, pronouns, prepositions, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Write the words down with pen and paper, listen to the audio files or tapes, say the words and expressions, try to replicate the sounds and have fun going through the learning process. Remember effective language training is much like “cross-training” it is not just speaking. Train in all of the four important areas; to read, write, listen and speak. 

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." 

- Nelson Mandela 

And as a foreigner, no one in country is really expecting you to speak fluently without flaws or to catch all the fine and rich meanings. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Proficiency comes later after some time. Jokes and humor are some of the finer nuances you will pick up around the B1 and B2 levels of language acquisition. A rich understanding of poetry will probably occur around the C1 and C2 levels. Remember that the designation of “L1” in linguistics is referred to as your first language. L2 is your second language. Now, if you are in the United States of America, living and working in the “Heart Land” say in the geographic middle of the continental United States; Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma or Missouri, you are unlikely to need a second language (L2). Remember that concept of “necessity breeds creativity”? Countries such as Australia or New Zealand, geographic islands, you are also unlikely to need a foreign language. In contrast, if you are living and working in Western Europe, say Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, or France, you will need to be multilingual (L1, L2, L3) due to necessity. What exactly is that necessity again? The need to satisfy your gratify you needs. Recall that concept from human psychology of that ‘Pyramid of Need Gratification’ by Abraham Maslow? Let us start with the basic or primary needs of which all other needs rely on. Those are the physiological needs such as air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing and reproduction. It is through a spoken language that human beings principally meet those needs. But when you are in an environment where there are many resources through many resource providers (a multinational and/or multicultural) it becomes a definite competitive advantage to speak many languages.

“They cannot be fulfilled in an indefinite period of time, 

so there are timetables in benchmarks.” 

- Zbigniew Brzezinski 

I recently took the C1 English exam though the language resource provider Busuu. It was a challenge. Why take an English exam when I already speak English natively? Well, to get an idea of what a C1 exam looks like, its format, its content. The second reason I will give is for “benchmarking” purposes. The exam requires that you remember and recall short passages to answer correctly the questions posed. The questions made fine distinctions between sayings, words and their respective meanings. It required thought. That was my “take-a way” for the C1 exam. I managed to score an 85% and pass, but that was not my end goal. My goal was to learn how to teach up to C1 and take my English students up to that level of competency. One of my math professors back in college once told me, “If you want to really learn a subject, teach it.” – Paul Vetrano. And it stands to reason that if you want to become a better student, become a better teacher. Therefore expose yourself to exams and tests in the area that you are interested in. Now with so many testing services that are free online, you have no excuses, just do it! Time is a factor in benchmarking and take those 20 or 30 minutes out of your day. By all standards and benchmarks available to me, I am roughly a C1 in English, B2 in Spanish, B1 in German and an A1 in French. Language learning is just like any kind of learning, it is a process and processes take their time. Create an atmosphere for yourself where you can enjoy learning. Love, laugh, learn! Keep it simple folks and remember that life long learning is where it is at!

Bibliography / References: 

[1] https://www.languagetesting.com/blog/2022/08/16/why-it-pays-to-be bilingual/ 

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages worldwide/ 

[3] https://www.tesolcourse.com/tesol-glossary/L1-and-L2/ [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_the_European_Union [5] https://statisticstimes.com/economy/european-countries-by-gdp.php 

[6] Sanford, A. B., 1977, "Using English, Grammar and Writing Skills", Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, San Francisco, California. 

[7] https://ingeniusprep.com/blog/foreign-language-requirements/ [8] https://linguistics.ucdavis.edu/undergraduate/what-linguistics 

[9] https://www.coe.int/en/web/common-european-framework-reference languages/history 

[10] https://www.coe.int/en/web/common-european-framework-reference languages/table-1-cefr-3.3-common-reference-levels-global-scale 

[11] https://languagelearning.stackexchange.com/questions/3061/what-are estimates-of-vocabulary-size-for-each-cefr-level 

[12] http://www.dliflc.edu 

[13] https://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/How long-does-it-take-to-learn-a-foreign-language.pdf