At Language Testing International, we have seen countless ways in which language proficiency skills alone have benefited our customers in their professional, academic, and even in their personal lives. However, when a person’s language proficiency skills are combined with cultural competency, the value that person brings to the table grows exponentially. A culturally competent person with the ability to effectively communicate in another language can help create understanding or even mitigate potential conflicts.
In a recent episode of LTI’s “Language Is Your Superpower” podcast, Marcos Vilar, the Founder of the non-profit organization ALIANZA Center, discussed the value of combining cultural competency with language proficiency, “because the next step after language is understanding all the cultural nuances that are behind a language.” Marcos Vilar was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the mainland United States when he was a teenager. Today, he also runs Vilar Strategies, a public relations consulting practice in Orlando, FL, which serves clients in strategic planning, community advocacy, and not-for-profit organizational development and management.
Marcos has led major efforts to activate Latino civic engagement at a national and local level and created a coalition of Latino-led organizations dedicated to increasing Latino participation in the electoral process in key states. His language proficiency in both English and Spanish and life experiences that have afforded him competency in both Puerto Rican and American cultures, have uniquely positioned him to help navigate and mediate various interactions between his native island of Puerto Rico and the continental United States.
One example of this was when Vilar was “hired by the National Association of Realtors and by the Puerto Rico Association of Realtors, to basically rebuild and reconstruct their organization that had gone through some troubled times. And they needed somebody in there that could understand the American way of doing business at the National Association and someone who could understand the Puerto Rican way of doing business—the Puerto Rican Association of Realtors.” Both the National Association of Realtors and the Puerto Rican Association of Realtors are the same association. However, Vilar explained that “the two different cultures of those two bodies, which are related, (one is an affiliate of the other) are completely different.”
Marcos provided more context for the differences between these two groups: “they’re basically formed in a legal framework from two different legal ways or legal tendencies, the Roman law and the British law. All of the romance languages; Spain, France, Italy, all of those countries … they have the legacy of the Roman law. And the Roman law is very prescribed. If it’s not written down specifically, it’s not a law, and there’s very little room for interpretation,” On the other hand, Marcos differentiates that “the British law is much more condensed, much more general … it leaves a lot more space for interpretation. … It’s flexible. It adapts to the condition and the time.”
You might now be thinking to yourself, “I thought we were talking about language and culture, not legal frameworks.” To expound on this, Marco gave the example that “we in the United States speak English. And that is a language, but it’s also a legal system, a legal psychological construct of how we do business. It’s all set up in law. And how we set up law in language and how the language works even, all of that plays into the cultural context that that individual and that society brings into any scenario.”
Marcos was aware of these legal and linguistic constructs, “having lived in the United States for so long, having experience with both cultures in a very profound way, being that [I] studied here in the United States, but also having grown up in Puerto Rico.” This “gave [me] a lot of tools to be able to navigate and negotiate between the association in Puerto Rico and the association at the national level.” Through this and other similar experiences, Vilar stated that he “learned a lot and became aware, in a much deeper sense, of all of those nuances, that it’s not just linguistic, but it’s also cultural.”
As we shared before, language proficiency skills on their own are extremely valuable. But when language proficiency is combined with cultural competency, whether learned naturally through one’s upbringing or through one’s life experiences—or both in Vilar’s case—those language proficiency skills can yield a deeper level of understanding, create situational context, and even help mitigate potential conflicts!
To learn more about Marcos Vilar’s story, tune into our most recent podcast.