Spanish, French or Italian: It’s all Greek until you take a foreign language class

langBy HANAKO KATO

In today’s global economy, knowing a foreign language is “très bien” within a rapidly evolving job market.

According to the Connecticut State Study (2007) on “The Benefits of Second Language Study,” most respondents answered  in a survey of 581 alumni of The American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Ariz. they had gained a competitive advantage from their knowledge of foreign languages and other cultures.  Further, these respondents said it often became a critical factor in hiring decisions and in enhancing their career paths.

Language skills can enhance the professional value of applicants in a broad range of fields, including business, medicine, social work, public relations, politics and the travel industry.

However, in order to attain a job that requires foreign language skill, earning a college degree will help to solidify any job path. Even going the route of attaining a certificate in the language has cultural benefits that can be brought into the workplace.

Brita Schumacher graduated from Mount Mary College in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. She is the founder and president of the Futura Language Professionals, a network of community-based Spanish schools with locations across the country.

“It is not only important, it is critical for both standing out in the workforce and also being adept at communicating with other cultures both home and abroad,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher previously worked as the sales manager for ORBIS Corporation in the Caribbean and Central America. She also spent a year living in South Korea teaching at an English immersion school, and this experience inspired her to start her own language school.

According to Mount Mary foreign language chairperson Mary Ellen Kohn-Buday, some students know the benefits but are afraid to take the step to sign up for classes, perhaps because they had a hard time with a foreign language in high school.

“I think they should give it a try,” Kohn-Buday said. “There are interesting classes and they are lot of fun.”

Mount Mary currently offers foreign language classes in Spanish, French, Italian and American sign language.

Kohn-Buday stressed that even if students don’t pick up the major, a few classes can still help them contribute to the workforce.

“Even having some language skills can help students to get jobs in health care because a lot of places are looking for someone who can communicate at all, even if it’s just telling a patient to ‘stay calm’ or ‘calling an interpreter,’” Kohn-Buday said. “It’s better than nothing to keep the patient from panicking.”

Learning foreign languages not only helps students in the workforce, but can also help students learn other cultures and forms of diversity through the understanding of words, expressions and literature.

“Even if you don’t like grammar or reading in the foreign language you are studying, don’t give it up,” Schumacher said. “And, absolutely, studying abroad is the only way to truly develop fluency.”

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