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Students learning to speak the languages of international business


Fall 2019 | By Chris Starrs. Photo by Contributed.


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Business is frequently conducted on the global stage, which makes having a familiarly with multiple languages and cultures much more than an edge – it’s practically a necessity. The School of Languages and Cultures helps fill that need for Purdue students through its professional language courses.

The school offers more than a dozen professional/specialized language options, ranging from Business Arabic, to German for Science and Engineering, Business Russian, and Spanish for the Health Professions, to name but a few. Also available are a certificate in German for Specialized Purposes and minors in Business French and Spanish for the Professions.

While the growing industry appetite for these skills is a relatively recent phenomenon, the University has offered many of these professional language courses for decades.

“These classes have definitely taken off in popularity in recent years, but business languages were already being taught at Purdue when I came here in 2002,” said Jen William, professor of German and head of the School of Languages and Cultures. “Some of the languages – like French, German, and Spanish – are quite well-established in the area of Languages for Specific Purposes.”

William credited Christiane Keck – a former German professor, head of the then-Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and founder and editor of Global Business Language – with spearheading both Global Business Language and the school’s development of professional language courses. William added that while interest in these programs has always been healthy, its reach is expanding.

“At Purdue, we’ve seen an uptick in interest in our classes in languages for professional purposes,” she said. “It’s a very good fit here at Purdue for students with very practical career ambitions. Students see that learning a language, whether it’s the business and scientific language classes or any kind of language classes, pairs well with any major and makes students more marketable, especially in the global economy, for those wanting to work abroad or for an international company.”

Cecilia Tenorio, who in the spring semester taught Spanish for the Professions as well as Translation and Interpreting, can attest to the emerging popularity of the school’s offerings. She said that just four students signed up when the minor Spanish for the Professions was introduced in 2017. This year, that number exploded to 87 students from a wide variety of majors.

“Some of these courses have been offered for at least 15 years,” said Tenorio, who added that perhaps the biggest area of interest for students in professional Spanish is health care. “What is new is that now we offer a minor for professional training in Spanish. We are ahead of many universities; there are few programs in this area, so we are trying to establish ourselves as one of the leaders.”

With a goal of strengthening its program, the school created a Languages for Specific Purposes committee, co-chaired by Tenorio and Marc Rathmann, a continuing lecturer in German.

“We have put together a website for LSP at Purdue, which lists all our courses, offers resources and students’ testimonials,” Tenorio said. “We want to put an effort into creating more options for students. We are working to add experiential learning opportunities, such as internships and service learning, because students love them and they are very helpful in preparing them for their future.”

“We want to make the classes more known throughout the University, and we have created a website to try to get more students interested in Languages for Specific Purposes, because sometimes the problem is students don’t really know what classes are out there,” added Rathmann, who in the spring taught German for Science and Engineering and Business German. “We actually went to the business school and met with the advisers this semester. It’s important to get the word out that we have these classes.”

Rathmann also said creating a harmonious relationship among the school’s 14 different language offerings – which grows to 15 in the fall with the addition of Korean as a pilot program – is one of the chief goals of the Languages for Specific Purposes committee.

“There are so many different languages in the School of Languages and Cultures,” he said. “We haven’t always coordinated well between the languages we offer. We just want to try to coordinate more and get more input from other instructors and the other languages.”

With thousands of students taking language courses, and seeking majors, minors, and certificates, it’s clear they recognize the value of taking language and culture classes that broaden their horizons and provide an idea of the business environment they hope to join.

“Engineering stereotypes – usually we’re not good with talking to people,” said Drew Henson, who graduated in May with a degree in chemical engineering. “This helps people branch out and be a little uncomfortable at times so that they can be comfortable later. It’s super-important to develop these thinking skills to solve problems that sometimes require innovative thinking.”

Henson, who has taken Spanish classes since high school, and is also learning Russian, has taken a number of classes taught by Tenorio.

“Professor Tenorio’s classes are a lot more challenging that typical Spanish courses I’ve taken,” he said. “It’s actually a lot more enjoyable because she pushes you to go further in your language development. It’s not your standard homework. You get real practice with it.”

And some courses – like Tenorio’s class on Food and Culture in the Hispanic World – speak to a student’s taste buds.

“I love the class so much because it’s longer than a normal lecture – about 75 minutes – but it’s so much fun that time just seems to fly by,” said Nudhar Bhuiya, who graduated in May with a degree in Health Science/Pre-Profession and a minor in Spanish. “There are so many things we’re learning about each country and its cuisine. It’s really nice. They eat a lot of meat in Argentina and have lots of different kinds of barbecues, so that’s on my list to try out whenever I get the chance.”

Another course Bhuiya found compelling was Spanish for Health Professions, which she said informed her on “how to deal with people from different cultures in a health care setting.”

“It was a worthwhile class because I’m starting medical school in the fall, so it was very helpful to learn the vocabulary because I want to be able to communicate with patients who can’t speak English that well,” she said. “I felt it was extremely valuable to learn about the very specific vocabulary that’s involved.”

In an interconnected world, understanding other languages and cultures provides a distinct advantage. And, to that end, the School of Languages and Cultures is dedicated to making sure that when they graduate, Purdue students are able to talk the talk.