SOM boosts language skills

Yale’s language-study requirement may be the bane of some students’ freshman years, but for those pursuing careers in the world of international trade and business, there may be no choice but to endure the pain.

Students, professors and administrators at the School of Management and in Yale College said the increasingly competitive global job market makes foreign-language acquisition invaluable. The size of a country’s economy, ease of learning the language and regional lingual diversity are among the most relevant factors for students choosing which language to pursue, they said.

School of Management Career Development Office Director Allyson Moore said she thinks international perspectives are important in business.

“Global organizations certainly value colleagues that are multilingual,” she said.

Because of current legal restrictions begun under the current presidential administration that make it difficult for international students to obtain work visas, Moore said, there is a high demand for multilingual businessmen in the United States.

“Global organizations with operations in China are very interested in students who speak Chinese,” she said. “This is definitely true in the financial-services area, because we’re in the midst of a visa crisis right now, so it’s difficult for corporations to hire the international students they want to hire.”

The popularity of Chinese language study at Yale suggests students are recognizing that Chinese economic growth and cultural prominence are increasingly affecting their lives, Yang Zhao SOM ’08 said. The skill is especially valuable for students looking to be consultants and professional service staff, he said.

While there are drawbacks to learning Chinese — including mastering regional differences — communication is not a problem among Chinese natives educated enough to be working with international businessmen, Zhao said.

“In mainland China, Mandarin is truly universal,” he said. “Sometimes there is a little problem with management if you do business with branches in rural areas where locals’ Mandarin is not very strong.”

Cantonese, another Chinese dialect, would be especially helpful in Hong Kong, even though businessmen in that city have a fairly strong knowledge of English, he said.

Yazad Jal SOM ’08 said although globalization in North America and Europe has resulted in the outsourcing of many jobs to India, learning Hindi will not be of significant benefit to international businessmen. But while English is still the language of business in India, knowing local Indian languages will help businessmen gain credence with regional organizations, he said.

“With further growth, I see local languages slowly gaining prominence,” he wrote in an e-mail. “India is linguistically the most diverse place on Earth. Just as you wouldn’t be able to pinpoint a single ‘European’ language, you can’t pinpoint an Indian language. Hindi is just one of many.”

But University Career Services Director Phil Jones said given the economic strength of the European Union, Europe should still be an area of focus for language study.

“If [your focus] is European, then maybe it is French or German you should study,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be Chinese just because that’s a huge growth market.”

Because the composition of the EU has changed so much with the addition of new member-nations in the past several years, the overall shift has been away from French — which was formerly the official international language — to English, Jones said.

Arabic will likely prove more useful for students aiming to work for nonprofit organizations rather than international corporations, Arabic professor Beatrice Gruendler said.

“Right now its relevance, I think, will not change from now to the future,” she said. “We can only hope that the focus will be less war-related crisis and more coupled with economic corporations, but this is purely wishful thinking, and it is hard to predict the future.”

Yale has recently revamped its Arabic program to allow for more practical language learning by hiring more full-time lectors, Gruendler said. As of 20 years ago, much of the Arabic teaching material in the United States and Europe was antiquated and thus not particularly useful for spoken Arabic, she said.

Despite these advances, students of Arabic who plan to work in the Middle East must first decide which region they hope to work in and then refine their Arabic skills by learning the regional dialect, Gruendler said. With an intensive program of study, a student can become conversational in a regional dialect in two to three months, she said.

Such a program is offered through Yale’s Center for Language Study.

Jones emphasized that students should study the languages that they personally find most fulfilling rather than following international business trends.

“There’s no question that language study is a very useful professional qualification for any setting, but it’s not that I would want everybody to rush off and study Chinese,” he said. “It could be Russian that you should study, because that’s where your area of interest lies.”

Comments