Learn languages for life skills

There’s an old joke that says, “What do you call someone who speaks only one language?” The answer: an American. In fact, the National Journal reports that only 10 percent of native-born Americans can speak a second language, compared to 56 percent of European Union citizens.

Most majors require students to take four classes in the modern languages and cultures department. However, business students are not required to take a language through their degree plan, with the exception of international business majors who are required to take foreign language classes to the fourth level. Traditional business students have the option to either complete foreign language courses through the second level (only two semesters instead of four) or opt to take classes from a hodgepodge list of communication, journalism, marketing, business and English classes.

This “communication option” section of the business undergraduate degree plan makes students less marketable in the workforce and fails to prepare students for a diverse, multicultural and multilingual, globalized world.

The benefits of learning a second language range from marketability in jobs to ease of travel to a deeper empathy and sense of cultural understanding. Some students at Baylor fall into the category of people able to speak more than one language because of course requirements.That’s not to say that everyone who takes four semesters of a language become fluent or are classified as bilingual, but the skills, knowledge and strategies students acquire in language classes will serve them in innumerable capacities throughout their lives.

A report in the Journal of Education for Business found that a greater percentage of universities felt there should be a language requirement for business majors than those that actually had such a requirement. The report also found that Spanish was considered the most beneficial and available foreign language for business students to learn.

Dr. Stephen Gardner, professor of economics and director of the McBride Center for International Business, told the Lariat that it was only recently that business students had enough room in BBA degree plans to allow even the option to study foreign language. He also said that despite the option to take communications classes instead of foreign language classes, the majority of students opt for the latter. Business students are often encouraged by advisers to take foreign language courses and to study abroad.

Even though business students now have room to take foreign language classes to the second level and are encouraged to do so by professors, there should be nothing optional about engaging in the global community through second language instruction. Furthermore, two semesters of course work is not sufficient to move past a basic level of proficiency. Every other major, including pre-medicine biology majors who have notoriously challenging course schedules, is required to fulfill a four-course requirement.

All business majors should be required to take four semesters of a language as it promotes cultural understanding and makes students more marketable in the business world.

Ryan McMunn, language expert and CEO of BRIC Language Systems, found that in 2014, those entering the workforce with fluency in more than one language had an additional 10 to 15 percent pay increase. The reasons for this drastic pay difference based on a single skill are rooted in the diverse facets of life in which language is useful. Language helps build relationships. When you don’t speak the same language as someone, there is a very narrow platform on which you can relate to that person.

Because of this, Gardner suggested that one of the roadblocks to instituting a foreign language requirement is that language classes based more on conversational skills rather than literature and linguistics would be most advantageous for business students.

Bilingual study develops skills and knowledge that go beyond the classroom and beyond the benefits of conversational instruction. Skills such as vocabulary memorization, writing practice and understanding abstract concepts like grammar rules are utilized daily in the language classroom and can be applied to the workplace and daily life.

Cultural study through literature fosters a more complete understanding of the world. Perspective changes are critically correlated with cultural studies.

Baylor even offers a language course to cater to the needs of business students titled “Intermediate Spanish for Business.”

The resources are readily available for business students to partake in the challenging and rewarding experience of foreign language. A degree requirement of four semesters should be put in place for all business majors as it prepares them to be active, relational and global citizens.