Hayley Brooks & Ali Kokot | Learn the lingo, jack the job


Think Twice | Re-evaluating the merit of foreign tongues in today’s job market


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Haley Brooks & Ali Kokot
Think Twice

Photo by Hayley Brooks and Ali Kokot


Itching to know what the salon ladies really think of your nail beds? Looking to impress your dinner-date with the proper pronunciation of Schupfnudeln im Sauerkraut? These alone are excellent reasons to check out a class in Williams Hall. Yet, upon completion of Penn’s modest foreign language requirement, most students will bid the building adieu except to satisfy their craving for café.

While eight semesters of Japanese is no vacation, a job you could consequently land at Toyota from flashing your proficiency certificate might just finance the vacation of a lifetime, or even a lifetime of vacations.

You can spray your pink resume with Chanel No.5 until even Elle Woods gets nauseous, but these days, language fluency will get you further than chicanery.

A degree from Penn — though prestigious — is no free ticket to the front cover of Forbes Magazine. With unemployment lingering at 8.6 percent, you’re about as likely to get a job as you are to get into The Blockley post-police raid. In an increasingly competitive landscape, students should arm themselves with as many languages as possible.

Knowing another language will not only allow you to communicate adeptly with a foreign businessperson, but also to gain a better grasp of their cultural context and their motives. Mastering another language will help you “understand the things you see” and gain insight into a a particular society’s values, French Studies Undergraduate Chair Gerald Prince explained.

Born at the denouement of the American century, students like us grew up in a time where international companies still conducted business almost entirely in English. According to Rosetta Stone Director of Learning Duane Sider, this phenomenon is coming to an end.

Sider converses daily with a myriad of companies eager for Rosetta Stone’s services. Today, he explains, when a company reaches out to another, the latter usually expects business to be conducted in its own native tongue. As a result, “the time will come when those who do business internationally will need to be bilingual or trilingual,” he said.

So it seems like nowadays, brandishing an extra language or seven on your resume will get you many letters closer to winning job-bingo.

If the bliss of living vicariously through Don Quixote’s escapades is not enough to bring job-conscious students running back to Williams, Sider’s advisory should suffice. Even students who have no interest in working abroad should hear our plea for multilingualism.

Sider explained that those with no intentions of touring the globe on business will still acquire jobs in the United States more easily if they speak Spanish than if they do not.

Wharton sophomore Natalie Riemer who interned at Frito-Lay this summer (and speaks Chinese, Italian and Spanish) explained that “even an American company like Frito-Lay sees the value of exploring new emerging markets overseas.”

Just as Sider has witnessed “a tremendous growth in language learning for the sake of business” in the last decade, Penn’s Senior Associate Director for Career Services Kelly Cleary spoke to an “increase in the number of employers who are specifically seeking candidates with foreign language skills.” They observed that Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish are the languages of the hour and correspond to the tongues of the world’s rising economies.

While Prince acknowledged that not all students can invest the credits to minor or major in a language, he advised taking a minimum of two to three courses beyond the requirement. For those looking to function in the business world, he believes that striving to be “able to read the newspaper” of that nation will prove a rewarding ambition.

The alarming state of the job market should motivate even those students who would otherwise abandon foreign languages forever thanks to high school horror stories. Awkward role-plays? Embarrassing accents? Failed cooking projects? It’s time to bury those ghosts and jump on the language train

Nevertheless, we commend those students who find a more wholesome reason than the economy to stay on board. As Prince suggests, you should learn languages simply to “fulfill your potential as a person.”

So next time you’re on a date, don’t be afraid to try your hat at the most phonetically difficult item on the menu. And who knows? The CEO of Siemens sitting at the next table might just have an affinity for Schupfnudeln im Sauerkraut.

Hayley Brooks and Ali Kokot are College sophomores from Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. and New York, N.Y. respectively. Their email addresses are hayleybethbrooks@gmail.com and alikokot@gmail.com. Think Twice appears every Tuesday.

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