Written by Marlo Wyant

In today’s global economy, learning a second language has become increasingly important for securing positions with American and foreign-based companies. Foreign-based companies with offices in the United States, such as Deutsche Bank (DE), HTC (TW), or Michelin (FR) actively hire hundreds of Americans every year. While these companies select candidates for positions primarily based on prior work experience, they also take language heavily into account.

I had the opportunity to use my foreign language knowledge to help secure an internship at BMW Manufacturing in Spartanburg, South Carolina last summer. Although German language knowledge was not a requirement for the internship, I was able to use it to my advantage. The official language of the work place was English, however many colleagues in the office were German nationals. On occasion, meetings and casual office conversations would be conducted in German. Being able to participate in these bilingual meetings and conversations allowed me to become well-integrated into the team.

Speaking the language of the company’s country of origin not only allows you to communicate more effectively with your foreign colleagues, but it shows that you are more aware of the culture behind the company. Understanding the foreign culture can be very important when it comes to the etiquette of the workplace. Foreign colleagues might speak fluent English, but may feel more comfortable speaking to you if they know that they could also use their native language with you to fill in the linguistic gaps.

When you are applying or interviewing for a company that has significant foreign business, make sure to stress your language abilities, study abroad experiences, and participation in relevant clubs. Any connection you can make to the business culture, could be the make or break of getting hired. If you are currently a beginner at learning a language and are taking steps to achieve fluency, you can still mention this on a resume. Always: remember to never exaggerate how proficient you are in a language—the interviewer could just switch languages on you.

To get a start to your language and cultural endeavors:
1. Sign up for a foreign language class at UM, either as a full class (http://www.as.miami.edu/mll/undergraduate/courses.html)or as an independent study course (http://www.as.miami.edu/dils/)

2. Independently study a language via a program like Rosetta Stone, read literature and watch foreign language movies and shows

3. Visit the study abroad office website to see what is available at http://www.miami.edu/index.php/study_abroad

Discussion Question

Do you speak any other languages and how has it helped in your career development?