CNDLS is excited to share the news of a new group of Faculty of Languages and Linguistics at Georgetown who are meeting together to discuss pedagogical approaches to teaching Foreign Language Business Culture courses.
Currently, such courses are offered in a variety of languages, from Spanish (Héctor Campos) and Portuguese (Michael Ferreira) to Korean (Hei Yoo) and Chinese (Peng Wang) as well as Italian (Donatella Melucci), French (Anne-Marie Munzberg) and German (Astrid Weigert, Anja Banchoff).
Such business language classes are popular among foreign language students and the professors are passionate about fostering a deeper understanding of the respective foreign culture within students.
Last week, seven business language professors came together to exchange ideas and experiences, as well as some of the challenges they face as educators. The group–Faculty of Languages and Linguistics Faculty Collaborative for Business Culture and Language– aims to offer its members a collaborative and supportive network in which they can exchange pedagogical and curricular ideas, discuss weaknesses and potential solutions, and envision new curricular designs for their respective courses.
One of the most discussed topics at the first meeting held on September 15 was the importance of business-related courses to provide students with particular perspectives on the issues that define a country’s contemporary society. Such knowledge allows students to gain important insights into other societies and, as a result, to better understand differences and similarities between their native culture and that of the culture they have decided to study.
The broadly-conceived area of “Business Culture” offers opportunities to address culturally and linguistically-specific linkages between culture, politics, and economics (and to some extent history) in foreign language departments.
One of the consensus that emerged from the meeting is the idea that inquiry-based learning is essential to teaching business language courses. When faculty ask their students to think about the wider context of business language-how culture, history and current affairs influence language used in business settings-it helps to deepen the students’ understanding of not only the language they are learning, but also the culture.
Weigert explains, “Becoming proficient in a foreign language goes hand-in-hand with understanding culture, including business culture. For instance, you cannot understand business in Germany without understanding the historic and decisive role labor-unions have played and continue to play in German society. Combining this content with relevant language-specific features such as expressing demands, offers, counter-offers, statistical information, appeals to members, etc. allows students to become both linguistically and culturally literate. This is what we teach as business language professors.”
In Portuguese business language courses, students learn specifically about what it takes to make a business succeed in Brazil through interactive, collaborative, and project-based learning. Students read from anthropological case studies, learn about industries that fuel the Brazilian economy, and study Brazil’s unique business culture. This approach to teaching is much more holistic and leads to students gaining a deeper understanding of both language and society.
This theme runs constant throughout all foreign language business courses. Participants agreed that business courses must go beyond vocabulary. Peng Wang (Chinese), stressed the point that advanced students, while they may understand the term ‘economic reform’, they do not understand the significance of it as it relates to business in China. Wang’s example brings to light how the pedagogical approach applied in Business Language courses is impacting students. Not only is it enhancing students’ linguistic abilities but students are finding what they are learning in the class to be very relevant to what is happening in regard to global political and economic issues.
Another point of discussion among the group was the growing trend in assessing the professional goals of the student as the course was being taught. Some faculty realized that knowing their students and learning about their career goals had started to shape their approach to developing their courses’ curriculum.
“I’ve realized that to offer my students a truly worthwhile classroom experience, I have to understand who they are,” Michael Ferreira (Portuguese) shared. “My students want to do internships or one day work in Brazil, not develop their own business in Brazil. So I need to take into account their goals when forming a curriculum.”
As a result, project-based learning has become the norm in many business language courses across campus. Project-based learning allows students to gain knowledge and skills through engaging with real business issues. Italian business language students, for instance, undertake major projects in which they identify and address issues that inhibit the success of Italian businesses or foreign businesses entering the Italian market.
There is clearly an exciting transition currently occurring in business language courses; a shift from a one-dimensional, vocabulary-driven approach to learning, to a culturally-situated and more project-oriented approach.
This group of Georgetown faculty have come together to form a community, share best practices, explore areas of collaboration and potentially new course designs. CNDLS is excited to see where their journey takes them. For more information about or to get involved with the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics Collaborative for Business Culture and Language, please contact Astrid Weigert or Pen Wang.