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Student Experiences

The Language of Business

Corina Slene Cuevas-Pahl has spoken Spanish her entire life, but when she found out that BYU Marriott offered a business language course in Spanish, she signed up.

“Even though I knew Spanish, I had little to no experience discussing business in Spanish,” says Cuevas-Pahl, who graduated in April 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. “I knew the class was part of the Global Management certificate, and I wanted more than anything to boost my confidence in my business Spanish vocabulary.”

Boosting confidence in business language is what these BUS M 596R language classes are designed to do. “The classes started in 1990 as part of the Global Certification process,” explains Jonathon Wood, managing director of BYU Marriott’s Whitmore Global Management Center, which facilitates the classes.

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Course materials emphasize business concepts, expanded business vocabulary, and interview skills in the foreign culture.
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“Many people think we have the classes because we have such a large returned missionary population,” he says. “But we have them because we teach international business, and to be a top international business school, you need to offer these classes. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be teaching business in the right way.”

However, while the classes aren’t catered to returned missionaries, they are certainly well attended by them. “We go into our new business classes, and we ask how many of the students have just come home from missions,” Wood notes. “A lot of the students—maybe 85 percent—raise their hands.

“Then we ask them to keep their hands up if they can talk about marketing or make a sales call or talk about return on investments,” he continues. “Every hand drops. A lot of them think they’re fluent—and they are in religious language and even common language sometimes. But when it comes to talking in the boardroom, they don’t get that on their missions. They get that here.”

In the past five years, 932 BYU students have taken classes in what Wood calls the “basic” languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish. In addition, many others have completed business language requirements in less-commonly taught languages, such as Hungarian, Polish, and Thai.

Course materials emphasize not only business concepts but also conversation, literacy, presentation techniques, résumé writing, interview skills in the foreign culture, and expanded business vocabulary. “The benefits from these courses can jump-start anyone’s marketability in the globalized world,” Wood says. “BYU is well-known in the higher ed community for our language depth and breadth.”

In fact, BYU Marriott’s Global Management Center is one of only seventeen Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) nationwide. “The CIBER program was created by Congress to increase and promote the nation’s capacity for international understanding and competitiveness,” explains Wood. The business language classes help the center achieve that distinction.

The Benefits from these courses can jump-start anyone's marketability in the globalized world

More importantly, the classes help BYU students. “I almost wish there were more levels offered,” says Cuevas-Pahl. “I would have taken more. I felt like it really prepared me for real-life situations where I would use my Spanish in a business setting. The class helped me gain a stronger competitive advantage compared to my peers when I started looking for full-time employment.”

Written by Kellene Ricks Adams