2008 Archives

In business, English is necessary but not always sufficient


The following is from the Dec. 16, 2008, edition of The Dallas Morning News. Marie-Luise Gaettens, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in SMU's Dedman College, provided expertise for this story.

December 16, 2008

The Dallas Morning News

OLKILUOTO ISLAND, Finland – There are more than 4,000 Europeans building a nuclear power plant here – Poles, Germans, French, Finns, Swedes. What's the language spoken on the work site? English, even though none are native English speakers.

In Espoo, Finland, where Nokia has its corporate headquarters, there are roughly 2,300 engineers, scientists, managers, salespeople and designers from more than 45 countries. Again, the common language is English. . .

We still have major worries as a nation about how few of us speak Arabic, Urdu, Pashtu, Dari or Farsi, the languages of our adversaries in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The military, the intelligence agencies, the State Department – all of them need more people who can speak these languages.

But for getting around the world, from one sales meeting or interview to the next, you can pretty much get by with English.

What are we missing?

"When you only communicate with people in English, you only get a certain level of what's going on," said Marie-Luise Gaettens, chair of the foreign languages department at Southern Methodist University.

"You'll never be part of the country. Say, for instance, Germany. ... You can get by with English in Germany and get a certain amount of insight. But I don't think you really get the full story."

Read the full story.


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