In today's global economy, virtually all business is becoming international. That means companies need employees who are "transcultural and translingual," says Elaine Tarone, director of the U of M's Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition.
Learning how people do business in another country is a little like preparing for a job interview. "You have to do your homework and learn about the cultural context," says Anne D'Angelo, Assistant Dean of International Programs at the U of M's Carlson School of Management.
The ability to speak the local language is an important part of cultural competence. Of course, not everyone can become fluent in one or more languages, but even some knowledge helps. "You don't need native fluency, but you should be motivated to learn at least a few words and be willing to use them," D'Angelo says.
A more diverse U.S.
Even those who never work overseas are discovering that knowledge of other cultures and languages is a plus. That's because the United States is home to one of the most diverse populations on the planet. In 2008, approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born.
Minnesota, for example, is home to large numbers of Latino, Somali and Hmong immigrants. Tarone notes that 41 percent of the children currently enrolled in the St. Paul Public Schools are English language learners.
An asset for jobseekers
"Anyone who deals with the public, whether it's in retail, food service, health care, education, social service, law enforcement or the court system can benefit from studying another language," Tarone says.
D'Angelo notes that foreign investment in the state is also on the rise. For instance, companies from Luxembourg, Japan and India have invested heavily in the Mesabi Iron Range during the last decade.
The bottom line for Minnesota's workers? "Those who are open to linguistic and cultural diversity will do better in terms of job-seeking and job-keeping," Tarone says.