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星期六, 2月 19, 2005

Demand for language skills grows with global business

EDUCATION & CAREERS EXPOS07
南華早報網上版
2005-02-19

KNOWLEDGE OF A second, or even a third, language is becoming a standard requirement for graduates entering the workplace, as the multinational business environment evolves and globalisation calls for an increase in international trade relations.

Language skills can give you an extra edge in your job applications, and may even be the deciding factor between your resum?ending up on the boss's desk or in the bin.
The interdisciplinary nature of language courses gives students experiences that go beyond the classroom.

Overseas travel and a familiarity with other cultures are increasingly expected, and require cultural acclimatisation and diverse social interaction.

The number of language students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong is on the rise. Over the past two years, there has been a 72 per cent increase in the number of students enrolling in the Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages.

The department runs minor and elective programmes in four European languages: French, German, Spanish and Italian (in descending order of popularity), although Spanish is fast becoming a favourite, with courses doubling to meet demand.

Ulrich Wannagat, Chinese University's programme co-ordinator for German and Italian Studies, said the increased interest in European languages was linked not only to enhanced career prospects but also the increasing global influence of South American culture.

Students are encouraged to participate in exchange programmes at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley, where there is a large Spanish-speaking community.

Growing trade relations between Asia and the European Union are prompting students to explore university language courses in Hong Kong. At a recent conference for Hong Kong's education leaders, the head of Hong Kong's European Commission, Thomas Roe, gave a talk on "European identities", sharing his views on globalisation and the cross-fertilisation of cultures.
Mr Wannagat believed that ties between the EU and Asian education sectors are strengthening. "I would like to see the relationship grow," he said. "The collaboration with Asian institutions has not reached the same level as among EU institutions in terms of research scholarships, funding opportunities and overseas affiliations, and far more can be achieved."

In business, English is commonly used for international contact in most industries. So what is the point of learning another language?

For an answer, simply look at the HSBC motto, "The world's local bank", and the DHL slogan, "No one knows Asia-Pacific like we do", to realise that the trend is for a global perspective with local expertise. The same can be said about language.

In a world where everybody uses English, the ability to speak another language allows you to connect with business partners at a deeper level. This is especially important in an international city such as Hong Kong.

Just as speaking Putonghua will strengthen trade and other exchanges with the mainland, speaking European languages will strengthen ties with Europe and its growing market.
The French Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong recently contacted Philip Fung, Chinese University's programme co-ordinator for French and Spanish studies, to discuss the perceived shortage of French speakers in the local workforce.

Some French companies in Hong Kong are finding it hard to recruit Hong Kong graduates who can speak French; they would appreciate staff with some knowledge of French not so much for the linguistic skill as an openness to other ways of thinking.

"People who have these skills can work better with their French counterparts," Mr Fung said. "Their perception of the French market, its capacity and constraints, is more accurate, even if English is used in most professional exchanges."

In the same way, global companies in Europe are struggling to find young graduates who speak Putonghua or Cantonese.

Without a doubt, Hong Kong students who take the trouble to learn Asian and European languages would be opening themselves up to a whole world of possibilities.

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