“Everyone should learn a second language”
A conversation with K. Brewer Doran, Dean of the Bertolon School of Business, about the value of foreign language study
By Elizabeth Blood, Department of Foreign Languages
K. Brewer Doran, Dean of the Bertolon School of Business and well-known specialist in global and cross-cultural marketing and decision-making, knows first-hand the importance of understanding different cultures and learning languages. Fluent in English and French, Dean Doran is also conversant in German and Swahili, and knows some Spanish and Chinese. During her undergraduate and graduate studies, Dean Doran studied and lived in Kenya, Germany, Canada, and China. She was also awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to live in Uganda. During her career in the private sector and her many business-related academic research projects, she has traveled to over 80 countries on all seven continents and to all 50 U.S. states. Dean Doran has, quite literally, been around the world.
When asked whether today’s students should be encouraged to study different languages and cultures, Dean Doran emphatically responded “I think everyone should learn a second language. While it’s not necessary in today’s business world, not being able to speak another language puts us, as Americans, at a disadvantage. The process of learning another language also helps us to learn about other cultures.” Dean Doran acknowledges that, in our rapidly changing global economy, it is difficult to predict which languages students may need in the future, but argues nonetheless for language study. Learning a second or third language, no matter which one students choose, starts to open the doors to the multilingual world in which we live. “Obviously, you can’t learn all the languages you will encounter, but you can get much better at being observant and figuring out local culture,” says Doran, “In addition, I always try to learn basic vocabulary in the language of the countries I’m visiting, as a sign of respect. Especially with less widely spoken languages, native speakers don’t expect you to be fluent, but learning a few words and being conversant in their customs goes a very long way.”
Students in all fields, but particularly those who plan to work in the global economy or in our own multilingual country, should consider making the study of languages and cultures an integral part of their undergraduate and graduate studies. Doran affirms, “I firmly believe that cultural sensitivity and a keenly observant eye are the most important characteristics of successful global managers. At first, learning other languages and cultures is very intimidating, but with experience, it becomes easier.”