April 2017
St. Olaf students practicing Chinese

As students graduate and enter the working world, intercultural competency is increasingly valuable.  Employers are looking for it — and private colleges are focusing on it.

At St. Olaf College, the study of foreign languages focuses on expanding the student’s understanding of people and culture. Jeane DeLaney, associate professor of Latin American history and current director of Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum, described this approach. “The study of foreign languages includes a strong focus on intercultural competency. We have a content-based approach to learning which focuses on reading and analysis of text,” she said. “It’s much more than grammar drills and memorization.”

St. Olaf has a focus on foreign languages for all students and requires either three or four semesters of language study, depending on the language. “Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum” is a program that provides students who have achieved a certain level of language proficiency to develop their skills further by taking courses in various disciplines that include a separate foreign language component.     The program is rooted in the idea that every student, regardless of their major, can benefit from the cross-curriculum study of foreign languages.

Minnesota’s private colleges as a whole put an emphasis on foreign languages —awarding 41 percent of the foreign language degrees earning in the state. And employers are looking for the skills that are learned when studying foreign languages.

“When we are hiring, it’s sort of an expectation that the candidate has studied a foreign language,” Laura Guzman-Corrales said.  Guzman-Corrales is a project coordinator at the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation and studied a foreign language at St. Olaf. She has done hiring for a wide range of positions in the research and medical fields and highly values intercultural competency. “We have a very diverse foundation — understanding and communicating with diverse populations is very important,” she said. “We’ve found that people who have studied a foreign language are better at connecting with a wide range of populations and end up being more successful.”

This emphasis on foreign languages in college hasn’t always been a given. “There was a trend about 10 years ago away from foreign languages and degrees like foreign languages. That seems to be changing, as employers increasingly look for individuals with strong communication skills and comfort in multicultural environments,” DeLaney said.  “These are areas in which language majors really excel.”

The foreign language offerings at Minnesota’s Private Colleges are listed by institution on our Majors & Minors Grid, under “Language & Cultural Studies.”

By Tom Lancaster