Changing fields: Interest in languages grows

BY MEGAN DIAL | APRIL 27, 2009 7:28 AM

UI language departments are growing as students realize employers are seeking bilingual applicants.

In light of the increased interest, the UI Spanish/Portuguese department will offer a new course — Spanish-English translation — next fall, said Tom Lewis, the department’s head.

While the class will not deal with interpretation in courts and hospitals due to their strict qualifications and requirements, he said, it will provide an introduction to some vocabulary, issues, and life situations that could come up in similar contexts.

“The Spanish-English translation course is designed really for translation from written texts,” Lewis said. “These wouldn’t necessarily be literary texts. They could be technical manuals, they could be scientific articles, but it’s sort of a lot of practice and a lot of building linguistics skills.”

UI language departments continually look for creative ways to respond to new demands in Iowa, including the growing need for medical and legal interpreters, Mercedes Niño-Murcia, the associate head of the Spanish/Portuguese department, said in an e-mail.

Though the course won’t be for strict interpreting, Lewis said, it will prepare students for a variety of other professions.

He said many large companies publish some form of in-house communication in both English and Spanish, creating a need for students with good linguistics skills in the business world.

Lewis said the department is also working with the medical school to develop a medical Spanish course, and he would also like to eventually create a law Spanish course. But the law project is on hold until the UI is able to hire faculty members with the necessary skills to teach the course.

Roughly 350 UI undergraduates major in Spanish and Portuguese, and around half have a second major in a different area, Lewis said.

He said that unlike several years ago, when many undergraduates in a language department went on to teach, the vast majority of current students plan to go into careers outside of education.

But not everyone is uninterested in teaching.

UI junior Vince Vanderlaan, a Japanese major, said he plans to earn a Ph.D. and eventually teach at the college level.

“Most people in the Asian department stay in that department, but most end up taking a second language,” Vanderlaan said.

Students striving to become bilingual are the building blocks for globalization, Niño-Murcia said.

“Internationalization begins with learning languages other than English,” she said. “By learning the language of other groups on Earth and then firsthand experiencing their cultures, students get exposed to different literature and different ways of being in the world.”

Attitudes toward foreign-language education are changing, she said, because countries are no longer isolated and multilingualism is a global necessity.

Lewis agreed, saying students also find value in the development of their communication skills in writing, speaking, and constructing logical arguments.

“I can see a definite development, which I consider to be a good development and progress away from a traditional curriculum of Spanish,” he said. “It takes students a little further than they would have been able to years ago.”

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