June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
12.1175.1 - 12.1175.11
Preparing Engineers for a Global Industry Through Language Training
Imagine a situation in which an engineering firm has had a catastrophic failure on one of its products. In order to assess what went wrong a design engineer in the United States is working with a component manufacturer in another country. However, because the designer cannot speak the manufacturer’s language, the two are communicating through an interpreter. In this international version of “telephone” neither party is able to ensure that their instructions, questions, or solutions are communicated clearly. The engineer’s ability to communicate directly with the manufacturer would greatly facilitate collaboration between the two parties. Unfortunately, undergraduate engineering programs today are not set up to prepare students to communicate in a global engineering environment.
As the industrial world evolves to survive in an ever more global market, a barrier to progress in technical collaboration efforts is the inability of most engineers to fluently speak a foreign language. Though language courses are included in the curricula of many schools throughout the United States, few students achieve any degree of fluency in the language they study. These meager lingual abilities are insufficient for the typical engineer to be able to discuss his/her work with others around the globe.
Simply taking a few language classes to learn vocabulary words or simple conversational techniques is wholly insufficient to produce engineers capable of actively participating in a global environment. A program is needed which will give students the opportunity to develop language skills as they are developing analytical and design skills. To make this possible, engineering students need opportunities to gain basic language skills and achieve fluency by studying under and working side-by-side with persons who natively speak the language being studied. In addition, time spent studying at a foreign university will help students gain an understanding of the culture and people they will be working with by immersing them in their language. In this paper we will propose a program to meet the goal of producing engineering graduates familiar with the global environment and capable of becoming active and effective participants within that environment.
In 1980 Deputy Secretary of Commerce Luther H. Hodges Jr., spoke to a group of foreign language educators regarding the challenges facing the American economy in the new decade. During his remarks Hodges stated “In this new world communication is all-important…. One lesson that we ought to learn is that the whole world does not speak English; some of it speaks French and German, Chinese and Russian, Japanese and Arabic, Swahili and Spanish, and hundreds of other languages. We can probably survive, as we have in the past by expecting everyone else to do things our way, but that expectation is no longer feasible if we want to continue to lead. We must develop a better understanding of other cultures, a task that entails learning to speak the languages of other nations.”1 In the years since Hodges remarks were made the world has become an increasingly smaller place. A person can go almost anywhere in the
Korth, D., & Carlson, O., & Webster, M., & Jensen, C. G. (2007, June), Preparing Engineers For A Global Industry Through Language Training Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2555
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