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Speaking the Language of Business: A New Degree at Montclair State Univ.

Montclair State University's Language, Business & Culture Major promotes the importance of language and culture studies in an increasingly global society

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

For a country like Italy, which according to ICE figures brings as much as 8.9% of its export market overseas towards the United States, the creation of these innovative educational programs is a brilliant validation of international appeal. Beyond that, they simply represent an effective hands-on way for adventurous individuals to integrate cultural, educational, economic, and societal factors across borders. In this interview Prof. Enza Antenos tells us all about it.

If you were to take a poll in the streets of, let’s say, Milan, or Florence, or Rome, asking Italians what the most important language for business might be, we’d be willing to bet you’d collect only one answer: English. It’s no secret  that English is the most commonly spoken language in the world, and in countries like Italy,  being comfortable with its vernacular is easily among the best things one can do to increase the value of their own human capital, but what can we consider worthwhile competition in a country like the US, where English is the native tongue?

Well, if we contemplate the work of folks like Dr. Enza Antenos, director of the Montclair State University Language, Business & Culture Major, the answers seem to immediately come alive. Let us explain how:

The program, which actually has five separate concentrations–students can select from Arabic, French, German, Italian or Spanish–aims to provide a cultural and linguistic counterpart to a business-oriented education. The Montclair State program coordinated by Professor Antenos is among a limited few North American degree programs of this nature, leading the field with the cross-functional, multi-lateral educational pathways it represents. More specifically, the Italian concentration is arguably among the most competitive, comprehensive and impressive multi-lateral educational endeavors to exist outside of Italy.

For a country like Italy, which according to ICE figures brings as much as 8.9% of its export market overseas towards the United States, the creation of these wonderful educational programs is a brilliant validation of international appeal. Beyond that, they simply represent an effective hands-on way for adventurous individuals to integrate cultural, educational, economic, and societal factors across borders.

Given the immense value we place on such educational efforts, we asked Enza Antenos herself to provide us with a little more context and insight as regards the concept that she and her colleagues have been nurturing at Montclair State. She was kind enough to sit down and talk to us, producing the following interview.

What would you identify as the industry sectors that are most attractive to a prospective Italian Business and Culture student? Why?
“Students are attracted to two of the pillars synonymous with Made in Italy: food and fashion. They are the sectors that students know and with which they have direct and regular contact: they know the brands and purchase the products, so there is a direct and immediate connection to their lives. When students inquire about internships, they tend to gravitate toward food companies. Who can blame them? In fact, in the greater New York area, Italian cuisine continues to rank as the most popular ethnic foodStudents at Montclair State, through a Business Italian Style project sponsored by the Inserra Chair of Italian and Italian American Studies, have already had opportunities to investigate first-hand the Made in Italy pillars and subsequently also examined the food sector in greater depth. Data available from the Italian Trade Agency rank the food sector in the North East third, after furniture and fashion. It is our responsibility to provide a comprehensive representation of all sectors (mechanical, automotive, chemical, to name only a few) and pique student interest by illustrating Italian excellencies that are, in fact, unknown.”

How important do you consider linguistic capital in the world’s current business climate?
“Scholars agree that “language is not only a tool of communication, it is culturally embodied and socially embedded. It does not mirror but shapes reality.” The linguistic capital is significant, and in a business environment, one must be able to successfully negotiate the language-culture nexus. Knowledge of business terminology is clearly of utmost importance, however, what is equally important is knowing how to re-conceptualize the meaning of a linguistic system into the target culture.

To this end, companies that first relied on translation alone to introduce products and brands to a foreign market, now understand that the language system alone obstructs the gateway to the global market. They have adopted different strategies, like localization (adaptation to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market), which maintain the inextricable link of language and culture.

To suggest that English is the lingua franca of business is simplistic and ignores diversity – diversity in ways of approaching business issues both culturally and linguistically.”

What do you consider most effective about a program that encourages learning on two extremely different fronts?
“Interdisciplinary programs are common, especially within different Humanities programs (e.g., literature, political science, history). Intersecting the disciplinary silos is, however, rare. A program that is designed to integrate language, business and culture, to provide business students with the “soft” skills (for example: communication, writing, problem-solving) and those of language with the “hard” skills in core business courses, offers a balanced and comprehensive degree.

It addresses the skills employers look for in students. Let’s face it, since the economic crisis of 2008, this is the number one reason students go to university: to secure a better job. Prior to the Great Recession, it was the academic pursuit of learning about something that interests them. This degree program, I would like to think, can converge academic interest and professional practicality.”

Dr. Enza Antenos and Montclair State students

Can you provide an example of what you consider the perfect interaction between a study of Italian language and culture and that of business?
“Don’t we already explore Italian language and culture and that of business? Look at the numerous articles published in La Voce that already evidence this convergence through “Made in Italy”–the epitome of creativity, innovation, design and quality. I think fashion designer Tiziano Zorzan summed it up best in the “Business Italian Style” interview conducted by Montclair State students: Italians have “intellectual property in style” while Americans have it in business.

Through this degree, students will have opportunities to explore contemporary narratives of Italian language and culture through the perspective of business. It proposes a connection between the language and culture to the nation’s business and economy, and more. It will unify a student’s pre-existing knowledge of the products of a culture and their presence in the global marketplace, to the language and cultural background that is communicated by these products, bridging the pre-existing tangible goods of a nation to the cultural know-how and excellence that creates them.

The ideal culmination of this program will be an international experience (local internships with Italian companies, or perhaps even an internship in Italy): an experiential learning opportunity for the student to activate various forms of knowledge in a hands-on context that allows them to have direct contact with the professional world before graduating.”

How important is the cultural aspect within the educational model proposed by the Language, Business & Culture Major? Can you provide any examples of ways in which it is incorporated within the academic structure?
“At a conference recently, some members of the audience disapproved of a program in which Italian majors will not formally study neither Dante nor the Divine Comedy, unless, of course, it occurs within the context of ad campaigns. Italianistica as a traditional course of study is not the objective of this joint degree program.

Culture for the Italian concentration of this B.A. will analyze a modern history of Italy, a history that embraces industrial districts, locally-rooted (family) companies that are small in size (piccole e medie imprese), and founded on family traditions and values. It will also address Made in Italy, and the question of origin.

Appreciation of the differences of business culture and communications that arise from cultural diversity is a program learning goal. Two new courses created specifically for this degree, Cross-Cultural Behavior and Management and a Capstone Course, will have majors examine, assess and identify cross-cultural communication and relations.

As I mentioned previously, language and culture are inextricably linked, so students will focus on learning the culture and communicating for professional purposes.”

If you were to summarize the learning goals of the program in one sentence, what would that be?
“The B.A. in Language, Business & Culture promotes the importance of world language and culture studies in an increasingly global society and marketplace, and provides the liberal arts and business background that students need to become functioning, effective and educated citizens of the global community.”

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