Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 CIBER Business Languages Conference

by Ann Abbott

I always enjoy coming to the CIBER Business Languages Conferences to see friends and pick up new ideas. This conference has been especially energizing. Being in Charleston, South Carolina is a nice break from the long Illinois winter we had this year, and having all the sessions and events in the same hotel makes for a nice, intimate atmosphere.

Here is the conference agenda, and I will highlight a few things from today's schedule.

  • Plenary panel on "Directions for Research on Languages for Business and the Professions." It was a good idea to start the conference with a focus on research.  If we want to raise the profile of this area, we need to raise our expectations for the scholarly output, too.  Mike Doyle is advocating for a change of wording and suggests that we call what we do Business Language Studies. That's important, as long as we also do the research, and he mapped that out on a slide. I think his piece in the upcoming special issues of Modern Languages Journal will explain that in more detail. Maria Antonia Cowles focused on curriculum development and called for participatory action research. Steve Sacco called for us to teach business languages, especially in the less commonly taught languages, in a more coordinated manner and less in the piece-meal fashion in which it takes place now. He had a strong conclusion linked to the very premise of CIBERs and their federal funding.
  • Darcy Lear. Darcy and I presented together, but on two different topics. Darcy described many aspects of the Spanish for the Professions Minor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel-Hill, and she spoke in-depth about the Spanish for Journalism course she teaches. She told how she integrates service-learning into the course (they do non-profession-specific CSL work, but their journalistic work for the class is for their community partner or describes it. In other words, they may do ESL tutoring, but they would then write a press release for the school or write an article for publication in the Spanish-language press about the students, program or school. (Thanks, Darcy, for also sharing how you use Comunidades with your students.) The audience was very interested in seeing the posters her students must prepare and the finished, published pieces that emerge from their course work. 
  • My session. I then spoke about teaching social media marketing in my business Spanish class. At the outset, I told the audience that I wanted them to walk away with some activities in hand and with a framework for teaching the "soft skill" of transcultural competence. I think the information was well-received and that people recognize social media marketing as an important skill to teach ourselves as well to our students.
  • Marta Chamorro. I met Marta at ACTFL in Boston. We got together for breakfast one morning to chat because we had a lot in common, including our teaching of Business Spanish. Marta spoke about her work with the four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) in her Business Spanish course and included videos of our students' work.  I think that the feature that most impressed people in the audience is that her students must read Spanish-language newspapers for ten minutes every single day of the semester (yes, on Saturdays and Sundays, too) and then spend five minutes writing up a very short summary and analysis. Those all go into the portfolio of all their work for the semester. Marta has high expectations for her students and also gives them lots of support and inspiration. Everyone was impressed by her work and her energy.
  • E. Teel Evans. Teel presented the work done by her students in a sixth-semester Business Spanish course (i.e., her students have already had a previous introductory Business Spanish course). She showed the extensive and intensive work that her students did to plan an international business, and the best part was seeing that one of the students built on that work and actually opened his own business: Spanish Vines.
  • Nancy Buchan. Our lunchtime keynote speaker talked about the research-based Communication and Social Interaction Style (CSIS) assessment. The test could be a very good teaching tool, not to reinforce stereotypes of direct/indirect cultures for example, but instead to help students examine their own cultural beliefs on several dimensions in comparison to other possible perspectives and practices. (Although I will admit that I pointed my finger at Darcy when the speaker described one "type" as someone who is direct, unafraid of confrontation, believe in schedules, adheres to deadlines and wants plenty of space during interactions. She never pointed her finger at me as any one "type;" maybe I'm more direct and confrontational than her!)
  • Maida Watson. I was so happy to hear Maida present on entrepreneurship in foreign languages. She, Darcy and I all received grants from the programs on our campuses that were funded by the Kauffman Foundation, and we developed entrepreneurship courses with them. I teach "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" at UIUC, Darcy Lear teaches a freshman seminar on "Spanish and Entrepreneurship" at UNC, Chapel-Hill and Maida taught a course, in English, at Florida International University about entrepreneurship in foreign languages. Maida's paper will be published in a forthcoming book on Specialized Languages in a Global World.
Tomorrow will be another good day of sessions, and on Saturday morning I will attend Orlando Kelm's workshop on technology in business language teaching.

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