Monday, March 28, 2011

Mary K. Long, Teaching Business Languages with a Humanist's Sensibility

by Ann Abbott

I have always said that I am a better writer and teacher of Spanish community service learning, business Spanish and social entrepreneurship because of my background in literary analysis, not in spite of it. 

My dissertation was titled, "Transitional Discourses: The Psychosomatic Fiction of Juan José Millás." In the chapter I wrote about Millás' novel, Tonto, muerto, bastardo e invisible, I included one section on "A Corporate Topography," which explored the spatial representations of power within the corporate discourse presented in the novel and in the protagonist's actual disruptions of the spatial relations at his job. In the final chapter, I analyzed Volver a casa. And in that chapter, I analyzed the "work" of literature in a section called "Metafiction and Materiality."

Then when I graduated and began teaching, I twice taught an undergraduate course called "El trabajo y los sistemas de poder" about Medieval and Early Modern Spanish texts. So looking back, I now realize that I was always interested in business studies, even when I was working within literature.

This is a very long way of introducing the work of Mary K. Long, who also has her PhD in literary studies and now works in literature, business language studies and translation studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Mary co-edited a recent book from Vanderbilt UP, Mexico Reading the United States"The thirteen original essays in this collection explore the Mexican point of view from the 1920s to the present in order to register often unheard voices in the complex cross-border, cross-cultural reality shared by the two nations. The contributors, all of whom have personal experience with the challenges of bi-cultural and bi-national living, discuss travel writing, novels, film, essays, political cartoons, and Mexican sociocultural movements. In a time of ever-increasing migration of capital and human beings, this book turns on its head the usual perspective of U.S. economic and cultural dominance in order to deepen understanding of the bi-national relationship." In addition to the introduction, Mary wrote a chapter titled, "Writing Home: The United States through the Eyes of Traveling Mexican Artists and Writers, 1920-1940." From the title, description and Mary's chapter title, you can see that she brings to business language studies a unique ability to understand and appreciate multiple perspectives and power relations.

Mary also gave us information about two recent collections:

  • Consistent Incorporation of Professional Terminologies into the World's Languages: The Linguistic Engine of a Global Culture. Michel, Gueldry, editor. Edwin Mellen Press, 2010. (I was pleasantly surprised to see that the book was reviewed by Larry Scher, from the University of Illinois.) Unfortunately the link doesn't show you the table of contents (how is that possible?), but I'll share just a few chapters: "Languages, Culture, and Education for Nonproliferation Policy"; "Lost and Found in Translation: Integrating Languages into health Care for Improved Health Outcomes"; "The 'Cultural Turn' in Business and Management Discourse: Political and Ethical Considerations"; "Issues in Language Policies for the Labor Force in Developing Countries."
  • How Globalizing Professions Deal with National Languages: Studies in Cultural Studies and Cooperation. Michel, Gueldry, editor. Edwin Mellen Press, 2010. My friend, David J. Shook, has a chapter in the collection: "First-year Spanish Textbooks: Towards Connecting Students, Professional Goals, Language, and Culture. Mary also has a chapter: "Spanish for the Professions Degree Programs in the United States: History and Current Practice." This chapter, for me, complements Christine Uber Grosse's work, and echoes languages for specific purposes (LSP) importance, achievements and challenges. In addition to the valuable information in the chapter about LSP programs in the US, I would like to quote a few noteworthy passages from Mary's article:
    • "Thus Spanish for any 'professional use' is much more than a technical course an din fact requires both the critical thinking skills and cultural knowledge that are at the heart of traditional humanities education in language and literature. What has changed from the traditional approach to language and literature is not the teaching of literature, culture, critical thinking and textual analysis, but rather the sorts of texts and situations being analyzed (the categories have been expanded beyond literature); the way literature is read and increased sources of cultural information." (37)
    • "University of Colorado students...prepare multimedia group presentations on business aspects of the Hispanic world as well as individual presentations focusing on sustainable business practices and non-governmental agencies in specific countries.... They also write a career research paper, and in the final course for the major prepare a professional portfolio that includes translations of a variety of texts as well as summaries and analysis of articles about current business issues in the Hispanic world." (38)
    • Spanish for Professions degree programs have a solid, proven record of combining the many strengths of professional fields with the life values of liberal arts programs. It is expected that the field will continue to prosper." (42)
    • In sum, this is a chapter that I will often refer to.
Mary's work is a good example of what business language studies can look like when a scholar who is well-grounded in the theories and methodologies of her area of PhD preparation brings those same tools (and others--and in Mary's case her personal experiences from living and working both the US and Mexico) to bear on LSP.

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