As the World Shrinks Executives Hone Language Abilities

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THE foreign language industry is booming, as more American executives jump on the bilingual bandwagon to do business across the border and overseas.

Berlitz International Inc., headquartered in Princeton, N.J., reports that enrollment among executives in the United States increased 27 percent between 1987 and 1992. With more than 328 offices in 31 countries, Berlitz leads the field in teaching foreign languages to executives, says Patricia Sze, director of marketing for Berlitz.

Second-place Inlingua, which is privately owned, also experienced a steady increase in enrollment among executives over the last few years, says Cynthia Samaras, executive director of the Inlingua School of Languages in Boston.

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``Events around the world have definitely changed the perspective of Americans regarding learning a [foreign] language,'' Ms. Sze says.

The most popular languages among executives are Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, and Japanese, in that order.

``The passage of NAFTA is definitely fueling the demand for Spanish,'' Sze says. Spanish accounted for more than one-third of Berlitz enrollments last year and is still growing. Sara Lee Corporation, one of Berlitz's biggest clients, has been sending a steady flow of executives for Spanish training, since it recently opened branches in Mexico and elsewhere.

ART of the reason Spanish is so popular, Sze says, is because people can justify the expense and the time to learn the language. Not only is Spanish helpful in international business, but it is spoken widely in places such as Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and parts of Texas. And people frequently use Spanish to enhance a vacation.

English is still the No. 1 language taught worldwide. It has become ``the language of commerce throughout the world,'' Ms. Samaras says.

Berlitz reports that Russian is growing the fastest in popularity among American executives. Russian language classes increased from 1 percent of Berlitz's total enrollment in 1989 to 3 percent in 1992, Sze says. Berlitz has one office in Russia.

Eastern Europe is the fastest expanding market for language schools, according to Berlitz. Demand is so great in Poland, the company opened a second office in Warsaw, Sze says. The language school has also seen an increase in demand for training in Czech and Hungarian.

``Chinese back in the mid '80s looked like it was going to be hot,'' Sze says. But the enthusiasm died off after the government's suppression of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Enrollment for Chinese lessons has been running at roughly 1 percent every year since, she says. Inlingua, however, has seen enrollment in Chinese pick up over the last six months, because of trade prospects between the US and China.

The fall of the Berlin Wall temporarily raised the demand for German language lessons, Samaras says. French and Italian tend to be languages more associated with leisure travel than with business, Sze says. More people learn Japanese and German for job-related reasons.

Arabic's popularity goes up and down depending on politics, Sze says. It was popular during the Gulf war.

Both companies say they are experiencing an increase in demand for cross-cultural training, and they are beginning to formalize training courses.

Cross-cultural training teaches how to live in a foreign country, the ``dos and don'ts'' of conducting business, the differences in values between cultures, and how people in a particular country react to Americans.

Demand for cross-cultural training at Berlitz has ``skyrocketed,'' Sze says. The company, which currently offers cross-cultural classes on an ad hoc basis, plans to open a separate division for cross-cultural training next year.

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