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Language department striving to fill communication gap





As Fort Hays State University looks to further its global reach, the department of modern languages is working to better prepare students for global careers.

The department has begun offering new, industry-specific classes based on increasing employment needs worldwide. And the classes, such as medical Spanish and English as a Foreign Language, are proving popular with students at home and abroad, said Dan Kulmala, department chairman.

The EFL program, which was launched two years ago at FHSU's partner schools in China, has more than 300 students.

"We have, here, somebody studying Spanish, German and French and wants to teach those languages," Kulmala said. "Internationally, they have people who want to teach English, and there's huge job opportunities. I get people, organizations, contacting me every week letting me know they will hire someone now to teach English internationally."

FHSU officials are hopeful the program will continue to grow, he said, noting he would like to expand the EFL curriculum to more of the university's international partners.

"The job market is huge," he said. "And I'd really love to have Fort Hays State get on top of those opportunities."

Business English also has proven to be a popular degree program at international partner schools.

Another new opportunity for Virtual College students is a class teaching medical Spanish. Demand for the program "has just exploded in size" since it was started this summer, and Kulmala said he would like to offer more sections of the class if faculty can be added.

Medical Spanish also could be beneficial for on-campus students, and for future doctors or nurses, he said. A student taking the class told him about a situation in which she was able to communicate with a Spanish-speaking patient in medical terms about her condition.

"It just put (the patient) at ease to know there's somebody here who can understand a bit of her language and make her feel comfortable," Kulmala said.

"I think that's what one is after. We're really after effective communication skills."

Already, he has been approached by a doctor at Hays Medical Center who is interested in starting a partnership with FHSU modern language students.

As society becomes more global, highly technical industries are seeing more of a need for skilled interpreters, who could talk through a medical procedure or translate legal or business proceedings.

"Translating software cannot effectively translate medical terminology, legal terminology, government terminology," he said. "And those are the high-end areas where the employment opportunities are very strong."