ALIS language degree sells cultural expertise

Tech’s status as a giant in engineering has a tendency to overshadow its liberal arts program. One program, ALIS, aims to put Tech at the forefront of foreign language studies.

The Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies (ALIS) program allows students to pursue a degree in a foreign language. ALIS is the newest program in the School of Modern Languages, created in response to a growing student demand.

“It’s basically a language degree at […] Tech, which we’ve never had before. Students could get a certificate or a minor but couldn’t continue with language as their focus of study,” said Dr. David Shook, adviser and upper-division coordinator for the ALIS program.

Started in Fall 2010, ALIS began with two students and offered two languages. Now, more than forty students pursue ALIS degrees in Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, German and French.

In addition to 42 hours of core requirements, an ALIS degree requires 33 hours of upper-level modern language coursework and 15 hours of cluster electives. Cluster electives can be used towards a certificate, minor or another major.

Double-majoring is an especially popular option among ALIS students. There are many educational and professional advantages   to combining foreign language proficiency with another concentration, which is often viewed as a marketable quality by future employers.

For instance, many ALIS students study Spanish and biomedical engineering with a career in medicine in mind. Japanese and computer science is also a fairly common combination. Almost half of ALIS students are pursuing two degrees at Tech.

With an ALIS degree, Tech students can make themselves more marketable to employers, especially if they’re interested in working abroad.

“[Students can say] ‘I’ve got the language skills, I’ve got some cultural understanding that I can bring to the discussion’, and I think that moves students up the ladder in terms of their viability to be successful in a profession,” Shook said.

Language and cultural understanding is a frequently overlooked aspect of business. Particularly when marketing to another country, mistakes of this nature have brought embarrassment to companies in the past.

As a particularly infamous example, KFC’s attempt to translate “Finger lickin’ good!” for its Chinese audience failed miserably in the 1980s, translating instead as “Eat your fingers off.”

ALIS gives students a fresh way to learn a foreign language.

“The language core is different in that we don’t have lots of courses like ‘13th Century Golden Age Literature.’ For example, our courses are more designed around content areas. We have courses in societies, cultures, arts, media, industry and technology within the cultures,” Shook said.

The emphasis on content area is tailored for Tech students who may have interests in language as well as another academic discipline. The ALIS program seeks to integrate the many interests a student may have into one program.

The ALIS program is not like other universities’ college curricula. ALIS puts a strong emphasis on applying language and cultural awareness to situations that students may find themselves in in the future.

The website for the degree program states its aim in providing students with the competitive edge needed to meet 21st century language requirements of government agencies, multi-national industries and social organizations.

For students interested in  the ALIS degree, a strong commitment to gaining expertise in a new language is important. Graduating from a top engineering school with a degree in a language shows a mastery of one of the most highly-sought marketable skills.

“I would love for [interested students] to come in and talk to us … I think [ALIS] works with so many degrees here at […] Tech … students are really free to say ‘Ok, here’s a second possibility that I may not have considered, actually graduating with two degrees and one of those degrees being in language here from […] Tech,” Shook said.