Practical Ways to Integrate Literature into Spanish for International Business Courses

Article excerpt

Abstract

In general, language for business courses do not include the study of literary texts, despite significant research that demonstrates the value of literature as a way to gain competence in a foreign culture. Carefully selected, adapted, and programmed as a culture complement to the main textbook, literary texts can be a valuable resource in the language for business classes. Based on five years of experience in this area, this study suggests a number of literary texts that have been integrated successfully into the commercial Spanish program, as well as a series of topics and questions for class discussion.

Introduction

In the field of foreign language education at the postsecondary level, one of the most important developments in recent years is the interest generated by programs of language for specific purposes, in particular for international trade. The new programs are generally built around language for business classes, whose content and objectives are significantly different from those of the traditional areas of specialization such as literature and linguistics. As a result, language for business classes seldom include the study of literature, although there is a substantial body of research that makes a very strong case for the use of the literary text as the basis for the acquisition of foreign culture. The present study briefly reviews the argument in favor of including literature in Spanish for business classes, and suggests a wide range of topics where literature can be a very useful tool to present-and discuss-cultural and business-related issues pertinent to the Spanish-speaking world. The works included in the present study, the topics suggested for class discussion, and the way to relate them to current events are based on approximately five years of experience in the use of literary texts in commercial Spanish courses.

The growing demand for language for business programs has resulted in a rift within foreign language departments, where the prevailing view is that business and literature are fields without any common ground (Carney, 1998, p. 116). The same gap, however, does not hold true in other academic disciplines. A number of law and business schools have long recognized the value of literature as a complement to the more technical aspects of the traditional curriculum.1 Links between literature and business have found practical classroom applications as well as valid areas of research. Business students in a number of universities have benefited from the observations of a wide range of authors whose insight into the human condition transcends time and historical context. Clemens and Mayer (1987) used classic literature, from ancient Greek to contemporary American writers, to examine different issues in leadership. "The reason the classics are so compelling," stated the authors, "is that they are about universal human problems and situations. Our premise is that the heroes of this literature mirror our own humanity, our strengths and frailties, our ability to manage" (p. xvii). Although the texts selected were not always directly related to business situations, the authors considered that the behavior of characters as diverse as Achilles, King Lear, and Willy Loman provides valuable lessons for today's students and executives alike. Puffer (1996) saw in literature a useful vehicle through which transnational executives could gain a much needed understanding of foreign cultures (p. xiii). Her book, an anthology with a mix of management articles and literary texts, includes selections from several well-known writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Horacio Quiroga among them. In Business in Literature, Burden and Mock (1988) emphasized the value of the literary text as a reflection of social conditions of a particular period in history, as well as the writer's keen powers of observation (p. xx).

In foreign languages, literature has yet to find its way into the language for business class. …