Beyond the Classroom: Bringing Foreign Language Learning to Your Office (or a nearby coffee shop!)

Schaeffler Spanish Class

Schaeffler Group’s Wednesday morning Spanish Class at “Mama’s Coffee House.” From left to right: Alexander Peter, Horia Kraus, and Brian Stettler pictured with their instructor, Craig Snyder, President of The Language Academy of the Carolinas. Missing from Photo: Claus Bauer, Markus Eferdinger and Marco Kohler.

by Liz Rothaus Bertrand
  

It’s a familiar problem: how do you find the time to learn a new skill when your day is already squeezed between a busy work schedule and family obligations? When it comes to foreign language learning, some companies are giving their employees a helping hand by bringing classes directly to them.

That’s what Schaeffler Group, a global company that supplies bearings, engine systems and other precision components to various industries, has decided to do. The company’s North American Headquarters are based in Fort Mill, SC but with more than 80,000 total employees and 170 locations around the world, its reach extends far beyond the Carolinas.

Brian Stettler, a Sales Engineer, began studying Spanish about a year and a half ago, thanks to Schaeffler Group’s innovative program. When he started classes, he was serving as a Product Line Manager for North America, with responsibilities that included customers and plants in Mexico. Even though his foreign contacts spoke English well, he realized that “sometimes a little bit is lost in the translation.” Learning Spanish has enabled him to capture details in written correspondence that he might have missed in an English summary and forge better relationships with his foreign partners by directly communicating in Spanish.

The Pennsylvania-born Stettler knows something about learning foreign languages. He already speaks fluent German, having worked at the company’s worldwide headquarters outside Nuremberg, Germany for six years.

“We’re a global company and Schaeffler recognizes the importance of being able to communicate better with each other,” says Stettler. “Language and culture are closely tied together and it’s important to recognize and respect those cultural differences. As you do that, you’re better able to work together. I think especially for Americans, where we’re not real involved with foreign languages – if you want to be stereotypical about things – I think there’s a level of respect that comes when we try to communicate in a foreign language.”

Stettler learned this first-hand when he was on a business trip, visiting a supplier in Mexico. When he arrived, a driver took him from the airport to the plant and he decided to try out his new Spanish skills during the hour-long ride. After a normal day of activities and meetings, he learned over dinner that the Plant Manager had actually been warned by the driver to watch what he said, since there was somebody who spoke Spanish in the group.

“It was an exaggerated impression,” he says with a laugh but adds that even speaking some Spanish “really breaks down barriers. The little bit I knew – it allowed them to warm up to me… they tried that much harder to help me with what we hoped to accomplish.”

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Schaeffler Group’s Spanish and German courses are open to all of its employees, free of charge, with the approval of a manager, says Stettler. The weekly courses, taught by instructors from The Language Academy of the Carolinas, take place at or near the company’s headquarters. Recognizing that learning a new language is a valuable professional skill, the company also helps support employees by allowing them to use some paid work time for their classes.

Naturally, learning a language also requires extra commitment from employees. For Stettler, this means his Wednesday mornings start a little earlier so that he can attend a 7 – 9 am class at a nearby coffee shop. He also tries to put in at least another hour or two of study on his own during the week.

“I think it’s a terrific program,” says Stettler, “I just wish I had a little more time to devote to it.”

For more information on Business Programs, contact The Language Academy of the Carolinas at 704.548.0048 or info@carolinalanguage.com.