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ASU professor offers tips for multilingual job seekers

Lorena Cuya Gavilano on how to leverage (and demonstrate) your language, cultural competencies


Portrait of ASU Associate Professor Lorena Cuya Gavilano.

ASU Associate Professor and Fulbright Scholar Lorena Cuya Gavilano leads the Spanish for the Professions certificate program in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at ASU's downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Maureen Roen/ASU

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May 31, 2022

For students or graduates entering the job market who have multilingual skills and cultural competencies, Arizona State University Associate Professor Lorena Cuya Gavilano has some kudos — and advice about how to leverage those talents.

“We live in a globalized, interconnected world, and it's very important to know how to communicate with different cultures. It's not just about the language, but also about the intercultural relationships,” said Cuya Gavilano, who teaches in the Spanish for the Professions certificate program and is a newly tenured associate professor in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

Cuya Gavilano was recently was chosen to receive a 2022–2023 Fulbright Scholar Award for her project “Andean Border Thinking and Chinese Migration to Peru.” She has been teaching at the collegiate level since 2002 and said that as a professor of Spanish language, literature and culture, her fundamental goals for students are not necessarily about the language itself, but about “expanding the cultural horizons of my students and developing their critical thinking while stimulating their social sensibility."

“My teaching gives my students the means to interpret, apply and communicate information about the Hispanic world that matters not only in the academic context, but beyond the classroom,” Cuya Gavilano said.

In fall 2021, Cuya Gavilano shared insights and tips with future language teachers about how to make their teaching applications the strongest they could be, as part of a panel of experts at the career guidance site Zippia.com.

Recently, she shared with ASU News about how students from any major or prospective career path might market themselves as multilingual employees — and how multilingual skills can give applicants an edge over other job candidates.

Question: To start off, would you recommend that university students pursue multilingual education? Why?

Answer: Absolutely. It's not just about the language, but also about the intercultural relationships that you're going to be embedding in when you're working. It is very important to learn that through language and also to be able to communicate with other people in their native language, because in that way, you can really get the subtleties of their thoughts and their conversations and that kind of thing.

Q: What kinds of employers might place extra value on multilingual skills?

A: Well, especially if the company is in a multicultural city, which most cities are these days, or if we talk about big corporations, transnational industries, they may be looking for somebody who is multilingual. You can see that in the different websites where they publicize their ads looking for different positions — and most of them say a second language is required, or it's a highly recommended preference.

Q: Are there certain professions where these types of skills are more valuable?

A: I think health professionals for sure, especially here in the U.S. with LatinxLatinx is a gender neutral term preferred by some to refer to a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture, or from Latin America. populations, you see a lot of patients who need translation or need interpretation. Also law. Lawyers need to communicate with their clients, especially those who are focusing on immigration issues in the Latin American world and the U.S. People who are interested in programming — there are a lot of very good, very well-paid positions that are asking for people who have studied Spanish, for example, as a second language, linguists who are able to code and to create programs for translation and that kind of thing.

Q: How should someone present or pitch their multilingual knowledge?

A: First of all, pay attention to the ad. Why is this organization requiring a multilingual or bilingual person? And then talk about that in the letter so you make sure they know how you can satisfy that need.

The other thing that I certainly recommend to bilingual students, or multilingual students, is to create a portfolio in the second language, so they can demonstrate how they have used that knowledge. I think that's very important, and you can refer to that in your letter. Share a direct link.

Also, try to portray yourself as a person who can make those cultural connections with different clients and different enterprises abroad. It's about building bridges and growing your company or the service that you're working for.

Q: So making it clear that you have the ability to make connections, that you are prepared to engage in outreach and things like that?

A: Exactly. It's that, and it's all the innovation that comes with that. The person who is more capable to create those connections among different companies within the country and abroad is the person who is really able to be successful have successful intercultural communication. That is key.

Q: When competing with other multilingual applicants, what can someone do to stand out from the crowd?

A: Well, I think that the devil is in the details, right? So you really have to show that your skill is advanced.

Try to present a letter in the second language (and consider including these points):

  • Talk about the varieties of language that you can manage. Take Spanish, for example, because it's not the same in Mexico or in Chile. There are some variations in vocab and pronunciation.
  • Make an opportunity to give a demo talking in the language, or give a sample of your work. You can do it during your interview. And you can absolutely put that kind of sample in your portfolio.
  • If you have studied abroad, talk about your very particular experience and what you gained from that.
  • Talk about any internship you have successfully completed, especially if you completed it in a second language. This is very, very important.

Q: So it's not just about showing you have the skill set, but showing that you've already applied it and are applying it in real time?

A: You'll have to show that you really know the language, and you have to show how you used it, how your skills were useful in whatever enterprise you were involved in.

Q: Is it essential that you have enough language skills to do your entire job in that second language? Or is it more necessary for you to show that you have this language skill that can augment your job duties?

A: Again, it depends on the job. If they're looking for somebody who is multilingual or bilingual, you do need to show proficiency. If you are just applying for any other regular job that does not specify needing these skills, it is a plus. It's not just about speaking the language, it’s about the skills that will come with it.

For programming, for example, say people who work for Google or Facebook, it's absolutely essential to know the subtleties of language. Same thing for lawyers or doctors. If you misrepresent something in your interpretation, you can be creating a lot of trouble for some people, so that's very important.

Written by Nathaniel Boyle, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts student marketing/communication specialist (ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Class of 2022)

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