| Fourteen employees of Hyundai Engineering & Construction gathered at a meeting room at 7 p.m. July 9 at headquarters in Seoul to study Spanish. They were in their 20s to 40s, learning how to speak the language with common phrases for food.
They were practicing how to have a successful dinner with a Spanish business partner. The class started in April this year and runs four times a week.
Amid a sluggish domestic construction market, builders are turning to overseas business prospects. Construction orders secured abroad reached 32.1 billion U.S. dollars in the first half of this year, and outstanding total orders surpassed 500 billion dollars. With Korean builders riding another overseas construction boom, they are launching education services for staff to foster overseas experts, obtain more orders, and strengthen competitiveness.
Foreign-language courses are one of their efforts. In addition to classes on English, those on Spanish and Arabic are being offered to help Korean builders advance into the Latin American and Middle Eastern markets.
After receiving an order worth 2.99 billion dollars last month from Venezuela to build a oil refinery there, Hyundai launched French and Spanish classes for employees. Language classes have been diversified from just those on English conversation since 2007. The application for the Spanish class was closed 10 minutes after opening.
Kwon Hye-ryeong, an employee at Hyundai`s plant business division who took the Spanish class, said, "Many employees showed huge interest in the class in line with increasing South American projects. Though I won`t be using the language immediately, I started it to prepare for any future situations."
Other construction companies are also aggressively launching language courses. Hanwha Engineering and Construction operates H-Academy, an English course where students are taught individually. The company has in-house bilingual speakers as teachers. Hanwha also has an Arabic course made to prepare for the housing deal worth 7.75 billion dollars in Bismayah signed with Iraq.
Domestic builders are strengthening language education partially due to intensifying competition for orders. According to a report released by GS Engineering and Construction`s think tank, among the 26 recent bids of construction companies and another 26 potential bids for Mideast construction projects, five (19.2 percent) were by Korean builders.
Fostering communication skills in scope and scale is a precondition to stay ahead in the global market. Yang Yeong-bu, a general manager at Hyundai`s thermoelectric power plant in Libya, said, "While new orders used to mostly come from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, we`re now receiving them from Colombia and Venezuela. We`re increasingly feeling the need to learn Spanish and French."