Do you need to speak the local language?


Duncan
I think it would be useful to pool our thoughts about how far English-language degrees in countries where English is not the main business language prepare students for work there. I'm prompted to this ideas by a recent post (http://www.find-mba.com/board/34703) about a common dilemma: an applicant has a place on a well-designed programme at an accredited and well-respected business school, where the content seems to meet their needs. However, it's in a country where English is not the business langauge: what are their job prospects?

In most European countries, secondary students learn English. However, only 38% of Europeans have enough English to have a conversation and, obviously, only a minority of those will be able to do business in English. Using the European common framework (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_European_Framework_of_Reference_for_Languages#Common_reference_levels)you only need A2 or B1 in a language to be able to converse but, for example, you need at least C1 to enter most ranked graduate programmes in English and most employers of MBAs will look for a high C1 or C2.

In mainland Europe, the level of English varies greatly between company and country. However, there are some general points:

- Some international firms work in English very often. I think the best example of this is investment banks, where the clients and staff are often international.
- Some firms have English as an internal working language, but the local language is needed to work with clients. If you're in not a client-facing role, then you might not need the customer-facing language. One example that comes to mind for me is a very experienced Northwestern MBA with a second masters in eco-innovation who worked in Paris for Alstom. He had A2 or B1 French, enough for small-talk, but was able to use English. To progress in the organisation, however, he would have needed to learn French because (even if English was an official company language) the language of the HQ is often preferred.
- Other firms might use English as an international working language, but will use the local language. A great example of this are consulting firms. Even if clients can understand English to some level, they will always prefer to work in their own language because they can express themselves more clearly. Clients will often expect the consultant to make the effort to cross any language barrier.
- Of course most firms use the local language(s) only.

This means that the demand for business school graduates who don't speak the local language is limited, and their openings for promotion are also limited. That's especially the case in organisations with an older age-profile, since the teaching of English has become very widespread only in the last 20 years or so.

Indeed, this varies by country. Sweden, Malta, the Netherlands and Denmark stand out as countries where large numbers of people speak English at a high level (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:English_foreign_and_second_language_EU.jpg), especially among those under 40.

Over the last decades, more and more educational provision in English has developed, both language-teaching and masters programmes taught partly or fully in English. Generally, these programmes are for students who have the local languages but want to to able to work internationally, or for foreign students who want an international experience before returning home.

Generally, these English-language masters degrees do not prepare international students well to change country, but there are some exceptions. Some programmes require a certain level of the local language from students, and build in local language skills. A good example of this is the Essingen MBA (http://www.hs-esslingen.de/en/the-university/faculties/graduate-school/masters-programs/mba-in-international-industrial-management.html), one of the oldest MBAs in Germany. Students there need to arrive at the A2 or B1 level, and then the course includes a major element of language learning.

Generally, students with beginners' or intermediate language skills cannot gain professional language fluency during their time studying without this sort of language learning being built into the programme. Working in English, generally living and socialising with other students who do not also have the native language, means that international students develop their language skills slowly.

This means that for most students they will be able to find work in mainland Europe only if they are at the B2 or C1 level before they start their studies.

Of course that's the case for *most* people and we can expect some exceptions (like, say, an investment bank in Holland). I think the exceptions will interest readers of this board, and I'd love to hear other people's experiences and thoughts.

PS I want to propose an alternative to an MBA for people who are really committed to moving to a new country where they do not speak the language: Take first an intensive language course, and then take a masters degree in the target language. That will give you not only general language skills, and the functional vocabulary for business which a language course would normally not involve, but it will also put you in a course for a year with business students from the target country. In particular, in France, Spain, Germany. Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy.... in the all the major European economies there are top-tier specialised masters with excellent outcomes. Take one of those, and then maybe come back for an EMBA when you are 35 or 36.

PPS Take a look at this graduate's account of their MBA in Germany: http://find-mba.com/board/europe/my-mba-experience-at-mannheim-business-school-44430 . Despite speaking C1 German (operationally fluent, but not at the highest level) this person still could not compete effectively in mainstream German firms and, more importantly, hated the German working culture.

[Edited by Duncan on Nov 06, 2015]

I think it would be useful to pool our thoughts about how far English-language degrees in countries where English is not the main business language prepare students for work there. I'm prompted to this ideas by a recent post (http://www.find-mba.com/board/34703) about a common dilemma: an applicant has a place on a well-designed programme at an accredited and well-respected business school, where the content seems to meet their needs. However, it's in a country where English is not the business langauge: what are their job prospects?

In most European countries, secondary students learn English. However, only 38% of Europeans have enough English to have a conversation and, obviously, only a minority of those will be able to do business in English. Using the European common framework (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_European_Framework_of_Reference_for_Languages#Common_reference_levels)you only need A2 or B1 in a language to be able to converse but, for example, you need at least C1 to enter most ranked graduate programmes in English and most employers of MBAs will look for a high C1 or C2.

In mainland Europe, the level of English varies greatly between company and country. However, there are some general points:

- Some international firms work in English very often. I think the best example of this is investment banks, where the clients and staff are often international.
- Some firms have English as an internal working language, but the local language is needed to work with clients. If you're in not a client-facing role, then you might not need the customer-facing language. One example that comes to mind for me is a very experienced Northwestern MBA with a second masters in eco-innovation who worked in Paris for Alstom. He had A2 or B1 French, enough for small-talk, but was able to use English. To progress in the organisation, however, he would have needed to learn French because (even if English was an official company language) the language of the HQ is often preferred.
- Other firms might use English as an international working language, but will use the local language. A great example of this are consulting firms. Even if clients can understand English to some level, they will always prefer to work in their own language because they can express themselves more clearly. Clients will often expect the consultant to make the effort to cross any language barrier.
- Of course most firms use the local language(s) only.

This means that the demand for business school graduates who don't speak the local language is limited, and their openings for promotion are also limited. That's especially the case in organisations with an older age-profile, since the teaching of English has become very widespread only in the last 20 years or so.

Indeed, this varies by country. Sweden, Malta, the Netherlands and Denmark stand out as countries where large numbers of people speak English at a high level (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:English_foreign_and_second_language_EU.jpg), especially among those under 40.

Over the last decades, more and more educational provision in English has developed, both language-teaching and masters programmes taught partly or fully in English. Generally, these programmes are for students who have the local languages but want to to able to work internationally, or for foreign students who want an international experience before returning home.

Generally, these English-language masters degrees do not prepare international students well to change country, but there are some exceptions. Some programmes require a certain level of the local language from students, and build in local language skills. A good example of this is the Essingen MBA (http://www.hs-esslingen.de/en/the-university/faculties/graduate-school/masters-programs/mba-in-international-industrial-management.html), one of the oldest MBAs in Germany. Students there need to arrive at the A2 or B1 level, and then the course includes a major element of language learning.

Generally, students with beginners' or intermediate language skills cannot gain professional language fluency during their time studying without this sort of language learning being built into the programme. Working in English, generally living and socialising with other students who do not also have the native language, means that international students develop their language skills slowly.

This means that for most students they will be able to find work in mainland Europe only if they are at the B2 or C1 level before they start their studies.

Of course that's the case for *most* people and we can expect some exceptions (like, say, an investment bank in Holland). I think the exceptions will interest readers of this board, and I'd love to hear other people's experiences and thoughts.

PS I want to propose an alternative to an MBA for people who are really committed to moving to a new country where they do not speak the language: Take first an intensive language course, and then take a masters degree in the target language. That will give you not only general language skills, and the functional vocabulary for business which a language course would normally not involve, but it will also put you in a course for a year with business students from the target country. In particular, in France, Spain, Germany. Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy.... in the all the major European economies there are top-tier specialised masters with excellent outcomes. Take one of those, and then maybe come back for an EMBA when you are 35 or 36.

PPS Take a look at this graduate's account of their MBA in Germany: http://find-mba.com/board/europe/my-mba-experience-at-mannheim-business-school-44430 . Despite speaking C1 German (operationally fluent, but not at the highest level) this person still could not compete effectively in mainstream German firms and, more importantly, hated the German working culture.
quote
Duncan
There's an excellent comment on the website of the St Gallen MBA:
"It is important to remember that during the year of the MBA, it is unrealistic to go from beginner to fluent. The aim of the [HSG's compulsory German] classes is to take you from beginner to conversational or from conversational to business level German. This is an important distinction to make if your intention is to work in the German-speaking part of Europe. Many non-German speaking graduates secure work in Switzerland after graduation although this is significantly harder in Germany or Austria. However, many companies will expect to see at least conversational German or active German study on a CV. For certain industries, companies or positions fluent or business-level German will be required."

See more at http://www.mba.unisg.ch/programmes/full-time-mba/language-classes.php
There's an excellent comment on the website of the St Gallen MBA:
"It is important to remember that during the year of the MBA, it is unrealistic to go from beginner to fluent. The aim of the [HSG's compulsory German] classes is to take you from beginner to conversational or from conversational to business level German. This is an important distinction to make if your intention is to work in the German-speaking part of Europe. Many non-German speaking graduates secure work in Switzerland after graduation although this is significantly harder in Germany or Austria. However, many companies will expect to see at least conversational German or active German study on a CV. For certain industries, companies or positions fluent or business-level German will be required."

See more at http://www.mba.unisg.ch/programmes/full-time-mba/language-classes.php
quote
ralph
Thanks for the well though-out post, Duncan. I was just thinking about this issue while reading this article:

http://www.find-mba.com/article/735/mba-programs-in-germany-a-gateway-to-europe

Basically, if you have a good command of English, there are some jobs with international organizations that you can land if you do an MBA in Germany. I know that the big financial firms like Deutsche Bank or Allianz have positions that only require candidates to speak English. However, I'd imagine that working in an organization like this, you're going to hit a ceiling if you don't put conscious effort into learning the language.

I've also heard stories of international students who get recruited by these large firms to tap into networks in their home countries (a Chinese students with good connections to financial firms in China and a command of Mandarin may be in demand, for instance.) I don't know how regular this is though.

But if you wanted to tap into the core of the German economy (SMEs), you're basically going to need German.

Same's true for France, I'd think.
Thanks for the well though-out post, Duncan. I was just thinking about this issue while reading this article:

http://www.find-mba.com/article/735/mba-programs-in-germany-a-gateway-to-europe

Basically, if you have a good command of English, there are some jobs with international organizations that you can land if you do an MBA in Germany. I know that the big financial firms like Deutsche Bank or Allianz have positions that only require candidates to speak English. However, I'd imagine that working in an organization like this, you're going to hit a ceiling if you don't put conscious effort into learning the language.

I've also heard stories of international students who get recruited by these large firms to tap into networks in their home countries (a Chinese students with good connections to financial firms in China and a command of Mandarin may be in demand, for instance.) I don't know how regular this is though.

But if you wanted to tap into the core of the German economy (SMEs), you're basically going to need German.

Same's true for France, I'd think.
quote
kdelis
Thanks for the well though-out post, Duncan. I was just thinking about this issue while reading this article:

http://www.find-mba.com/article/735/mba-programs-in-germany-a-gateway-to-europe

Basically, if you have a good command of English, there are some jobs with international organizations that you can land if you do an MBA in Germany. I know that the big financial firms like Deutsche Bank or Allianz have positions that only require candidates to speak English. However, I'd imagine that working in an organization like this, you're going to hit a ceiling if you don't put conscious effort into learning the language.

I've also heard stories of international students who get recruited by these large firms to tap into networks in their home countries (a Chinese students with good connections to financial firms in China and a command of Mandarin may be in demand, for instance.) I don't know how regular this is though.

But if you wanted to tap into the core of the German economy (SMEs), you're basically going to need German.

Same's true for France, I'd think.


Totally agree on it. From my experience you can find a job in the international companies but in some point you should learn a local language.
<blockquote>Thanks for the well though-out post, Duncan. I was just thinking about this issue while reading this article:

http://www.find-mba.com/article/735/mba-programs-in-germany-a-gateway-to-europe

Basically, if you have a good command of English, there are some jobs with international organizations that you can land if you do an MBA in Germany. I know that the big financial firms like Deutsche Bank or Allianz have positions that only require candidates to speak English. However, I'd imagine that working in an organization like this, you're going to hit a ceiling if you don't put conscious effort into learning the language.

I've also heard stories of international students who get recruited by these large firms to tap into networks in their home countries (a Chinese students with good connections to financial firms in China and a command of Mandarin may be in demand, for instance.) I don't know how regular this is though.

But if you wanted to tap into the core of the German economy (SMEs), you're basically going to need German.

Same's true for France, I'd think.</blockquote>

Totally agree on it. From my experience you can find a job in the international companies but in some point you should learn a local language.
quote
ezra
Interesting, I just read this this article:

http://www.find-mba.com/article/746/a-change-of-place-mba-programs-for-the-internationally-mobile

And this part is particularly relevant to this discussion:

Thuli Skosana says that many CBS graduates who stay in Copenhagen get jobs in international firms, where fluency in Danish is not typically required.

?I think that most students will go into the multinationals, where the first language is English,? she says.

But often, more significant than the language is the development of a network, and relationship-building.

?Most of these companies are looking for skills, not language competency,? Skosana says. ?People want to know who you are, what you've done before, and what your skills are.?

I think Denmark is a little different from some other parts of Europe and especially Asia (because English fluency is so high) but it seems like many students get jobs in the multinations there, without needing Danish.
Interesting, I just read this this article:

http://www.find-mba.com/article/746/a-change-of-place-mba-programs-for-the-internationally-mobile

And this part is particularly relevant to this discussion:

<blockquote>Thuli Skosana says that many CBS graduates who stay in Copenhagen get jobs in international firms, where fluency in Danish is not typically required.

?I think that most students will go into the multinationals, where the first language is English,? she says.

But often, more significant than the language is the development of a network, and relationship-building.

?Most of these companies are looking for skills, not language competency,? Skosana says. ?People want to know who you are, what you've done before, and what your skills are.?</blockquote>
I think Denmark is a little different from some other parts of Europe and especially Asia (because English fluency is so high) but it seems like many students get jobs in the multinations there, without needing Danish.
quote
Duncan
There's a nice discussion of it here: http://www.find-mba.com/board/19196 But it has to be put into context: the number of roles like that is very limited in Denmark, and the CBS programme only has around 40 students. Looking at their recent placement stats, the numbers finding work in Denmark fell from 40% to 30% to 23%. Considering that 2/3rds of the class is European, that's that's a higher placement rate in country: it suggests that ten out of 43 will get jobs in Denmark. If we assume that the four Danes this year (http://www.cbs.dk/files/cbs.dk/cv_book_2013.pdf) will be among them, then that means that 6 out of 43 international students will find work in-country, if the school can buck the falling trend and equal the last results.
There's a nice discussion of it here: http://www.find-mba.com/board/19196 But it has to be put into context: the number of roles like that is very limited in Denmark, and the CBS programme only has around 40 students. Looking at their recent placement stats, the numbers finding work in Denmark fell from 40% to 30% to 23%. Considering that 2/3rds of the class is European, that's that's a higher placement rate in country: it suggests that ten out of 43 will get jobs in Denmark. If we assume that the four Danes this year (http://www.cbs.dk/files/cbs.dk/cv_book_2013.pdf) will be among them, then that means that 6 out of 43 international students will find work in-country, if the school can buck the falling trend and equal the last results.
quote
mba hipste...
Interesting. I was just looking at Rotterdam's career report, and it seems like only about half of the graduates stay in the Netherlands (although about 73% stayed in Europe.)

Keep in mind that RSM's cohorts are something like 80% non-EU.
Interesting. I was just looking at Rotterdam's career report, and it seems like only about half of the graduates stay in the Netherlands (although about 73% stayed in Europe.)

Keep in mind that RSM's cohorts are something like 80% non-EU.
quote
What do you think about Spain? Does the same situation apply as well, where some big firms are english fluent?

Regards,
William
What do you think about Spain? Does the same situation apply as well, where some big firms are english fluent?

Regards,
William
quote
Duncan
Spain is not comparable with Denmark. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:English_foreign_and_second_language_EU.jpg What Spanish firms have English as their working language?
Spain is not comparable with Denmark. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:English_foreign_and_second_language_EU.jpg What Spanish firms have English as their working language?
quote
mba hipste...
Agreed - a lot of recent MBA graduates that studied in Spain don't even stay in Spain.

But even a company like McKinsey, which has a footprint in Spain, looks for people who are fluent in both Spanish and English.
Agreed - a lot of recent MBA graduates that studied in Spain don't even stay in Spain.

But even a company like McKinsey, which has a footprint in Spain, looks for people who are fluent in both Spanish and English.
quote
Duncan
McKinsey is not a big firm in Spain, and many of its staff and alumni there have MBAs from LBS, Harvard or Insead. Can it recruit more than one or two MBAs from Spanish schools each year? Either way, native-level Spanish is essential.
McKinsey is not a big firm in Spain, and many of its staff and alumni there have MBAs from LBS, Harvard or Insead. Can it recruit more than one or two MBAs from Spanish schools each year? Either way, native-level Spanish is essential.
quote
Duncan
Also see this:

Demand For Native Language Speakers Fuels MBA Recruitment

Global companies want business graduates who can speak multiple languages to lead their expansions. French, German, Spanish and Mandarin are most in demand.

http://www.businessbecause.com/news/mba-careers/3124/demand-for-languages-fuels-mba-recruitment
Also see this:

Demand For Native Language Speakers Fuels MBA Recruitment

Global companies want business graduates who can speak multiple languages to lead their expansions. French, German, Spanish and Mandarin are most in demand.

http://www.businessbecause.com/news/mba-careers/3124/demand-for-languages-fuels-mba-recruitment
quote
Duncan
One comment to clarify my thinking on this topic, using the specific example of an Indian applicant who has been admitted to English-language, one-year MBAs at two of the better French grandes ecoles (one of them, FT-ranked). This professional has no French experience, as far as I can see, but these schools work in his limited budget. I wrote to him recently that "an MBA won't help you to find work in France if you don't speak French". He challenged me saying: surely this statement is a bit too strong.

It might be, but on the basis of the information available about this client I feel it's not too strong. Here's what I wrote to him:
"If you already have some professional skill which means that you will be hired without French, then you will be hired because of that with or without an MBA. You would be more likely to be hired with excellent French than with an MBA. The work that you could do without French would not be MBA-level work, almost certainly, so again the MBA would not help you. French business schools are full of people who speak French and English, so why hire someone without French if you can hire someone with French? The only French businesses which would hire you would be to work in your own country for them: that would not be work in France."

With a limited budget, I suggest he learns the language of his target country to fluency and take an MSc in that language. The other option would be take a masters in finance, and take a back-office role where you don't need to interact with clients.

What are your thoughts?

PS Obviously without the local language he could make some progress, especially in a back-office role or in a firm in which most of the staff are Indians. But with the local language he would have qualitatively more openings, especially for MBA-level roles.

[Edited by Duncan on May 24, 2018]

One comment to clarify my thinking on this topic, using the specific example of an Indian applicant who has been admitted to English-language, one-year MBAs at two of the better French grandes ecoles (one of them, FT-ranked). This professional has no French experience, as far as I can see, but these schools work in his limited budget. I wrote to him recently that "an MBA won't help you to find work in France if you don't speak French". He challenged me saying: surely this statement is a bit too strong.

It might be, but on the basis of the information available about this client I feel it's not too strong. Here's what I wrote to him:
"If you already have some professional skill which means that you will be hired without French, then you will be hired because of that with or without an MBA. You would be more likely to be hired with excellent French than with an MBA. The work that you could do without French would not be MBA-level work, almost certainly, so again the MBA would not help you. French business schools are full of people who speak French and English, so why hire someone without French if you can hire someone with French? The only French businesses which would hire you would be to work in your own country for them: that would not be work in France."

With a limited budget, I suggest he learns the language of his target country to fluency and take an MSc in that language. The other option would be take a masters in finance, and take a back-office role where you don't need to interact with clients.

What are your thoughts?

PS Obviously without the local language he could make some progress, especially in a back-office role or in a firm in which most of the staff are Indians. But with the local language he would have qualitatively more openings, especially for MBA-level roles.
quote
George Pat...
I can share my personal experience on the matter
I have a very good MBA, an excellent PhD in AI, I am fluent in English, French, Greek, and Spanish, and manager in tech companies for many years

Recently I was checking out job opportunities in Germany and I encountered the exact language barrier Duncan describes. I could very easily find software engineering jobs (a role I have grown out of), and up to team leader roles, but there were very limited opportunities for management, and senior management roles. Most of the management roles needed the local language, or were for multinational companies that could take advantage of my European languages and work with clients in other countries (countries in which I knew the local language)

Basically the roles were more suited for pre-experience or low-experience specialized MSc and not for MBA. Even for MBA jobs, it was more important to know the language, than my actual MBA

So, if even tech companies are facing the language barrier for management roles, the problem will be much bigger for other companies (tech companies are the most likely to be english speaking)

-----------------------------

It is not impossible however to work like this:
For many people the MBA is simply an opportunity to live somewhere else. You can make connections with it, and get a job (not MBA level) in another country, and eventually learn the language and progress. I have seen many engineers that liked this idea (to remain engineers but change country and have potential for advancement when they learn the language), and for many readers of this forum (who are engineers in tech) it can work
I can share my personal experience on the matter
I have a very good MBA, an excellent PhD in AI, I am fluent in English, French, Greek, and Spanish, and manager in tech companies for many years

Recently I was checking out job opportunities in Germany and I encountered the exact language barrier Duncan describes. I could very easily find software engineering jobs (a role I have grown out of), and up to team leader roles, but there were very limited opportunities for management, and senior management roles. Most of the management roles needed the local language, or were for multinational companies that could take advantage of my European languages and work with clients in other countries (countries in which I knew the local language)

Basically the roles were more suited for pre-experience or low-experience specialized MSc and not for MBA. Even for MBA jobs, it was more important to know the language, than my actual MBA

So, if even tech companies are facing the language barrier for management roles, the problem will be much bigger for other companies (tech companies are the most likely to be english speaking)

-----------------------------

It is not impossible however to work like this:
For many people the MBA is simply an opportunity to live somewhere else. You can make connections with it, and get a job (not MBA level) in another country, and eventually learn the language and progress. I have seen many engineers that liked this idea (to remain engineers but change country and have potential for advancement when they learn the language), and for many readers of this forum (who are engineers in tech) it can work
quote

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