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]