By Sparsh Sharma
B-schools abroad are realising the importance of their students learning additional languages besides English, as businesses become more globalised and new markets emerge
In most parts of the world, English is the standard language of business but it is not the only one in an increasingly global business environment, as more B-schools abroad are recognising. MBA programmes abroad have realised the importance of not just traditionally popular languages like French or Spanish but also newer ones like Arabic, Hindi, and Mandarin.
Key to success
Dr Jack McGourty, director of community and global entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School and faculty member teaching graduate courses in entrepreneurship, venture creation and technology management at Columbia University, USA, says, “No matter what your chosen career path is, today, being facile in more than one language will enhance a manager’s ability to navigate complex global business and cultural environments. Graduate business programmes should offer students alternative vehicles, integrated with curricular programmes, to increase proficiency in languages of choice.”
Columbia Business School’s Chazen Institute offers several programmes to enhance students’ language proficiency including MBA exchange, global immersion programme and the Chazen language programme, offering courses in Arabic, business English, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
Charmaine Courtis, executive director, student services and international relations, Schulich School of Business, York University, Canada, says, “The international MBA (IMBA) programme at Schulich recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. This programme, right from the original format, has required students to develop a second language and an expertise in the region of the world where that language is the language of business. We recognised, two decades ago, that this was the only way to establish oneself in a global context. Having just recently attended an IMBA alumni-connect event, I was amazed to see how this has set our graduates apart. They are making a difference around the globe.”
At Cambridge Judge Business School in UK, one of the electives/ projects in the MBA requires students to learn Mandarin.
Dr. Jochen Runde, director of the MBA at the prestigious B-school, says, “This is a beginners’ course that is offered at the end of the academic year to our MBA students. For most of the attending students, successful completion of the course is a requisite for completing their studies. The course focuses on three language skills: listening, speaking and reading. Due to the complex nature of the Chinese writing system (characters rather than an alphabet), writing is not one of the main aims of this course. We are offering this course as a summer activity option because of the ever-growing importance of China in the world economy. The aim is to give our non-Mandarin speaking students an opportunity to develop some of the language skills they will need to make them more effective in this arena.”
At the leading Aarhus University (AU) of Denmark, the average student arrives already proficient in two or three languages. Lene Pederson, the MBA programme manager at AU’s School of Business and Social Sciences, says, “It’s amazing to find that some students are proficient in more than three languages too. A growing number of students from Asian countries already know English in addition to their native languages. Most of them then learn Danish language also, once they are here.”
Exchange programmes play a part
According to Laura Wood, director of international programmes and services, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Canada, exchange programmes play an important part in learning different languages and cultures.
“With an already global student body from 32 countries speaking 37 languages, Rotman encourages all students to further internationalise their degree through international exchange programmes, study tours, a module on doing business internationally and consulting projects or internships. Participation in these programmes certainly provides students with the opportunity to practice foreign language skills, contributing to both their personal and professional development as well as the B-school’s linguistic and cultural diversity,” says Wood.
Understanding culture also important
According to Narayanan Ramaswamy, partner of management consulting, KPMG India, it’s not only an issue of learning languages. “It’s not a language issue alone. Understanding the culture and being culturally-sensitive is as important as communication skills. A good manager is required to develop additional language skills. It is a major differentiator in a competitive global market. Knowledge of more languages is always welcome.”