Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | April 23, 2011

Why Learning a Foreign Language is Good for Business Students

Why Learning a Foreign Language is Good for Business Students

By Michele C. Dávila, Department of Foreign Languages

Michele C. DávilaThe enrollment for MBA’s, especially for the international business concentration, has increased exponentially in US colleges  and universities in the past few years according to the Council on Graduate Schools “Graduate Enrollment and Degrees Report”).  This trend substantiates the notion that Business degrees are on the ascendency, to the detriment of Arts & Sciences degrees.  Is it possible that the business world doesn’t need arts and sciences in their curriculum, or even in the formation of a business person?  Are the two areas mutually exclusive by definition?

In reality, a strong case can be made for the proposition that courses in the Arts & Sciences actually help future business people in their jobs and make them better equipped to deal with people in general, but especially with other cultures and global markets.  Hopefully Chevrolet will never again try to sell a car with a name such as “No go” as occurred in Latin America years ago with the Nova, for example.  Not only does understanding other cultures make them better masters of the marketing world, but it is a well known fact in the global market that speaking languages other than English gives business people an advantage.  How is this?

Bertolon School of Business, Salem State University

Bertolon School of Business, Salem State University

If businesses want to be competitive in the business world they have to adapt to new situations, be flexible, and understand the peoples and cultures to whom they want to sell their wares.  This is evident even in the numerous books one can find in any bookstore dealing with international business etiquette, where they invariably explain and teach business people how to behave and act in other countries.  The era of the all powerful American business partner is on the verge of extinction.  Now it is wiser to “do as the Romans do” instead of replicating the American way throughout the world. One very important factor that helps in this area is learning a foreign language. The Business Journal agrees:  “The ‘American way’ is constantly evolving. Hopefully, we are incorporating the best ideas from other cultures as well as from the minority cultures right here in our own backyard. Cultural diversity, as well as both understanding and appreciating the language and culture of others, is going to be part of the global economy for the remainder of this century”. (“What’s the importance of learning a foreign language?” The Business Journal).  The numbers don’t lie:  Chinese is the language of 1.3 billion people, Arabic is the official language of 22 countries (255 million speakers), and Spanish is the language of 21 countries (the first language of over 400 million people, and consumers).

For international business students it is emphatically important to be able to communicate with their prospective markets in their own language. People from other countries feel very well indeed when someone tries to speak their own language, even if it’s at a very basic level. It demonstrates interest, appreciation and above all, respect. It helps to iron out discrepancies and dispel cultural shock. This is a fact that many universities in the US are nowadays acknowledging.  For example, the following is how one of them promotes its MBA program on the Internet:

As the global market continues to grow, more and more schools are adopting the viewpoint that to truly become a global business leader, knowledge of a foreign language has become a vital skill that all graduates must have. In order to be a contributing part of an environment that is no longer western-centric as it has been in the past, being able to communicate with your clients is only part of the issue. Knowledge of their language as well as their culture shows that you respect the ideas that they bring to the table and you understand their needs and wants better than somebody who does not have this background. . . Your clients will be more likely to trust what you are saying and there will be a more intimate relationship than if you were to conduct all communication through a translator. This could be an important step in building strong and lasting business relationships that help ensure the success of your own business. (Source:

This would be a very boring world if everybody thought and did the exact same thing in the exact same way.  So, business students, remember: learning another language will give you countless advantages in your professional life and, most importantly, it will enrich your whole life.

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