Does learning a second language translate into business success?

It is now compulsory for all MBA students at Cranfield School of Management to have a working knowledge of a second language. A friend of mine at the prestigious China Europe International Business School tells me that his colleagues in the MBA program are not just taking Chinese language classes at school but hiring private tutors to give them the extra boost.

On the other hand, in New Zealand, it's not compulsory even for International Business majors to know a second language. In fact, I wonder how many people who teach International Business can in fact speak more than one language.

Most business practitioners are probably in agreement that knowing the language of the locals helps significantly with doing business on the ground. Granted, most people in the business world these days do speak some English, and if they don't, they would have an interpreter present. However, not knowing the language is a bit like walking with one leg; a real struggle. Some concepts are difficult to translate. Any native English speaker who talks to a non-native English speaker for more than 10 minutes would begin to see that it's hard work to find simpler ways of conveying a message.

I recently returned home from a brief trip to Shanghai. Even though I speak some Mandarin, I did feel pretty handicapped. Of course, some street signs and Metro signs carry English translations.

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On the other hand, once you go off the beaten track, everything is in Chinese.

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As all locals understand Chinese, one can assume that if restaurants carry English language menus, they are targeting tourists, and would also charge accordingly.

Everyone knows that understanding some basic foreign language helps when travelling, but what does it have to do with business success?


In addition to the ability to communicate with your partners in their language, you also demonstrate that you are willing to go cialis generic cheapest the extra mile for your customers and partners.

Knowing the language gives you unique insights about culture. This in turn helps you to better understand your business partner.

For example, in the Chinese language, there are different titles for different members of the extended family. Your father's older brother has a different title to your father's younger brother. The term for your mother's brother is different again. In the English language, they are all known as “uncles”.

This highlights the importance of the extended family and hierarchy in Chinese culture.

Ultimately, as businesspeople we understand the importance of being “on the same page” as our customers, suppliers and colleagues. The best way to make that happen is to have all parties understand one another's language.


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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.