Bilingual in the Global Economy: Why an MBA Isn’t Enough

American businesses are increasing their clout as players in the global economy. Hiring qualified employees with bilingual skills remains a lower priority than more tangible ones, such as experience in currency exchange. The reasons for this are many, but most prevalent is that more countries prefer to do business in the English language.

In retrospect, companies feel the need to communicate in any other foreign language just isn’t necessary. Global firms abroad are recruiting for management positions with local nationals and not with American-English speaking candidates. More often than not, these local nationals have been trained and educated in the U.S. An advanced degree holder who wants to market themselves as a candidate for an expat position must understand the rationale behind this:

1) In order to respond to local needs, a global company has to have insight into the local culture.

2) Having attended American schools and colleges, many local nationals are also deeply familiar with American business culture and understand the parent company’s culture as well as local culture.

3) The local nationals are bilingual and able to communicate with both U.S. managers and local subordinates.

4) Lastly, costs — hiring a foreign local is usually less expensive than paying an American employee U.S. market rates and relocation costs.

What does this insight mean for the American MBA holder? Opportunity. Yes, English is preferred in many European businesses but it is still not totally accepted as an international language. For instance, when doing business in France or Germany it is necessary to use French and German. When surveyed, only 32 percent of leading executives in Europe stated that they use English for professional purposes. English cannot singularly be relied on to successfully conduct business in European markets.

An interesting example is Japan. The Japanese culture invests heavily in English-language education with more than six years of study required before high school graduation. Japanese corporations provide tuition for English-language classes. Regardless, the Japanese insist that business be conducted in the Japanese language. It is a culture that honors tradition and its centuries old language is highly valued and respected.

So, what language skills are global recruiters looking for in candidates? Research revealed the most sought after are Chinese (Mandarin, Wu and Yue dialects), Spanish, Japanese, French and German. We also consulted our panel of experts:

Paulette Norvel Lewis, Regional Administrator, Women’s Bureau – U.S. Department of Labor, Region IV

I would recommend Spanish — because this is now the largest minority group in the U.S. and it’s important that we know how to communicate with Spanish-speaking people — or Mandarin Chinese, because China is emerging as a major world economy.

Tenera McPherson, Staffing One, Director of Recruiting

In this global marketplace, the more languages you know, the better. I have seen job orders for everything from Spanish to Portuguese to Japanese and French.

Manuel Knight, President and CEO, Sinkfield and Co. (Sweden)

I recommend Chinese [Mandarin]. Spanish is very useful as well. I speak three foreign languages fluently: Swedish, German and Danish. I speak several others conversationally.

Lisa Richardson, owner, ATS Learning Inc.

I would recommend studying Spanish and Chinese. The world of business both domestically and internationally will increasingly require that professionals develop strong and authentic relationships with our Hispanic and Latin American brothers and sisters, and with Chinese investors.

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