Even learning one language to the point of business communication fluency will open up opportunities and let you shape your own career and goals. Whether you want to work in your home country, find jobs around the world, or a combination of both, business language skills open up opportunities and higher salary.The Economist found that, depending on the language, business communication skills can net you nearly a 4% higher salary. In my previous job, for the US government, my Japanese language skills resulted in an extra $300 per month. And they weren’t even that great at the time.
Those same language skills have given me opportunities to work in Japan and to represent my organization in nearly a dozen other countries. Since I am the only native English speaker on staff, when someone needs to go negotiate or recruit in another country that doesn’t speak Japanese, guess who they send. Your choice of language does not necessarily limit where you can find your opportunities! English + another language is a key that opens up jobs and travel almost anywhere.
Any company worth its stock wants in-house language skills. It helps to build trust with clients, when someone on staff speaks their language. It shows the company is invested in that language and country. That leads to contracts and profits. If you are the person that gives them access to a new market with your skills, you’re going to have security and opportunities to advance.
Study Abroad Students Have the Upper Hand
When you learn business skills, alongside social language skills, while studying abroad, you’ll have an edge over others who only learn in classrooms. You’ll get not only the language, but the body language, the mannerisms, and the power structures. You’ll also have the practical experience that brings comfort and confidence in your interactions.
But not all study abroad programs are equal for developing business language skills. You want to select your school abroad with care.
The Best Places to Study Abroad for Business Language
You want to find specifically business-focused learning opportunities. Business schools will offer some of the best programs, if that matches your major. Language-only programs may also have some good opportunities.
In any case, you’ll want to find universities and programs that offer the business language learning opportunities below:
1. Off-Campus InternshipsInternships might as well be mandatory these days. They are one of the best ways to connect your studies to a job after graduation. But it’s getting to the point where everyone does it, so the advantage is less significant than before – unless you do your internship abroad.
Not only is this going to set you apart from your classmates, you’ll learn key business language skills that will help you get hired (and promoted), too. Unless you’re fluent already, the internship will probably involve your native language. But that’s fine!
In fact, if you’re interning in English in a foreign language business, that could be even better! You’ll get to hear phrases in your host language, then hear the English translation. Going back and forth will help you pick up on patterns and phrases more quickly. If you’re dealing with two-way interpretation, you’ll get to hear your statements translated back, as well.
Internships will also give you the opportunity (and pressure) to use the business language you’re studying. Maybe it’s as simple as working in greetings when you arrive and leave. Maybe you have mixed-language discussions. You might even give a presentation in a foreign language. That will not only push your language growth, but set you up for success in public speaking at home.
Finally, you’ll learn body language and interactions in your host country, something a classroom could never teach. Mastering those skills will help you feel more natural in conversation – and be more natural, too.
2. Business Language Courses Available
Taking a business language course while studying abroad is a golden opportunity. Look for course titles like “Business Japanese” or “French for Business.” Studying the language of business from a native speaker – probably with business experience – is you best opportunity for deliberate development.
Unlike in an internship, your goal here is to learn the phrases to apply and hone your speech. Combine the classroom experience with off-campus interaction, and you’ll get the best of rapid learning and natural application.
At the end of the semester, you don’t need to learn to speak like a native MBA. (You’d probably need to get an MBA to do that – they all speak funny). You just need to have a firm grasp of the basics: Common interactions and introductions, negotiation phrases, and how to be respectful. When you apply your business language skills in the future, your goal will be to set your client at east and build trust, not fluent business-speak.
3. Language Conversation Partner or Tutor
Private tutoring or a language conversation partner program are the best ways to focus your language learning on your target. While a tutor offers more advantages, because of the relationship and more experience, both are excellent opportunities to build on your experience.
To make the most of your language tutor or conversation partner, you need to be prepared. Keep track of the business language phrases you hear. Write them down in a pocket notebook, or on your phone, if you can. If you miss the phrase, write down the situation. Then ask your tutor or partner how to use the phrase during your next meeting.
You’ll also need to make sure your tutor or partner knows to correct you. Most people you interact with will be happy if they can just understand you. Teachers aside, they won’t want to correct your language mistakes for fear of discouraging you. But that doesn’t help you learn. Your tutor and language partner, especially, need to know that you want to get better. That means asking them to correct you – and reacting well to the corrections, too!
Take Action to Master Business Language SkillsIn most subjects, you learn more by listening and observing than by speaking, but language learning is different. You improve when you practice and produce, so speaking and writing are the skills that will push you forward. Seizing opportunities to speak and write in your host language will be key to building mastery and comfort.
Most importantly, as I mentioned in the tutor section above: Make sure people know to correct you. Tell them that you want to get better and know every mistake. Then, prove it to them by taking their advice and applying it!
Here are a few opportunities to practice that you should be able to find in any (foreign language) study abroad environment:
4. Language Courses
Signing up for language courses is the first and most basic step toward business language ability. If your program offers business language courses, as mentioned above, that’s great! If you can find skill-specific courses, or self-directed courses, to supplement the core language program, that’s excellent, as well. Every opportunity you have to focus your studies on your goal is going to help.
Whenever you have a project, speech, or other opportunity to choose your topic, use it to focus on business topics. Even if you’re at a low level, this is a way to learn extra vocabulary and grammar in that area. If you’re pushing beyond your ability, you can also seek out your instructor during office hours for extra instruction and skill growth!
5. Live Off CampusLiving off campus exposes you to and forces you to learn business language. Everything from your rental contract and utilities, to shopping for daily groceries is time to practice.
Negotiating housing and setting up your utilities will give you practice in the business language of contracts and terms. It may not be easy, but when you don’t understand something, be sure to ask the salesperson or landlord. You represent a sale to them, so they’re going to be more patient with you.
Setting up bank accounts and cell phone contracts will also expose you to business and commerce language. Rates, fees, certifications. Beyond the language, you’ll also learn how the contracting process is done, so you’ll know the culture of business deals for future interaction.
Even something as simple as shopping for furniture or groceries exposes you to business language. Look at business signage and advertising to understand how companies communicate with consumers. Are they gaudy and in-your-face, or are business signs so hard to see that you suspect they don’t want customers?
Living off-campus is a great way to expose yourself constantly to new business language, but it can be overwhelming, at first. If you aren’t confident in the language when you arrive, and you’re there for a year-long program, consider campus housing for the first semester and moving out on your own later. That will also allow you to get a feel for the area – and build friendships you can rely on – before taking on the local market.
6. Join the Student Government
Student government isn’t the business world, but you’ll learn the language of getting things done. You’ll be exposed to committee conversations, negotiations, decision-making, and budgeting, all in your host language. Compared to an internship, student government is a low-threat environment.
Student government exposes you to both the language of decisions and the unspoken communication. There will usually be clear lines of power, following seniority, so observe the way students interact at equal and unequal positions. If you can pick up even a few respectful negotiation phrases or formalities, that will be grounds for relationship building in later business situations.
But don’t be a wallflower: Participate! You’ll get the most benefit by speaking up and trying your own proposals. That will keep you engaged in the conversation. It will help you practice thinking on your feet. And it will help the conversations stick better in your memory. Joining the conversation is essential to building business language skills.
Don’t worry about tripping over your own feet, either. After study abroad and working 6 years full time in Japanese, I still do it. I launch into an explanation or persuasive point only to realize that I don’t know the right grammar to finish the sentence. That’s OK. Learning to recover and get the message across anyway is key!
Bilingualism is the International Language of BusinessYes, English is almost universal. That’s what makes it worth less on the market. Having a second language gives you a leg up. Companies want multilingual employees – this is especially true if you want to work internationally!
The language you choose matters. Maybe you’re already locked into a language because of your major, but if you have the freedom to choose, consider supply and demand. As the Economist explains, Spanish may be the second most common language spoken in the US, but that’s exactly why Americans shouldn’t study it. The market is saturated with bilingual speakers. Choose Mandarin, or at least German, if the Chinese characters frighten you.
Or go for something really rare. You will find fewer English speakers in emerging markets, and there are few native English speakers with ability in those languages. Yet that is where you find the opportunities for business growth (or expatriation!)
Finally, don’t think of your language choice as limiting. Learning one language does not confine you to only working in that country. It makes you a more attractive asset no matter where you work. If you go on to work in a third country, now you’re the person that speaks two foreign languages, from their perspective. Twice the impact!
Plus, it gets you used to learning business language, which will make it easier to adapt to a third. Any new language only opens doors.