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5 ways to improve your MBA experience with a second language

Learning a new language comes with many benefits, especially if you are about to pursue an MBA abroad. Source: Cristina Quicler / AFP

There’s no denying the benefits of pursuing an MBA abroad. It has been proven that acquiring knowledge in a foreign environment can open several doors that lead to a wide range of sectors. Another key benefit is that the exposure could also mean picking up a new language in the process and oftentimes, fluency can boost your chances of employment in the country once you graduate. Language skills in general are becoming a very valuable asset among admissions officers and global organisations.

For a career abroad, while many countries do not consider fluency in the local language to be a prerequisite, it is definitely an asset. “The level of proficiency required depends on the nature of the work,” says Marie José Beaudin, executive director of career services at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal – a bilingual city where a majority of the population speaks both English and French. “It can be a prerequisite for any client-facing roles,” she shares. “In other cases, employers are open to candidates learning the local language over time.” 

Regardless of where you are planning on pursuing your MBA, the global language of business will always be English. However, to stand out in a competitive market, picking up the local language of the country you plan on studying in can be a rewarding move. Becoming an MBA graduate who knows the local lingo shows employers you made the effort to be able to understand your clients, customers, and peers on a different level. Not just in terms of interaction, as you will also be able to better grasp the country’s business culture, its nuances, practices, and ultimately an organisation’s ethos. 

A Spanish language class being held in the Spanish Canary Islands. Source: Desiree Martin/AFP

So how do you go about doing it? Start now, if you can. Many study-abroad aspirants are currently awaiting the reopening of borders by using their time to stay productive with upskilling. Here are some ways you can incorporate learning a second language into your daily schedule:

Find your learning materials

Your first step should be sourcing your learning materials. Duolingo is one of the most popular free apps in the world and with an optional paid subscription you will be able to access additional benefits – although many users have stated the free version is more than sufficient. There are currently 36 language courses that provide instructions in English.

Set your goals

Once you’ve identified your sources, start focusing on specific, tangible outcomes. Figure out what you plan on achieving instead of how much time you will spend a day doing it. Instead of allocating 30 minutes a day to learning, try remembering the meanings of 15 new words. 

Learn the right words

Languages are made up of a shocking number of words. English, for example, has between 600,000 and a million words. Luckily, you don’t need to learn anywhere near that many words to gain proficiency. The top 100 words make up about 50% of English language texts, and the top 1,000 words make up about 90%. By focusing on the top 1,000 words of any language, you will be able to communicate in a new language in no time. 

Learn about the culture

Picking up a new language is about far more than understanding words. It’s important to remember that understanding the culture and history associated with these words is just as crucial for your development. Research has found that children learn to read in a second language better when they understand the culture and context behind the pieces they read. Even if it involves reading and watching documentaries in your native language, learning about culture will never be a waste of time. This knowledge could also prevent you from making embarrassing or offensive mistakes in conversation.

Consume content

Here’s the fun part. Follow people on Instagram, start a series and watch videos on YouTube that are in other languages. Pair this practice with your daily lessons and you’ll be turning off the subtitles for your new favourite show in no time. 

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