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European Languages from a Business Perspective

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European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 08:12
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Which is most common business language in Europe? I hope to pick up a language before the end of my classes and wanted to learn something that is widely used in business circles.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 08:23
Interesting question.

It really depends on what cluster you are doing business with. You will find that most people who speak Germanic languages (German, Dutch, Danish etc etc) also have a great grasp of English, so learning these might be redundant.

Also it depends on where you want to work or who you want to do business with. Perhaps choosing either Spanish or French is a good idea.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 09:53
Good question, indeed. Im honestly leaning towards saying English. Given that there are so many different languages within the continent itself, and with different origins, its probably difficult to peg one as a 'standard' language.

Having said that though, I always thought itd be cool to learn German ! :)
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 10:41
I know for some companies, the European offices also serve parts of Africa. If you're considering working in Africa at all, picking up French might be more beneficial than Spanish. I think in some countries (Nigeria comes to mind), they speak pidgin but other areas (like Niger), business/govt affairs are done in French, English.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 13:27
I think it depends a lot on what industry/companies you are shooting to work for. But I pretty much agree with buffdaddy, at least in my experience (3 years working in int'l development) I've never come across a German who didn't speak excellent English. And in my opinion, if you are someone who is post-college and has been speaking English his/her whole life, lets face it, you aren't going to be able to learn a language to the level that someone from France or Germany has learned English since he/she has likely been taking classes/practicing it for 15, 20 years. I speak from experience. Obviously it's always fun to be able to communicate with someone in a language besides your own and I while I always think its a good idea to pursue it personally, from a strictly professional view, it won't help you much. It will be always be much easier for them to speak English than you in their language.

You might as well get into a language (Spanish/Portuguese are the big ones) which will open up a lot more doors in terms of "before I couldn't communicate with this person, but now I can".
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 16:06
Learning a language is great, and it goes beyond being able to do business in a foreign country (or countries.) Learning a new language means also learning a new culture and meeting new people. I strongly encourage people to do it (note to self: pick up Japanese which you've been meaning to do for the past 10+ years.)

However, you don't have to be ... so calculative about it. Learn Italian because you want to read Dante, Spanish to study the nuances of Neruda's poems, French because the ladies dig it (heh), Esperanto because it was a valiant attempt at linguistic utopia, etc.

If you have a vision to work in a specific foreign country, then by all means pick up that language. Otherwise, pick up something that you will enjoy even if it was not business related. Life is not just about positioning yourself for a place in a top MBA school, or success in your career. Learn a language that you're interested it, be it a widely used Latin/Germanic language, or some dying Latin-esque languge that only has snob appeal.

You may intend to work in Northern Africa/South France but your big break might come in a business opportunity in rural India, where Hindi, Urdu or maybe even Sanskrit will be more useful. Don't always plan your life, let serendipity happen to you as well. Most of all, enjoy learning a new language.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 16:21
Things may have changed since I had any exposure to this, but at least when I used to work with European clients when I was in banking, the default was English.

Put it this way.

Get a Russian executive and a French entrepreneur in the room. If neither can speak each other's native language, what language will they most likely default to? Or a Greek executive and a German executive in the room? Or an Italian and a Swede?

Another way to look at it is this. At most of the reputable b-schools in Europe, they really like having students who can speak a language other than English, but the primary language of instruction is English. If the primary language in European business wasn't English, you'd see the Euro b-schools make it less English-centric.

Even in Asia (at least when I was there), any sort of cross-border, cross-cultural meeting (i.e. Indonesians meeting Chinese, or Japanese meeting Thais), most of the time the default language was English, also because many of these executives or gov't officials (at least those involved on the commerce/finance end of gov't) were educated in the US or UK.

My info may be outdated on this, so correct me if I'm wrong.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 07 May 2009, 19:07
Somehow I had this mistaken notion about business discussions happening in the domestic language in mainland Europe.

Let's put a different spin to the question - If I want to travel across Europe which language (apart from English) will help me in most countries. Based on a quick spot check in wikipedia of the official languages German seems to be more widely spoken than French. Is that true?

The thread reminds me of Liz Hurley in Bedazzled - "Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja - Who cares? Everyone ought to speak English"
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 08 May 2009, 10:31
In Central Europe (Czech&Slovak Republics, Hungary, Austria etc.) German is certainly spoken more widely than French or Spanish. Older generation might know German, but not English there.

But in general I too think that how widely a particular language is spoken is a country specific issue. For my own goals, I'd rather learn German than French/Spanish... it's a very individual and goal-specific preference though.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 08 May 2009, 11:36
@scorpioguy - if Wikipedia says so, it's true ;)

Seriously, it is true that many more people in Europe speak German than French. On the other hand, the German-speaking dudes are much more likely to be fluent in English.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 09 May 2009, 12:27
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Unfortunately, there isn't any one language that is going to far and away give you the highest ROI for European work outside of English. So I would choose the one you're most interested in -- whether for the language itself or for cultures or companies where it's spoken. I speak Russian fluently and have never been able to use it at work -- I worked in France for a while, but as bostonsparky says, you are unlikely to learn a European language as well as your European colleagues speak English unless you started in high school or earlier.

So the edge it will give you is forming a personal connection with people, not so much that you'll use it in negotiations or anything.

Personally, I would go with Spanish or French, simply because Spanish has pretty wide applicability in the US and Latin America, and because French is used in many places in Africa and, to a lesser extent, SE Asia.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 11 May 2009, 03:50
Skitalets wrote:
So the edge it will give you is forming a personal connection with people, not so much that you'll use it in negotiations or anything.


+1 to this. I can confirm, normally you do cross-border business in Europe in English, meaning official letters, termsheets, whatever, but when you meet the people face to face it's a big plus if you are able to socialise with them in their native language.
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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 29 May 2009, 09:59
Hi mates,

my two cents:

with absolutely no doubt, the most important one is English. So, if you are fluent on it, no problem for (internaltional) business

Now, as other mate said, if you work in Central Europe you won't find any problem with your work mates and in your day by day. Germany, Sweede, etc are countries in which people are used to speak in english

however, if you live in countries like Spain (I'm spanish btw) you'll find problems even with some of your work mates... :x

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Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective [#permalink] New post 02 Jun 2009, 23:36
It's all about your targets. Where do you prefer to live/work, each major European language is useful, French, Spanish and German, so after that, it depends where you want to focus on afterwards.
AlexMBAApply is right in terms of the default language being English, however in securing a job overseas, bilingual capability is increasingly necessary, it's becoming a filter point, particularly in Asia. e.g. Japan, if you are working there, you will need some form of Japanese (Finance, English teaching sectors excluded) but even in the finance positions bilinguals are preferred. Likewise in China where Mandarin knowledge is preferred as investors are increasingly moving into territories where English is not as prevalent. Once you get to areas like Singapore, Bahasa and Malay become an advantage due to its proximity to Indonesia and Malysia. For Hong Kong, Mandarin is useful. The main reason is because a lot of MNC Asian headquarters are usually based in Hong Kong or Singapore, therefore for some roles, no other language is needed, but for groundwork, local languages are needed (e.g. Business development, supplier management, equity research etc.)
Re: European Languages from a Business Perspective   [#permalink] 02 Jun 2009, 23:36
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