by Bob Horton
As the Internet makes today's global economy more interconnected than ever, learning a second language is more valuable than ever. In fact, a recent study found that learning a second language boosts your salary by an average of 2%. Beyond that, it opens a lot of doors. You'll have an entirely new world of connection to make and lots of opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be available to you.
The key is figuring out exactly what language offers you a competitive advantage. To help you out, here are three of the most valuable languages for MBAs and business people to learn:
If you only speak one language besides English, Chinese is your best bet. China is the largest country in the world, with just under 1.3 billion people. Chinese is also the single most common spoken language, as one-fifth of the world's population speaks it.
Most importantly, China is a global powerhouse. It's the second biggest economy in the world, and one of the most important trading partners for U.S. companies. The majority of large US firms do business with China, and plan on having a long-term relationship.
Despite the business value of learning Chinese, it's not a skill many English-speaking Americans have. According to a 2011 U.S. Census, only 2.8 million Americans speak Chinese. Less than half of those who do speak the language were rated to speak English ‘very well'. The demand for bilingual Chinese-speaking Americans has never been higher.
Many people are intimidated by learning Chinese, but only the actual speaking is especially difficult. Unlike many other major languages, there are no conjugation or differences in words based on gender. Grammatically, Chinese sentences are structured the same as English sentences - subject, verb, object. If you can pick up the tonal differences quickly, you'll have no problem mastering Chinese.
The accessibility of the language combined with its pure business value makes Chinese the hottest language for any MBA or business executive. If you're interested in something a little closer to home, however, consider the next language.
Trailing only Chinese, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world, with well over 400 million native speakers. If you're doing business solely or primarily in the United States, the numbers are even more striking. According to the 2011 Census, 62% of Americans who didn't speak English at a native language spoke Spanish. These Spanish-speaking American are especially prevalent in some of the nation's most important states, such as California and Texas.
Spanish is also especially popular in the countries you'll be most likely to travel to. Mexico and the majority of the Latin American countries speak the language. Countries like Argentina, Peru, and Spain itself will all be well within your reach. Both domestically and internationally, speaking Spanish is a highly valued commodity.
Since Spanish is a Romance language, it rolls off of the tongue easily if English is your first language. It's also an extremely popular language for elementary and high school students, which means you likely have some sort of base for the language already. If you're looking for more of a challenge, however, you could try out our next language.
With over 300 million native speakers, Arabic is comfortably in the top five most spoken languages in the world. Spoken mostly in the Middle East, Arabic is the preferred language for one of the quickest growing regions in business. Most importantly, less than one-million Americans are fluent in the Arabic language. Learning the language gives you an extremely rare skillset.
The biggest problem with Arabic is how difficult it is for many native English speakers to learn. The characters are completely foreign, making it difficult to read and write. The pronunciation is extremely tricky, too, with alien sounds and far fewer vowels than romance languages. Most difficult of all, however, is the grammatical structure. English grammar is fairly straightforward, but Arabic grammar is quite complex. A single noun, for example, could have up to three different numbers and cases, a pair of genders, and three separate states. That's up to 54 nouns for a single root word.
As difficult as the language is to learn, there's a huge demand for Arabic speakers and not many Americans fitting the bill. Learning the language gives you a huge edge no matter what industry you're looking to break into.
The most important thing you need to keep in mind when finding a language to study is that it has to interest you. Whether you're looking at Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, or something completely different, you must be captivated by the language. Once you're able to dive completely in, you'll learn quickly and be ready to put it on your resume in no time. Which language do you think offers the most value for MBAs and business executives? Do you have experience speaking another language in the corporate world? Make sure to leave us a comment below to tell us all about it!
Bob Horton is Editor-in-Chief of OnlineMBAPage.com. As a student of business management, Bob regularly features tips and advice columns for prospective students and professionals seeking a graduate level upgrade to their education. After all, career advancement is more important than ever in today's workforce.