Language in College

NB22's picture
Rank: Chimp | 4

I'm planning on learning a new language, and I'm leaning toward Arabic. However, I've heard that Arabic isn't a very useful language in a business setting, as most business even in the Middle East is conducted in English. For example, my uncle lives in a Middle Eastern country and he doesn't know Arabic at all. I'm fascinated by the culture and history of the Middle East, but after 6 years of Latin, I'd really like to learn a language that has practicality as well. Additionally, Arabic (I would assume) is tougher to learn than say Spanish or French, so I would like the additional effort I have to put in to be worth it. Do you guys have any thoughts on this? I'm planning on a career in consulting, so if any of you can shed some light on the relevance of Arabic to a consulting career, that would be great. Alternatively, let me know if you think I should learn a different language. Thanks!

Comments (16)

Jun 23, 2013

if you wanna learn arabic, just go for it - its especially good to learn a language that you will be able to use one day and put it into action.

also ask yourself which cultures interest you the most.

Jun 23, 2013

I have no idea whether Arabic will be useful in consulting or not, however I bet it would be an interesting endeavor regardless, especially if you are deeply interested in the culture of Middle Eastern countries (learning some form of Arabic can only enhance your passion). Why not just do it out of pure interest?

Are there any non-English speaking countries that you would like to one day work in? If so, why not just choose whatever the local language there is, even if it is spoken by relatively few people globally? I am studying a language spoken by less than 100m people because English alone wouldn't suffice where I want to work one day.

(Regarding Arabic, one of the blogs on TE recently published an interesting article: http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2013/06/arabic)

Jun 23, 2013

No idea if this will help you in consulting but have you ever thought about working for the govt later in life, specifically the FBI? When I was in high school my dream job was to be in the FBI. I had a informational interview with a special agent and he told me that if you have a business background and know arabic, you're basically gold.

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves. - Abraham Lincoln

Jun 23, 2013

Go for Spanish or Chinese.

Jun 23, 2013

you'd need to master the language to the point where it's almost native level. unless you think you could achieve it within a couple of years of instruction in school, i'd focus on taking a language with best chances of increasing your GPA to better position yourself in the recruiting process.

Jun 23, 2013

If you really want it, go for it. Especially if you want to do work in the Middle East.

That said, remember, that when you are saying yes to something, you are always saying no to other things (there are only so many hours in a day). Arabic is a complex language, and therefore your opportunity cost for the time spent learning is high. Consider a few alternatives with comparable time investment:

- learning 2-3 European languages

- learning to program

- starting a small part-time business

- doing a part-time internship

- starting a club on campus

- slaying a new pussy every week for the rest of your college years

- etc.

Some of this opportunities might turn out to be more attractive to you, either in terms fun or adding value to your future.

Jun 23, 2013
Andres:

Consider a few alternatives with comparable time investment:

- learning 2-3 European languages

- learning to program

- starting a small part-time business

- doing a part-time internship

- starting a club on campus

- slaying a new pussy every week for the rest of your college years

- etc.

^^ This, haha.

My advice would be: learn a language that belongs to a culture you are interested in as well. Its much easier to stay commited to a language when you can see yourself identifying with the culture.

Arabic would be good for the fact it would set you apart. However, you and others have speculated the business world in the ME does not use it. If there is no demand then why spend multiple years devoting time and effort (money) to learn something that will benefit you marginally. Also take into consideration your latin background which would help with Spanish and French.

Jun 23, 2013

So let me re-cap... "I want to learn a language. I want to learn Arabic. Everyone says it sucks. My uncle lives there! He doesn't speak it. I want to learn a language. I learned a lot of Latin. I might want to learn Chinese or Spanish, so I can use it. I want to be a consultant. I want to learn a language."

I would recommend spending every second that you would spend on learning a new language reading things like the Wall Street Journal, The Intelligent Investor, or Consulting or Dummies... Being more well-read that your peers will get you further in your Big 4 FT interview than knowing Arabic, because in case it hasn't occurred to you - you aren't going to be talking to your Arabic client for years, at least to any meaningful extent.

Jun 23, 2013
Beny23:

Go for Spanish or Chinese.

Don't go for Chinese. Not if you are learning it just so that you can use it in business settings. If you're starting out in college, you'll never achieve the level of fluency that allows you to conduct business in Chinese. And Chinese people are extremely zenophobic--even my ABC friends have slim chances getting a FT job in mainland China (or even HK).

If you want to get a FT job in China (or do business in Chinese), you need to be mainland Chinese and born & raised there.

Aug 16, 2013

People having a hard time finding descent paying jobs in China are usually the ones without any connections. If your abc friends have enough family connections, they can land a job any day. It's a very different culture. Plus, the wages aren't that great compare to US or Canada unless you are looking to start a business there.

"If you want to get a FT job in China (or do business in Chinese), you need to be mainland Chinese and born & raised there."

You have obviously no idea what you are talking about. Lots of successful business people are ABC. Relationship building is the most important thing if you want to do business in China. and yes, people who are not born and raised in China might not understand that. But that has nothing to do with language proficiency.

Aug 20, 2013
dei-V:

People having a hard time finding descent paying jobs in China are usually the ones without any connections. If your abc friends have enough family connections, they can land a job any day. It's a very different culture. Plus, the wages aren't that great compare to US or Canada unless you are looking to start a business there.

No shit, Sherlock. Of course people with connections get jobs easily. That's not "very different" from anywhere else in the world. That's a given, and the advice above (as is most of the other posts on this forum) was for people who don't have such an advice.

dei-V:

"If you want to get a FT job in China (or do business in Chinese), you need to be mainland Chinese and born & raised there."

You have obviously no idea what you are talking about. Lots of successful business people are ABC. Relationship building is the most important thing if you want to do business in China. and yes, people who are not born and raised in China might not understand that. But that has nothing to do with language proficiency.

I am from there, still have my family there, and seriously considered going back there for FT. So save your attitude.

The fact that "lots of successful business people are ABC" doesn't necessarily imply that it's easy for a foreigner/non-native right out of undergrad to find an ENTRY LEVEL consulting/IB/business gig in China--especially mainland (i.e. Shanghai). (A simple search on WSO will show multiple others saying the same thing.)

First, language IS a factor. No way around it. As many others have said, it's very VERY difficult for a foreigner to achieve the level of fluency required to conduct business. You have to be fluent enough to know the business language AND understand the subtleties of the language (based on tone, etc.). That's very rare to find in a foreigner. Even people who've studied Chinese for 7+ years don't have that.

Second, relationship building can be difficult. (By the way, people everywhere know that doing business is about relationship building. So you don't have to be an smartass about it.) Why? Because it's much easier to build a relationship when you come from a similar cultural background. Given how different Chinese culture can be from Western culture, it's an especially big challenge for foreigners. So, it's no surprise that firms would much prefer to hire Chinese nationals. (Same goes for Korea and Japan).

This is not to say that it's impossible, but it is extremely difficult for any non-natives to find a good gig in China. So it's pretty stupid, IMO, to learn Chinese with the expectation that you'll get to use it for work. Do it because you like it and are interested in it.

Jul 2, 2013

Not really worth it.

Jul 31, 2013

From what I've read, it is not useful to start learning a new language from a complete beginning just to get a job. But if you already have a conversational proficiency for Chinese and Korean, should I continue learning it in college? I also have a strong interest on either Spanish and Portuguese.

Aug 9, 2013

Being able to may or may not be useful in consulting. However, it will show the recruiters that you have the enthusiasm and the skill to master a new language, which could work in your favor/

Aug 9, 2013

My apologies for the missing words; I meant *being able to speak arabic may or may not be useful in consulting*.

Aug 9, 2013
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