Combining business with language in London

Learning another language alongside your business degree opens the door to a new world, and what better place to study than London.

Despite its modest size, Europe as a continent is hard to beat in terms of its number of languages and cultures. It can seem bewildering with its mosaic of states, regions and different languages. Bewildering, but at the same time fascinating, because it offers an unparalleled diversity of languages and cultures with long histories and traditions in such close proximity to each other.

While the need to show your passport when crossing borders has been abolished within much of Europe (at least within the Schengen area of the EU), and the European Union has made tremendous strides in terms of economic and political harmony, linguistic diversity remains.

The 28 member states of the European Union count 23 official languages among themselves. Of course, in the 21st century, English as a foreign language is a central part of the school curricula in all European nations and English is spoken with increasing fluency - especially by the younger generations across Europe - but the linguistic identity of European citizens remains firmly rooted in their native language, and being able to speak to them in their language, even if not fluently, will afford you a different welcome.

As Nelson Mandela said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Our language shapes our view of the world; its vocabulary and structures give us the concepts and categories through which we perceive the world around us. That is why language is so closely linked with culture, and learning another language opens the door to a different culture and, metaphorically speaking, to a new world.

Combining business with language in London

“Speaking someone’s language creates rapport that opens the door to 
their heart”

Having dominated the world stage for many centuries, Europe has left its mark on the world linguistically: Languages of the European language family are spoken in the Americas (English, Spanish, Portuguese), Africa (English, French, Portuguese) and Australia. Until the middle of the 20th century, the flow of global migration largely followed the direction from Europe to the rest of the world, but since then this flow has been reversed.

Most European nations today have sizeable immigrant populations, many of non-European origin, who have brought their non-European languages with them. The UK was one of the first countries to receive such groups. As an impressive indicator of this process, over 300 languages are spoken in London schools today.

Future graduates will be increasingly required to demonstrate an international or global outlook. By definition this involves knowledge of at least one language other than one’s mother tongue. If your intended field of study is business, then as a future manager you are likely to be operating in a globalised world, in careers that require not only linguistic competence but also intercultural competence. This means the need to develop sensitivity to issues arising out of cultural difference, and strategies to deal with cultural misunderstanding 
or conflict.

A 21st century international manager will most likely be working with teams of people that comprise multiple cultures and languages, surpassing his or her linguistic capability, and requiring a degree of intercultural competence that goes beyond capability in a number of foreign languages.

Business success in the international arena often depends on those linguistic and cultural skills. German chancellor Willy Brandt once said: “You may buy from me in your own language, but sell to me in mine.” Speaking someone’s language creates rapport that opens the door to 
their heart.

A student who studies business in London and chooses a language as part of their degree can often apply their linguistic skills in the ethnic and linguistic communities that make up this multicultural metropolis or, better still, immerse themselves in the target language in the country itself. London Heathrow is Europe’s biggest airport and the gateway to the cultures, languages and societies of Europe, which are only a one or two hour flight, or a train ride on the Eurostar, away.

Josef Mueller
Head of Department, Languages and Cross Cultural Studies
Regent’s College London (2011)