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Language needs in business, a survey of European multinational companies

Didiot-Cook, Herve, Gauthier, Valérie and Scheirlinckx, Koen (2000) Language needs in business, a survey of European multinational companies. HEC Paris, Languages and Cultures Department working paper (725). Inter-faculty Group for Languages Joint Study Project, Community of European Management Schools (CEMS), Paris, France.

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This survey of language needs was carried out to help create a better match between the actual use of foreign languages in their working environment and the training of future managers within the CEMS programme. On the basis of a quantitative analysis and 34 qualitative interviews, we tested a number of key hypotheses. The results show that, when recruiting, companies expect at least an advanced level for English. Recruits have to be able to perform from day one. They should indeed have a solid knowledge of general business vocabulary. Written English at an advanced level is considered a necessary skill, yet oral skills are even more valued by recruiters. Most companies expect an increase in the use of written English mostly for e-mail communication and reports as well as for research purposes. In reports, standards for the level of English are high. Oral English is used in presentations, meetings and negotiations, again with high standards. For the future, companies expect that English will become even more widespread when it is not yet at a peak. Globalisation and new technologies account for this trend. A second foreign language is either required or a major plus. It is a significant sign of open-mindedness. The level can be lower than the one for English, but not when dealing with clients. Oral skills are far more important than written ones as the second foreign language is mostly used for meetings or negotiating with clients, and for solving local problems. For an expatriate, not speaking the local language is considered a lack of respect for the people and the culture, and this is unacceptable. Most companies expect that the use of a second foreign language will not increase, given the expansion of English, except in the UK. For communication skills, it is not so much the techniques that matter since recruits will attend company training. Recruiters look for self-confidence as a determining factor. Candidates should be able to demonstrate basic communication skills and sufficient experience. Regarding writing skills, e-mail is omnipresent. When writing informal e-mails, efficiency is more important than proper spelling and grammar, because it is considered written conversation. Formal e-mails, especially in the case of a first contact, have very high standards. Reports should also be free of mistakes. However, they should be synthetic and brief rather than in full text. For the oral skills, presentation skills are crucial. Once graduates are on the job, meetings, negotiations and phone conversations are their most frequent tasks, although these skills are not always tested during recruitment. The impact of new technologies on language use is that the need for better communication skills increases, especially writing skills (particularly e-mail) and proficiency in English. In the CV, language skills should be clearly described under a separate heading, and supported by concrete evidence (courses, internships, living abroad). It is very important to provide honest and realistic information. The CV should be in English, possibly with a copy in the local or corporate language. Making the candidates perform tasks in different languages mostly tests the level of proficiency. Interviews are either in English only, or in English and the mother tongue.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2000 The Authors
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Sets: Departments > Language Centre
Research centres and groups > Learning Technology and Innovation (LTI)
Date Deposited: 11 Aug 2009 14:37
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2020 00:59
Projects: CEMS Inter-faculty Group for Languages Joint Study Project

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