Which Language Should You Learn to Break Into Investment Banking?

129 Comments | Recruiting Mindset

31 Flares 31 Flares ×

Investment Banking LanguagesRight after the merits of the CFA, GPA rounding, and the ranking of schools and banks, the question that spawns the most debate is which language you should learn to break into investment banking.

And there are many candidates, each supported by a combination of logic and zeal:

  • Spanish: Latin America!
  • Portuguese: Brazil!!!
  • Mandarin: China!!!!
  • Arabic: The Middle East!!!!

So which one should you learn to maximize your chances?

Or is the real answer not even on this list?

The Punch-Line

None of the above.

Learn English or improve your English skills – even if you’re a native speaker.

Probably not the answer you were expecting – so let’s first look why this is the answer, and then why other languages are less useful in business than you would expect.

If you’re learning English as a second language, you’re doing it because… um, it’s the standard business language and almost a requirement to travel or do international business.

Plus, it opens up the US and the UK – 2 of the biggest financial markets – and plenty of other regions like Australia and even the Middle East, apparently.

Even if you’re a native speaker, you could always improve your communication skills by writing, giving speeches, and so on – and MDs in banking care far more about your communication skills than your knowledge of advanced LBO models.

Now for part 2, where I get to convince you that even the CFA might be a better use of your time than learning another language.

You Are Racist / Politically Incorrect / Ethnocentric!

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn another language – I’m saying that you should not learn another language solely to break into investment banking.

You might see a job listing on a career site that looks something like this:

“Seeking investment banking analyst with 2 years of experience in M&A; must be fluent in Arabic.”

You might see that job posting and think, “I can learn Arabic for 4 years in school, study abroad in Jordan or Lebanon, and then go work at an investment bank in the Middle East!”

But you’d be wrong. Here’s a more accurate translation of this job posting:

“Seeking investment banking analyst with 2 years of experience in M&A; must be an Arabic native speaker and have attended school in the Middle East, and then studied abroad in the US, Europe, or Australia.”

Got Perfection?

There is no room for miscommunication in investment banking – you might get an A on your exam with 90% correct, but in finance 90% correct just means that 10% is wrong – which is equivalent to a natural disaster.

Understanding 90% of an article or a news broadcast in a second language is pretty good – but you’re still missing 10% of it.

That’s OK for everyday life, casual discussions, and language classes.

But if you’re responsible for recording all details of a conference call – as analysts often are – that is a serious problem.

And no matter how much you study, you’ll never be perfect in a second language that you started studying as an adult.

(More on how important languages are in investment banking in Latin America.)

Don’t Be Misled by Exams, Either

For example, to pass the JLPT Level I (the highest level) you can get 70% correct.

That’s an impressive accomplishment – but it’s still far from sufficient to advise clients on M&A strategy or to analyze non-recurring charges in the footnotes of financial statements.

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Even if you dismiss the argument above and believe that you can become 100% perfect in both conversation and reading/writing, there’s another problem: speed.

Working in banking or PE requires a lot of speed reading – if you get a 10-page teaser and it takes you an hour to read it, your day is hosed.

No matter how much you study, you’re unlikely to ever be quick at reading other languages – especially ones like Arabic, Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin that have different character sets from European languages.

Cultural Elements

This question of which language is “most useful” in finance is also an incomplete one, because you need to consider cultural elements as well.

I won’t mix words: in some countries, no matter how good you are at the language you will never be accepted in the business community if you’re a foreigner.

I want to keep this as boring and uncontroversial as possible so I’m not going to name specific places, but they exist across multiple continents.

That’s not always the case, and there are plenty of countries with more diversity – but you need to keep the above points in mind before you end up disappointed after years and years of study.

The Competition

And then there’s the competition: you’re up against people from elsewhere in the world who are not only native speakers of their respective languages, but who have also studied English since elementary school.

This one comes up a lot in China, where silly foreigners somehow get the idea that they can just march in, “learn Mandarin” and then work there like a native.

Please, don’t bother: even if you assume that only a fraction of the local population is fluent in English, that’s still tens of millions of people.

And banks in Hong Kong or on the mainland would much prefer to hire them over you.

The CFA is Better Than Something?

I’ve been critical of the CFA before – but for once I have something good to say.

Even though the exam requires a ridiculous amount of time, at least it gives you a conclusive result at the end: you pass, or you don’t pass.

If you pass, you can write it on your resume and everyone recognizes your accomplishment.

Language study, on the other hand, is more random, subjective, and possibly even more time-consuming than the CFA.

People list all sorts of different proficiencies on their CVs/resumes: What exactly is the difference between “Fluent” and “Conversationally fluent” and “Proficient”?

All of these labels are ambiguous unless you write “Native speaker.”

And if you exaggerate your abilities it will come back to haunt you.

The CFA might require 900 hours of study, but becoming nearly perfect at the most difficult languages for a native English speaker – Arabic and the East Asian languages – will require even more time.

OK, So What’s Your Solution Then?

To reiterate: I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t learn other languages. I’m saying that you should not base your study decisions on what will be most “useful” for investment banking.

These days it’s almost expected that you will have some proficiency in other languages, even if you’re not perfect – so you pretty much have to learn something.

The Better Way to Use Languages

Rather than using a second language to work in the country of your choosing, use it as your “interesting” fact in interviews instead.

Combine it with a study abroad or volunteer abroad experience and use it to stand out.

See this article on how to prepare for your full-time banking job – there are several examples of how you could spin even a few months into sounding like a life-changing experience there.

After you get back, set expectations low and say that you can have a basic conversation but that you’re not good enough to use it for business.

Talk about all the cool stuff you did while studying abroad, and use that to hypnotize your interviewer into giving you an offer.

This approach gives you most of the benefits of language study without all the pain and uncertainty:

  • Casual Study and Study Abroad Experience: Can get results in 3-6 months and hype up the experience while downplaying your actual proficiency.
  • Super Hardcore, Fanatical Study: You might spend 4-5 years studying and write detailed reports and papers in the language, but you still won’t be good enough to use it for business.

Gaming the System

We still haven’t answered the question of which language you should learn, regardless of whether you take the casual or hardcore approach.

I’ve never ranked the banks or schools or anything else and I’m not going to start here – but I do have a simple suggestion: pick the most exotic option.

So if you’re non-Asian, studying European languages doesn’t stand out as much as Asian languages, and vice versa if you are Asian.

That may sound racist but it’s also true: interviewers will be much more impressed by a random white person who studied abroad and learned the language in Asia vs. an Asian person who did the same.

If you don’t already have a burning desire to visit a particular country or learn the language there, pick whatever’s the most exotic for you and go with it.

Got Ruby?

You could also make an argument that your time is better spent learning a computer language if your goal is simply to impress in interviews: most bankers won’t even be able to test you, and they assume that anything related to engineering is more difficult than finance.

It’s not easy, but it still takes far less time than learning an actual spoken language to a high-level.

And If You Really Want…

If you really want to go into hardcore super-study mode, go right ahead – but only do this if you have a burning desire to learn the language and are so obsessed you will stop at nothing until you’ve done it.

Otherwise, you will waste time and lose motivation at an “in-between” level, resulting in a high sunk cost and limited usefulness in interviews.

Exceptions, Footnotes & Disclaimers

The above discussion applies to corporate finance roles – investment banking, private equity, equity research, business development, and so on.

For trading, you don’t need to be perfect because you don’t talk to people or read documents all day – lots of foreign traders at large investment banks in Japan, for example, are nowhere near good enough to use the language for serious business.

In sales, you have to be perfect because you are speaking with clients all day.

There’s considerably more leniency with English as a second language simply because it is the most widely learned second language worldwide.

So if you’re not a native speaker, don’t start panicking about an accent or using the wrong word occasionally.

As long as you can read and write business documents without errors, you’re fine.

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

Break Into Investment Banking

Free Access to Exclusive Content for Members Only!

Loading the player...

Sign up for The Banker Blueprint today and enjoy:

  • Free Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews,
  • Exclusive emailed bonus material,
  • Free Banker Blueprint newsletter with more in-depth advice,
  • Unlimited access to all articles, videos, and advice - and free updates whenever new content is added to the site,


We respect your email privacy

Read below or add a comment...

129 Comments to “Which Language Should You Learn to Break Into Investment Banking?”


  1. LSEIB says

    Great Article again! :)

    If your native language is xyz but you have grown up speaking English (but can speak xyz) then do you put xyx (native) and fluent in English on your CV?

    In the UK application form its says ‘fluency in a second language would be beneficial’ (Morgan Stanley Application) – do they mean European language? Or any language?

    • says

      Never write “Fluent in English” if you are submitting a CV/application in English as it’s assumed. In Europe a European language would be the most useful but others could help as well.

  2. Chris says

    I’m in partial agreement here. I’ve been looking at London-based Associate level PE jobs, and tons of these require or prefer language skills, as PE is a European-wide market here. And while most people who make the bar are likely to be native speakers, I do know some people who have gotten through to some top PE houses with very advanced but non-native language skills – and in one particular case this persons langauge skills were the differentiating factor.

    So if you’re 22 and want to pick up a language to add to the CV = useless.

    But if you are starting with ok/intermediate language skills and you’re 18/19/20 years old, and you have the opportunity to study language intensively at Uni plus some study abroad and work abroad programs, this could be a huge asset for a career in Europe.

    • says

      That is a good point, getting to that level is more plausible if you start early and are studying something closer to your native language

  3. Frankie says

    Another good one. Thanks!

    I’ve meant to post this comment/question in a more relevant article, but do you have a ‘day in the life of a Leverage Finance group’ on your list of articles to come? You’ve spoken about M&A and product groups in general, but Leverage Finance is a group that’s in the news quite often, and I’d love to learn more about their day-to-day, deal process, etc.

    Thanks, again — and keep up the great work!

    • says

      It’s on the list but so far no one has volunteered – these days articles require a lot of outside help because I’ve already pretty much written everything I know about (and can easily get from other contributors listed on the About page).

  4. John says

    Great post but I disagree with one point.

    Although I don’t work in banking I just don’t understand how a Asian person who spent time learning a European language is more impressive than an Asian person who spent time perfecting an Asian language (i.e. Good fluency base in Asian language –> Studied abroad and studied that language further to reach near native speaker levels).

    I came to North America after grade 6 so I have a good fluency base in an Asian language. I am planning on studying abroad in my original country so I can further improve my Asian language skill at a professional level.

    If fluency/conversational/proficient/etc. is just cool to see on a resume wouldn’t my plan be more successful in recruiting (especially if I plan on applying for jobs in East Asia)?

    If I do feel confident about my language skills do you think it’s OK to claim it as a native speaker?

    • BW says

      I think it has to do with how a white guy fluent in mandarin is more memorable and more likely to be on a MDs mind than an Asian person and vice versa: which fits into everything said about being a qualified but interesting person with an actual character

      • says

        Yes it sounds racist but you are judged based on appearances… how you dress and what you look like and where you’re from all play a role in the interviewer’s view of you.

    • says

      People judge you based on appearances. In the back of their mind bankers might be saying, “Ok, so he’s from there and knows the language… so what?”

      That only applies if you’re trying to use it to sound “interesting” in interviews. It sounds like you’re trying to become good enough to use it for business, in which case you should probably stick with your original plan. If you’re good enough to read an entire newspaper without looking up any words then you could write “Native Speaker” especially if it really was your first language.

      • John says

        I understand what you’re getting at but it just puzzles me as to why bankers don’t view it as an evaluation of utility. Anyways thanks for answering my questions.

    • says

      Oh, and one other point I just thought of: the scenario you mentioned can actually work against “exotic” people in other countries. For example, some random white person learning an Asian language might be memorable in interviews but he would not be taken seriously in Asia. Whereas you could actually do business there since you’re perceived as much closer to the culture.

      • Dave says

        I’m not sure about that. I’m white, speak an Asian language, and work in banking in Asia. Most of my internal communication with colleagues is in that language, and there’s no way I could do my job without knowing the local language.

        • M&I - Nicole says

          I can see where you’re coming from, esp being in HK. It depends on your team and culture too.

  5. Marianna Malaspina says

    Now I am so glad my wise Italian mom made me study language while in Middle and High school in Bologna!..so now besides Italian and English I speak French, German and Spanish…and do not even want to break into IB! (And I really do not think anyone should learn a language just to break into IB: a language is such a rich experience and allows so much more then that! You can read books in their original language (yes, it is different), feel closer to another culture, sing more songs..oh well, let me stop, I am beginning to speak like a Rosetta Stone sales rep and not like the uberserious (yes I know, I am missing the umlaut…) MBA and CFA Level II candidate I am (really).

    Brian, I agree with you: the most important language to learn for IB is English and one should speak it and write it well. Something most of us, even USA editors and copywriters, still overestimate themselves hugely at doing.

    Paradoxically, Europeans, maybe because of the obnoxious grammar our languages have (or obnoxious mothers…) have an easier time writing it correctly (I used to correct my boss newsletters)(I am not proofreading this message, do not shoot me if it is full of typos!)

    • says

      Yeah that is true. A lot of people reading this site are from Asia (as are many of the contributors) so I focused more on that but English to European languages and vice versa is a much easier jump.

  6. aivilo says

    Such a great article! It is exactly what’s been on my mind lately, namely I wanted to learn a new language (in addition to several existing ones) and randomly had Hebrew on my mind for a very long time, but I started hesitating thinking that it will be no use in investment banking, and that maybe I should just learn Portugiese for example (for Brazil). Seeing how it won’t be of use anyways, I think I’ll stick with my initial passion which is Hebrew!

  7. JK says

    Brian, if you got to a first round interview but got dinged. Is it good if you contact the interviewers the interviewed you and ask them how to improve? And is it also good to just keep in touch even though the programs they recruit only once a year? What would be the best way to go about it after you got dinged but want to work for them?

    • says

      You could do that if you want but it probably won’t make a big difference – just send an update when you have something to report, e.g. another internship, some finance-related project, and so on.

  8. Benjamin Winters says

    This is an important message to get across to anyone with international aspirations. As a recent American graduate who is currently looking to enter banking in China, I’m faced with not only the language issue, but visa sponsorship as well. Many international banks and companies will not sponsor work visas because the domestic labor supply is quite adequate and the investment is too great, especially for entry level hires. We would all do well to keep this in mind when making plans to work abroad.

    If you can get into a top school, an MBA in your target country may be a more successful way to make the switch. I am not yet convinced that an earlier transition is impossible, but I will find out soon enough.

    • Joe says

      Any update on this, Ben? I’m curious, when the multinationals post online about positions in Asia, they usually list that “Fluency in English is required, and competence in an Asian language a plus”. What kind of person is that looking for? It would seem that they can take their pick from locals returning from studying abroad who are fluent in both.

      What are your thoughts on the English MBA programs in China? Worth a look, or a waste of time?

  9. FR says

    Good article. It catches my attention when you mentioned JLPT1.

    I am an Asian living in Asia-Pacific region, who learnt Japanese (as my 3rd language) at a very young age and passed the exam. Finance was my major.

    The problem for me is the HRs. Many local recruitment agencies and investment banks called me up when they have vacanies that need this particular language. They seem to be searching “keywords” that fit their criteria and doing a lazy job. I refused all of the interviews for the reasons you have listed. Furthermore, 99.9% of the finance textbooks are written in English, it is not easy to translate those professional terms accurately and instantaneously for a non-native speaker.

    And I do not want to break into IB. I do not like the job. They are too hyper-specialized.

  10. Frenchgraduate says

    Great article! That is exactly what I keep telling my friends!

    I have a question (though I think I already know the answer…):
    I am French, graduating from a French top school and currently applying online for sales positions at BB in the UK. What do you think my chances are since I am not an English native speaker (I spent one full year studying at Berkeley and got a 4.0 GPA but I don’t feel bilingual at all)? Do you think they will consider my application only if they recruit on a desk that speaks to French-speaking clients?

    Most banks do not even list Paris as an option for graduate positions…and French banks do not recruit juniors at all, they prefer to take tons of interns all year round and they actually hire one of them every two year. That’s why I’m applying in London. Is it totally stupid?

    • says

      If you spent a year at Berkeley and earned a 4.0 then you should have no problems in investment banking… furthermore your comment has no grammatical errors so I think you’re fine in terms of reading and writing. Applying for London is a wise move if the barriers to entry are too high in France.

      • Frenchgraduate says


        But you write that “in sales, you have to be perfect because you are speaking with clients all day”. Does it mean that I don’t stand a chance because I am not a native speaker? I’m applying in sales, not investment banking. And I guess that in London offices, most desks speak to English-speaking clients. I feel able to talk about stocks and comment news in English, but I am definitely not “perfect”, and I have this French/trying to sound American accent (not great when you’re talking to British, Scottish and Irish clients most of the time).

        So, do you think they will consider my application only if they recruit on a desk that speaks to French-speaking clients, and delete it otherwise?

        Thanks again!

        • says

          They always prefer natives of the country for speaking to clients – you can still apply and get the position, but most likely they will put you in charge of any French clients / institutions and you won’t speak to those from the UK as much.

        • DingDong says

          I worked in London for a few years in PE (I’m American). One of the french guys spoke perfect english but with an accent. Everyone understood him and there were no problems. On the other hand, the Scotsman from the Highlands was almost unintelligible and his native language was supposedly English.

  11. Deborah says

    Good article. Seems like jury is still a bit out in terms of running a huge financial institution, even if language of business is English. Was reading about Jain at Deutsche Bank recently, could a non-German-speaking guy ever be CEO of a company that at least domestically has such strong ties with German government. We’ll see!

    • Marianna Malaspina says

      Deborah, if a German guy can become CEO of an Italian Bank(kick out Profumo, enter Rampl, albeit as an interim CEO) because of a Lybian president, anything is possible.

  12. Martin says

    Hi! I would like to ask what to do in order to get internship in a non-english speaking country, if I cannot speak their language, only english?

  13. Adam says

    Spot on here, wish I had read this years ago – would’ve saved a lot of anguish.

    The one I think where learning a “popular” language to boost your finance career could work is in sales, like equity sales. A native English speaker is the best person for the job for English-speaking clients (just like a native French speaker for French clients etc.) not only because of language, but also culture – the fewer the cultural differences the smoother the relationship generally. If selling let’s say Korean equities to North American clients, that sales person can add a lot of value by speaking Korean – he/she can pick up information not available in the English press, help clients when they want to meet with companies, give cultural insights that would come with learning Korean etc.

    The same argument can made for research, like equity or economic research, but it would only make sense for the firm to hire a native English speaker to cover a non-English-speaking market if that market is VERY popular with English-speaking investors AND fluent-English-speaking-qualified-in-finance natives of that market are hard to find.

    For jobs where client-interaction is rare, like trading, learning the local language can help, but it will never be a major factor in whether to hire you.

    In banking, the only situation where the firm might hire you in a non-native language environment is where your team specializes in cross-border deals. I don’t think it’s common to have such teams though (is it?)

    • says

      That’s a good point, though those markets are not especially common. Cross-border teams usually don’t exist at banks as cross-border deals are mostly just handled by the relevant product / industry team.

  14. Matt says

    I speak basic spanish (learned from my grandma) but now I’m studying and becoming fluent in “business spanish” as I call it. Even if someone is fluent in the language because their family is from the country, there is no way they are fluent in the business terminology important to that language. You are dead on in regards to “keep learning english.” Most people don’t understand the financial words and concepts in english. Learn those and articulate them better. Math, charts, and data are universal. Rely on those if you can’t speak the language. That is what is expected anyway. You are better off knowing customs so you don’t make an ass of yourself that being able to rattle off numbers in the local dialect.

    [On the CFA] You should also be mentioning that the CFA Institute requires 4 years of legitimate work experience before you get the letters after your name. So someone passing all 3 levels in the minimum 2-3 year timeframe “to break in” still has 4 years of work experience to get through before they can drop that. Until then they would likely only be able to note they passed all three levels. The CFA has value for someone that is already on the inside, knows their stuff, and has use for the body of knowledge. For everyone on the outside the CFA has as much value as learning a foreign language, looks good but not a huge advantage.

    • says

      That’s true, but plenty of people write “CFA Candidate” or something similar on their resume even if they don’t have the required years of work experience. At the analyst level no one really has the required work experience anyway, so that’s what most CFA-related questions are referring to.

  15. Merlin says

    Really interesting article, I was once the only native English speaking intern/analyst in the department of a European, London based bank, and so I got asked to proof read/reword a lot of documents, which gave me great exposure to senior bankers and allowed me to get involved in the more interesting projects. It was small advantage over my colleagues, who all seemed to able to speak 5 languages.

  16. Joe says

    Unrelated to the article and assuming the goal of 90%+ people on this site is to make as much money as possible. How does portfolio management at a mutual fund, or investment management at a large private bank stack up to IB? Are these two alternate paths into hedge funds?

    • says

      Those are quite different from IB (and lower-paying) and rarely, if ever, lead to hedge funds. Hedge funds look for traders and ex-bankers and sometimes equity research people but managing a mutual fund is way different from making aggressive bets and trading complex instruments, so there’s little overlap.

  17. Veritas says

    I agree with the point that in non-English speaking countries firms would prefer to hire a local native speaker with fluent business English rather than vice versa, but only to a certain extent. This is almost certainly true for local securities firms, but for a global investment bank (e.g. GS/MS/UBS) there will always be 1 or 2 spots available for the ambitious young American/Englishman who has foreign language skills. There was a foreign associate at the BB bank I interned at in Tokyo over the summer who basically started from daily conversation Japanese (when he first started working as an analyst) to engaging in high-level M&A discussions with clients in Japanese. I admit it wasn’t always pretty, but it was more than adequate to get the job done and clients appreciated the fact that a foreigner was putting in so much effort to communicate in their native language

    • says

      That’s true, and if you’re really motivated to get to that high a level it can pay off. I think Japan may also be a special case simply because English is not an option at all, and so clients would rather put up with a non-native speaker rather than revert to another language (I lived/worked there before).

  18. Kay says

    Hi M&I,

    I’m currently choosing my optional modules for next year (I’m an economics UG) and I have a choice between Public Finance (microeco analysis of public finance theory) and Development Eco. I can also choose a director approved unit. I don’t suppose you would advocate choosing a language as the optional? Some other finance related unit or Public Finance?

    • says

      Does not really matter either one is fine, I would not pick a language unless you are studying abroad in the country or actually plan to get really good

  19. François says


    Is it worth mentioning on your résumé that you are a native speaker of Catalan (language spoken by 11 million people in Spain, official language in Barcelona and Valencia)? Or if you are fluent in French and English anyway, would it be considered irrelevant?

    • says

      Sure throw it in there but I don’t think it will make much of a difference. Catalan, incidentally, gave me trouble when I was in Spain last year as I had a super-hard time understanding what people were saying in Barcelona… quite a bit different from Spanish. Cool language, though.

  20. Abby says

    I am fluent in French and Spanish. I grew up speaking both languages in countries that speak these languages so I am a native speaker/life long speaker whatever you want to call it. It is not a lie in my resume if I say I am fluent because I really am. I do not know business terminology though because I studied (kindergarten through college) in international/American schools. I was asked in an interview one time to “prove” my skills by translating some hyper technical word (don’t remember what it was but it was related to MBS or derivatives), and I blanked . I just don’t know these terms off the top of my head (although when I read them in context I have no problem understanding). I got the job but don’t want this to happen again in the future. While I know that I could extremely easily learn these b terms, how do I caveat in a resume?

    • says

      Just say conversationally fluent to be conservative otherwise it looks silly if you start writing “(but don’t know certain business vocabulary)” and things like that.

  21. Aspiring Monkey says

    Hi M&I,

    I am an undergraduate student very interested in investment banking.

    I’m fluent in English and Mandarin (can read simplified and traditional), and have some spare time in college for language studies. Recently I’ve been entertaining the idea of moving my career to Hong Kong/Asia after obtaining a few years of US IBD experience, and have a few questions regarding relevant languages.

    1. How much benefit would becoming conversationally fluent in Cantonese as well bring for an IBD, or financial services in general, career in HK? In Asia?

    2. Would French or Japanese be a more useful language to know?

    I’d been given numerous arguments by different credible sources. Some have said to learn French, as it’s considered a “classy” language and “looked up upon” in Asia. Others have said that Japanese is a language that might actually prove useful in practicality. The argument seems to boil down to whether I want to seem more impressive or learn something more practical.

    This would be a simple problem otherwise, but I do have somewhat of a network in finance in Asia, and have experienced firsthand the benefits of “seeming impressive” especially with referrals. Now I’m really not quite sure which will prove more useful in the short and long run.

    3. I understand that Japanese might prove useful in other business activities in Asia (e.g. business development, corporate finance), but would it actually be of practical use for finance in HK or mainland China?

    I tried to limit my questions to key issues, but I know I still asked a lot haha. In any case, thanks for even taking the time to read this!

  22. Albert says

    I immigrated from Korea to Canada when I was 5, and attended a french school in Toronto. What would my native language be?
    Korean is the first language I learned, and the only language I spoke at home. However, I attended a French school since Kindergarten, so all my classes were in French. On top of that, I spoke English everywhere else.
    Obviously, growing up in Canada (outside Quebec), English became my preferred language; but I can communicate in all three (although Korean lacks a little)

  23. Mark says

    Having read both the post and the whole comments-line I still have the following questions: do bankers talk to clients (or during conference call) in the same way as they write e-mails? Or they speak general English? I do not mean specific vocabulary or even IB “lingo”, but business correspondence style with certain, sometimes ridiculous and necessary collocations?

    And is there any approved specific investment banking correspondence manual (textbook) in order to improve writing skills? Or business correspondence style is quiet general for all finance-related positions?

    Thank you in advance!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Bankers speak English that non-bankers can understand though they do throw in a few phrases here and there that are considered as “IB-lingo”

      No, I don’t think there is any approved specific IB lingo textbook. Good question though.

  24. Christos says

    Thanks. Completely unrrelated briefly, is something like a chemistry degree from a top university better for getting a first round interview than an economics or business degree from a no name.

  25. Arthur says

    Is it possible to get an internship at a BB Bank in Moscow, from UC Berkeley, speaking fluent Russian? And then get a full-time offer at the same bank in Moscow after under-grad? Or do they only hire when they need someone in that area?

  26. Sissi says

    Hi, I agree with this post! But may I ask how can I improve English business language since I am an Asian studying in London?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Make it a point to listen to Bloomberg/CNBC an hour a day. You can also youtube videos on financial news.

  27. Marco says

    Great article! I just graduated from a non-target school in NYC with a degree in Finance and eventually I want to get in IB, since I’m a foreign I don’t really know much people in the industry but if I get any job I know I could work my way around. Where could be a good place for me to start a career? I actually am a native speaker of Spanish and Portuguese was my 2nd language in which I’m fluent as well.

    • says

      I would go to Mexico, Brazil, or somewhere else in Latin America – do a search on the site for some recent coverage of those areas. Unlike banks in the US, they are actually hiring and need people.

  28. Yifei Yang says

    Great post!

    Really need to brush up on my English skills further…

    Just a silly question to ask

    If my English is not so good – I could been chocked during assessment center – shall I still network with people or it is just a waste of time? Other than improving the language skill, any specific suggestion?

    Thank you very much!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Network with people, who speaks your native language, in the industry! And yes, if you network with people in English, try to ask questions and listen more than you speak – this will make you look better.

  29. Vic says

    I’m an economics and finance major. I like languages very much. Though the truth is they are extremely time-consuming, meaning only one to three at best should be focused on.
    I’m pursuing a career in finance, then striving for purchases/sales/CFO/general mgmt.
    I read your article named “Which Language Should You Learn to Break Into Investment Banking?”, which was quite an innovative view!
    Chinese and Japanese, Arabic and Spanish are quickly becoming very popular and I wonder if it would be of financial/career benefit (in homeland or in their countries in roles other than pure finance) to learn either or several?
    I don’t plan to live in either of their countries, unless for making money, and I wonder if either Chinese, Japanese or Arabic, Spanish would contribute to this.
    Personally I would prefer Japanese, but they are in decline, or Spanish, but Spanish-speaking countries don’t seem to be at the forefront of the business world, whereas China is up-and-coming, but I dislike their language. Arabic sounds cool, but again, there doesn’t appear to be much business with them.
    You wrote: I know life can seem very tough and competitive (especially in China), but I think there will be some big positive changes over the next decade in China and Asia. I don’t think you need to be too stressed because you’re already in a great position as you have 2 of the most important skills in the world (English and Chinese).
    So, purely on making big bucks basis, Chinese wins hands down on the other three?
    Finally I would like to settle down in Scandinavia, but that is not a great market (Finland preferably, I come from Russia), or Germany, I don’t know if this is feasible
    Best regards, thanks in advance and sorry for my English!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d go for Spanish and/or Chinese depending on which culture and language you like more. Bear in mind that it can be challenging to succeed in China in IB or other business-related roles where you have to deal with clients if you don’t like the culture. Even if you speak the language fluently, you still need to get the culture to succeed and progress in the role.

  30. Elnoche says

    You mentioned Portuguese as a possible choice. How do you think, does this language has huge potential? As compared to Spanish and Chinese? Brazil is a BRIC country, a potential super-power. But currently there seems to be little demand for Portuguese!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Good questions! I’d say Mandarin first. However, I think Portuguese is useful if you’re looking to work in Brazil or related projects. Otherwise, I’d go for Spanish. Readers may have better suggestions!

  31. Elnoche says

    Indeed, China is growing fast, but so is the number of those learning Chinese. That’s the down side I guess! And it is Japanese that is still the lingua franca in Asia as far as I know. As to Brazil, it is the economic powerhouse of Latin America. The problem is I’m not sure if there are a lot of opportunities in Brazil for finance and business professionals in comparison with Spanish-speaking countries.
    I think the 3 languages frequently overlooked are German, French and Italian.
    Germany is by far the powerhouse in Europe and Switzerland’s Zurich is a major financial centre! France is still an important player and Canada has a lot of opportunities (bilinguals are welcome there), just like again Switzerland’s Geneva does! Italy is not frequently mentioned, but it is an important player worldwide and a small number of Italian learners might make this segment quite lucrative I suppose.

  32. spring internship :D says

    hi,(excusme for my english)…could you tell me if ,for the spring internships(offered to first year student during undergrade deegre), the candidate must have a fluent english, or a basic english is enough??

  33. spr intern says

    I expressed myself badly,excuse me…what is meant by fluent english:level b2,c1,c2? how many points at ielts or toelf?
    i hope you have understood ( excuse for my english )

  34. Norris says

    Hi, I’m actually still In high school, but I speak native level Mandarin because I went to school in China from when I was 9 until I was 13 and I also speak fluent Japanese. My Japanese is enough to get me through a 1-1 1/2 hour conversation and I will be learning French for my last two years of high school. Will this make me stand out or will it only give me a little advantage?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes your language skills can help but what makes you stand out are your work experience, credentials, persistence and work ethics

  35. Andrey says

    Can Russian be said to be an important business and financial language? Russia has an enormous potential, although currently it is not in very favourable conditions.

  36. Paul says

    I’m trying to figure out which language would be the most exotic for me and wanted your opinion since, I’m going to be honest, looking exotic in an interview is the most important factor for me in picking a language.

    I’m half Filipino, half Norwegian, and I look Hispanic. I do not know any other language at all other than English. If I choose Spanish, I already look Hispanic so that isn’t exotic, if I choose a European language, I am half European so that is not exotic, and if I choose an Asian language I am half Asian so that isn’t exotic. Thoughts?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Since you already look exotic, I think you’ve already achieved your goal since you said “looking exotic in an interview is the most important factor for me”. If you don’t speak another language other than English, there’s not much you can do to speak fluently in another language unless you have a few years to prepare for that. In that case I’d probably choose Mandarin since it is useful and would certainly make you even more exotic

  37. Syrym says

    Another article I enjoyed to read.
    I have a question.
    When I see some cool positions in Hong Kong, It is stated that I must be able to speak Chinese sort of. But, I don’t, and I am not even Chinese and have never been to China. Will I be able to get an IB job there if assume that my GPA, skills, extracurricular activities, and other needed and valued characteristics are also great ?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes though it can be more challenging if you don’t speak the language and don’t have the network here. The best bet is to look for roles in HFs and S&T where you aren’t dealing with Chinese clients who only know Mandarin. In IB/PE, your main clients are mainland Chinese managers/owners of corporates.

  38. Sven says

    is there any way German can be used for career advantage? Save for going to Germany. But even then this is likely to be unnecessary since they all speak English.

  39. Sam C says

    What an insightful article!
    Anyways, my dream has been to work in Hong Kong ever since I was in middle school. I love the culture and vibrancy of Asia’s answer to Manhattan. As a native English speaker with 4 years of college Mandarin classes under my belt, would I be able to break into HK, despite lacking native fluency and not being completely comfortable with business Mandarin? And what would be the best way to break into the HK markets, should I focus on a career in the US or UK and then transfer internally to Hong Kong or is it possible for me to directly enter into an Hong Kong office? What is the deal with internal location transfers at investment banks? Furthermore, what about later attending the English MBA at HKUST (HK University of Science and Tech)? Is HKUST a target MBA for the BBs and what it be worth considering?
    In addition, I have a few random questions about undergraduate target schools. Is USC a target? What about Caltech? And how is IB recruiting at Northwestern?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      US or UK works. You may want to get into a target school to increase your chances significantly. People transfer from NY or Europe; some have Asian work experience, some don’t. HKUST is a good school, though I’m not sure if it’s a target. I’d call it a “semi-target” Banks recruit there, but it is still not as prestigious as HBS/GSB

      USC and Caltech are great schools. I’d say they are semitargets. Northwestern is more likely to be a target.

  40. Sam says

    Thanks Nicole!
    I still have a few questions. For example, how easy is it to get an internal location transfer at an ibank? Also I am confused what exactly are the target schools. Caltech for example is US News ranked #10, but only a semi-target. So do you know a comprehensive list of target schools? Does M&I have an article defining or providing info on target and semi-targets? And I have a few more school target or non-target questions? Are Carnegie Mellon, U Virginia, William and Mary targets? Most importantly, how does Georgetown perform in recruiting?

      • Justme says

        how can it be? HK is nowhere near Korea in terms of economy. I speak some Mandarin, but in HK they use Cantonese. Can one do without Chinese there? I don’t speak Korean, but I’m going to learn it at any rate for I like it. One point: I thought the best place for banking, finance and business in Asia is by far Japan, though I’m not particularly interested in that country. Am I wrong?

        • M&I - Nicole says

          HK is still considered financial hub of Asia. You don’t need to speak Cantonese but you do need to speak Mandarin in HK. Some people can get by without knowing Mandarin. If you really want to work in Korea, then I’d go for Korea as long as you’re willing to learn the language and culture. No, I don’t believe Japan is best place to be for finance, but I may be wrong. I believe Singapore and HK are better places to be

          • M&I - Nicole says

            In China, yes. Around the world? Not necessarily. It is definitely a plus to know Mandarin, and I think it’ll be very useful, but I think you can still succeed without knowing the language

        • Justme says

          Yes, around the world. I wouldn’t be happy to further learn Chinese. I just read some opinions that soon without knowing Chinese and Spanish there will be no success in finance and business, English loosing its positions soon. Hopefully the rumors are exaggerated.

          • M&I - Nicole says

            There’s some truth to that to be honest given world events these days. You can always learn Mandarin on the side if this interests you.

  41. Justme says

    I just think it may be not worth it investing so much time in Chinese and Spanish, since you would need a very good level. On top of that, you’ll have to maintain that level. As a result, return may turn out to be low compared to acquiring different finance and business skills.

  42. says

    Great article !.

    i am an indian ,pursuing Bachelor’s in finance in one of the poland universities.
    i am planning to work for london based investment banks. i have already started my action plan like networking,internship,study abroad etc. What my doubt is , for london based investment banks is english enough?. because i am from india and i don’t think that i would speak any other european languages fluently in my academic years. What do you think?. please i need a valuable suggestion.

    Thank you.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Speaking native English is sufficient for some roles in London I believe, though knowing another language can be beneficial.

      • Mrs Pitch says

        and specifically as far as London and Western Europe at large is concerned, what languages would you recommend as the most beneficial in addition to native English?

        • M&I - Nicole says

          It depends on which area in Western Europe you’ll be covering, but I think Spanish maybe useful though I am not 100% sure.

          • M&I - Nicole says

            Yes these two languages are useful too. It really depends on the team and what sort of clients you’re covering.

  43. J says

    Although I don’t want to only rely on languages to breaking into IB, I would like to use them to my advantage as much as possible. I hold both American and EU citizenship, so I could work in both places without visas. Also, my native language is English, but I speak multiple European languages, many of them very well, although I’m not sure well enough for business. However, I am honest with my level of these languages on my resume (i.e. some are Intermediate, not all Fluent). I am still afraid though that they question me in a different language?
    •Should I still list all of these languages on my resume, even if not perfect business proficiency? Could this perhaps help my resume stand out or hopefully make me a more “interesting” candidate? What do you recommend.
    •If my interviews ask about my proficiency in languages, should I tell them up front that I speak many languages with various proficiencies?
    •Would you recommend that I apply for European positions, especially in London?
    •Which specific banks would speaking multiple languages be useful, both in the US and Europe?
    •Where would you recommend that I look for banks with Latin America groups in the US?

    I apologize for the numerous questions. I hope that your answers could help others who may have similar questions. Thank you very much.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      – Yes you can list your languages, I’m not 100% sure how useful they are but worthwhile to list
      – Yes best to be upfront
      – Yes
      – Most banks can use people with multiple languages, especially for roles that are client facing
      – If you have a Latin American background, perhaps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *