by Brian DeChesare Comments (156)

Which Language Should You Learn to Break Into Investment Banking?

Languages Investment Banking

Ever feel that you’re spending too much time on useless tasks?

It’s a common problem.

And it’s one reason why I’ve written so much about what to avoid when recruiting.

I’ve warned that the CFA and other degrees and certifications can be massive time sinks, but language study could easily fall into this category as well.

The last time I looked at the “Which language should you study?” question, I gave a non-answer and said, “Improve your communication skills in English.”

While that advice is still true today, it’s not universally true.

There are some cases where you can gain a recruiting advantage from proficiency in another language.

So I’m going to cover those cases here, and then give a real, specific answer on the most useful language for finance roles (hint: Spanish).

What *Hasn’t* Changed?

In the original version of this article, I made the point that language study is mostly useless for recruiting purposes unless you reach a very high (near-native) level.

Passing a “proficiency exam” with 90% of the answers correct doesn’t mean much because you can’t give a client 10% incorrect information.

It will be almost impossible to reach a level where you can “speed read” in another language, but you often need to do that in IB/PE roles (when reading information memoranda, for example).

Also, most banks outside the Anglosphere greatly prefer to hire native speakers of the local language who are also proficient in English.

Just ask anyone from a Western country who wanted to “study Mandarin” and then “go work in China.” Oops.

So assuming you already speak English proficiently, you are usually better off combining language study with a study-abroad experience and using it as your “interesting fact” in interviews instead.

So What Has Changed?

But there have been a few changes over the years, which prompted me to write this article.

First, English has become even more dominant at multinational companies, even in countries like Japan that traditionally have low proficiency levels (see: Honda and Rakuten).

So if you are not a native speaker or you haven’t been learning from a very young age, you will benefit the most by improving your English skills.

Another change is that emerging markets haven’t lived up to their promise.

Back in 2005 or 2010, people argued that the importance of other languages would increase because thousands of new banks and finance firms would spring up in Brazil, China, Russia, India, and other places.

In fact, that didn’t play out in the following 5+ years.

China performed better than the others (hence the rise in Asia ex-Japan deal activity), but most of these places still have relatively small financial markets.

Finally, it is becoming less feasible to master another language even as a university student.

You now need a series of internships to have a good shot at a penultimate-year internship that leads to a return offer, so it’s not realistic to spend two summers studying abroad and then suddenly get into investment banking.

This Question is Mostly About Your Age and Region

Before answering the question of which language is most useful, you need to reframe the question:

Are you at an age and in a region where another language could be useful without taking an inordinate amount of time?

The last part is essential because if you want to win finance job offers, many tasks are more useful and less time-consuming than studying another language:

  1. Getting a great internship.
  2. Mastering accounting and financial modeling.
  3. Contacting 20 alumni to set up informational interviews.
  4. Transferring to a university with better on-campus recruiting.
  5. And yes, even passing Level I of the CFA. Maybe.

But age and region also matter.

If you’re already about to graduate from university, or you’re well beyond university, there’s no point in learning a language to boost your recruiting chances.

You won’t have the time or motivation to reach the required proficiency level, and your work experience will matter a lot more than other skills at that point.

Similarly, you won’t gain a huge advantage if you’re planning to live and work in the U.S. because most deals are domestic and require nothing besides English.

So you gain the biggest advantage from another language if:

  1. You’re young – you’re not even in university, or you just started.
  2. You’re planning to live or work in London (or should this now be “Europe”?) or another region where knowledge of other languages can significantly boost your chances.

Outside of Europe, other languages probably help the most in Latin America.

In Asia, most markets tend to favor local candidates who are native speakers; I’ve heard very few stories of readers learning East/Southeast Asian languages and then using them to win offers.

How Do You Judge the “Usefulness” of a Language?

Given the constraints above, the list of languages useful for recruiting purposes is different from the “general purpose” list.

Here are the criteria I used:

Point #1: How Long Does It Take to Learn/Master?

If one language takes 500 hours to learn and another takes 2,000 hours, it’s really hard to make the case for the 2,000-hour one in today’s recruiting environment.

So all else being equal, it makes more sense to study languages that are closer to English.

People often claim that grammatical similarities explain the ease or difficulty of other languages, but I believe vocabulary is the biggest factor: if 75% of the words are similar to words you already know, memorization time drops substantially.

Point #2: How Widespread is the Language, and How “Necessary” Is It?

You can’t just look at a list of languages by the number of speakers worldwide and go by that because some languages are used in only 1-2 countries (Mandarin, Japanese…).

Also, sometimes you don’t need to know the language to work in the region because English is used for business (the Middle East and India).

By contrast, it would be almost impossible to live and work in some places, such as Latin America, without knowledge of the local languages.

Point #3: How Many Qualified Native Speakers Are Competing with You for Jobs?

Firms almost always prefer to hire local candidates, but in some regions, it’s more pronounced than in others.

Sometimes the “supply and demand” of candidates are way out of balance, making it much easier for you (Mexico) or much harder (China).

You’re much better off going to markets with rising, unmet demand for candidates rather than ones that are flooded with them.

The Rankings, Please

Based on this criteria, Spanish is the clear winner for the most useful language.

That’s because:

  1. It’s almost certainly the easiest language to learn if you already know English.
  2. It’s useful in Latin America, the U.S. (see: Miami or LA), and Europe.
  3. You need it in Spanish-speaking countries (personal experience!).
  4. It’s more plausible to win offers as a foreigner in, say, Mexico than it is in countries like France, Germany, or Russia. Click here for a good example of such a story.

So if you satisfy the criteria above, you want to study something to boost your chances, and you’re not sure what to pick, you have my top recommendation.

And Second Place Goes to…

You could make a solid case for almost anything else in the top 10-15 languages, but my “rankings” would go something like this:


Yeah, Brazil isn’t doing so well lately, but it is still the biggest economy in Latin America and the biggest market for investment banking there.

Portuguese has many of the same advantages as Spanish: it’s fairly close to English (though a bit more difficult than Spanish), it’s essential if you spend any amount of time in Brazil, and at times in the past there have been imbalances in the talent demand/supply.

However, I would still give the edge to Spanish because it’s more widespread and more useful in the U.S. and Europe.

German, French, or Italian

These are the most useful languages if you plan to work in Europe, and they’re all more similar to English than Asian or Middle Eastern languages.

However, I’ve seen little evidence of foreigners learning one of these languages, going to the country in question, and then winning job offers there.

Ironically, these languages probably help you the most if you’re from the U.K., you want to work in London, and you need something to compete with continental Europeans applying for IB roles there.

One example is this story from a U.K.-based reader who was “fluent” (though not native) in one of these languages and used it to win an IB offer as part of a larger cold-emailing effort.


While a large population in Russia and the FSU speaks this language, deal activity is limited, and there are few banks and PE firms relative to the size of the economy.

It would be close to impossible to win an IB job offer in Russia as a foreigner, especially in the current economic environment.

Plus, the language is harder to learn than anything above, and I’m not sure it would give you as much of an edge in London.


Japanese is more difficult than any of the European languages, and it’s only useful in Japan.

But Japan is still a big market, with more M&A deal volume than all of Latin America combined, and 10% of the total in Europe and 10% of the total in the rest of Asia.

Furthermore, some firms now want to hire more foreigners because of the shrinking population and the relative lack of English-speaking staff.

I’ve also seen friends and acquaintances learn Japanese to varying proficiency levels and then win finance roles in the country (though not in anything writing-intensive).


Yes, China has the second-biggest economy in the world, and there’s a ton of deal activity there.

Yes, you absolutely need to know Mandarin if you spend any time in China.

But it’s almost impossible to work there as a foreigner when there are tons of Chinese students who are native speakers, studied at top universities in Western countries, and now want to go back home to work.

Even if you spend years mastering Mandarin, you have about a 0.001% chance of being selected over a native speaker.


The problem here is that English is widely used for business in the Middle East, and you could easily get by in a place like Dubai without knowing “the official language” at all.

Arabic is widely spoken in Africa and the Middle East, but many of these countries do not have large financial markets.


So, what about Hindi, Bengali, Panjabi, Urdu, and various other Indian and Southeast Asian languages?

The problem is that the financial services market in India is surprisingly small next to the massive population, and companies use English for business anyway.

In Southeast Asia, English is often used for cross-border deals, given the mix of languages, and if a bank in Singapore wants a Thai or Vietnamese speaker, they’ll just hire a native speaker.

Whither Language Study?

Studying another language will give you an advantage in finance recruiting only if very specific conditions are true:

  1. You’re young and have the time to master it.
  2. You actually master it.
  3. You plan to work in a region like Europe or Latin America where knowledge of other languages is highly valued or essential, and where you could conceivably win offers as a foreigner.
  4. You’ve already done everything you can to boost your chances through other means (multiple internships, accounting/modeling mastery, superb English communication skills, etc.).

If you’ve done all that, great – knock yourself out.

But if not, get back to your English studies.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Great article. Helpful for a talk I’m preparing for.

  2. Thanks Brian!

    With fluent Chinese, Japanese, English and Spanish, what will the best career direction for an investment bank analyst? Would it means more chances of transfer?
    (“Fluent” means good enough for business meeting and casual conversation)

    Though working in Asia now, I am always dream of getting experience in NY / Europe.
    Language learning is my hobbies, and I would be very excited if someday it can boost my career.
    But if not I am still happy to spend 30 mins every day to study.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. You’re thinking about it the wrong way because banks do not hire translators – they hire people to execute deals and perform financial analysis. Language skills alone won’t help that much vs. solid deal experience. With those languages, you would be most useful as an IB Analyst in Asia, less useful in Europe, and even less useful in North America. But it’s hard to say much beyond that because I don’t know your academic/work background, current role, future goals, etc.

  3. Hi Brian, I live in London (have my whole life) and will be starting university this coming September (engineering at a target school in London). I’ve been trying to teach myself Russian. I am Armenian and I speak that fluently, but I decided Russian would be a more useful language to learn, plus my mother speaks it so she can help. I also intend on taking Russian classes at uni.
    I would like to ask what you mean by improving your English skills. I am not shy and have held my own in financial convos with seniors at BlackRock and Bloomberg, but I can’t BS like some. (Also I haven’t written an essay in 2 years). What type of English skills do you mean? Essay writing? Conversing skills? Having that speech style that makes people like you? What do you suggest I do to improve these. I can choose to take a class in philosophy, politics etc instead of Russian at uni. Is it worth it to do this so I get used to writing more essays or can I ‘improve my English’ in other ways?
    Also is it worth putting fluent Armenian on my CV?
    Sorry for the long winded comment. I really appreciate these articles you post and the help in the comments.

    I intend on working in London in the future and yes, my academics are excellent and I have good ECs.

    1. All of the above. The point is that even if you are a native speaker of a language or you learned it at a young age, “communication skills” are different from “language skills.” And most people do not have great communication skills (you should live in my inbox for a day…). Email writing is a particular weak spot for a lot of people. I would focus on writing short, effective emails and read some of the other tips here:

      Yes, you can list Armenian. As for Russian, it’s not that helpful unless you get to an extremely high level, and even if you do, there are many Russians who left the country to move to places like London… so it still might not be that helpful.

  4. Thank you

  5. If you’re in London, but you’ve already graduated is it worth trying to learn the other languages like Spanish?

    Or is it best reserved for a hobby then list it as a quality after you eventually reach the fluent level?

    Mind you, I’m saying this with someone who has fairly little to do to improve their English.

    1. Not worth a hardcore effort unless you really have the time and intend to live in a country where you have to use it and therefore get incredibly good.

  6. Good afternoon,
    What are the prospects of a Credit Analyst, which is a “middle office” or “support team” role, looking to break into IB?

    Depending on the firm and or who you talk to, Debt Solutions/Lev Fin, M&A, Infrastructure could be a good fit.

    I have also heard (in many quarters) that Credit Analysts tend to excel in client facing roles (although this might depend more on the individual). There also seems to be a large amount of modeling, analysis and presentation work involved which could help futher an individual’s case.

    Any thoughts?

    Thank you.

    1. It’s possible, but more so in the debt-related groups. Credit analysis is an OK way to get into banking, but probably not as good as other methods such as working at small PE firms first.

  7. I have been cold-calling/emailing and sending our my applications for M&A intern position here in Germany and most of the time I hear back with with responses somewhere along these lines of “You’re certainly qualified as you have these outstanding bla bla bla’s and we’d love to invite you for the interview as we’ve done for the candidates with similar profiles like yours … but we categorically set the German language proficiency requirement at ‘business-professional’ since we conduct majority of our business in German language.”

    I am an international student studying MSc Finance in Germany and I believed I spoke “Nearly Fluent” German. I have another year to go (plus 1.5 year extra) having lived here for a year now. I’m certain even Native speakers, unless they specifically studied Business/Management related subjects in German language, would not know the German vocabs. that come up in Financial Modeling, Due Diligence et al. I’ll certainly give my best to pull it off for my love of the culture, but seriously, for an internship/analyst role, “Business-professional?” Mein Arsch! Verpiss dich!Time for London!

    1. Thanks for sharing, and sorry to hear about that. Your story is one example of why European languages tend to be more useful for roles in London than in the actual countries that use those languages. I have yet to see a great example of someone who moved to Germany or France, learned the language, and then won a full-time role at the bank using it (but please, if you’re out there, reach out and let me know!).

      1. I hope I can be that one who will win offer in France. P.S. Still trying though

      2. Taking back my words, I won a 6-9 months internship offer in Frankfurt office with good history of interns continuing on a full time basis. So, yay!

  8. Hi Brian,

    I am a young recent graduate based in Poland. I’ll be working for Investor Services for a major bank here, but I am aiming for an off-cycle internship IB around February/March in Europe.

    1) I am a big language enthusiast, however I am wondering if to build upon my conversational fluency in German/Spanish? Which language would you recommend?

    2) Any suggestions on off-cycle internships and how to make a jump from investor services department to IB internship?

    1. 1) I think it really depends on where, specifically, you want to work. If you want to stay in Poland or go to the U.K., it’s not worth improving your existing language skills. But if you want to work in Spain or Latin America, yes, it’s worth it to improve your Spanish. I think German is arguably worth it as well, but my understanding is that it’s tough to win full-time roles in Germany as a foreigner (though internships are possible and don’t require as much language ability).

      2) For off-cycle internships, it is mostly about sheer effort and how many firms you can look up and cold email. There are so many banks and small investment firms in the U.K. that your chances are much better if you target places there. To go from Investor Services to IB, I would probably spin it as “experience working at Major Bank X, and I’m now seeking experience in investment banking” so that you’re not saying upfront exactly what you did.

  9. Avatar
    BBQ Shape

    Just a suggestion to all of those people who are struggling to define “fluency” vs “conversation fluency” etc. Go get tested. Get a score. Each language will sometimes have its own score and test system.

    That way if you wish, you can put “Standard Chinese – HSK Level 5” on your resume instead of “conversationally fluent.” (Calling it Mandarin is actually incorrect, but I won’t get into that here. For Chinese you can take the HSK, BCT, or OPI depending on your goals.)

    To give you an idea of the time commitment to go from zero to being able to have a 20-minute conversation with minimal error and to read a newspaper, the below is what it takes from an English speaker’s viewpoint:

    Spanish: 400-600 hours
    Italian, French, German etc.: 600-800 hours
    Slavic languages (Russian), Japanese, Hindustani, Urdu, and Persian (Farsi and Dari): 1,200 – 1,400 hours
    Standard Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, Arabic etc. : 2,100 – 2,300 hours

    Now add on what it takes to learn how to say “subordinated note” in that language. Nothing worse than someone who claims fluency and then has to walk it back and caveat it to make it seem like he or she never made that claim. Decide for yourself if that time is wisely spent attempting to learn those languages or if you put in 2,000 hours following Brian’s guides and methods to get you the job you want. Be that studying for the GMAT, etc.

    Take a test, get a score. Eliminates the guess work.

    1. Yup, that is very true. Alternate Test: Can you read a newspaper in the language front to back without using a dictionary? Good! Then you can use it for investment banking roles. If not, reconsider…

    2. Valid point about the hours to learn languages, but I have to disagree about the benefit of listing tests for a few reasons (they are of course useful).
      1. There are many people who can study a language in schools and pass fluency tests, but when you put them in front of a client within finance, your ability to describe a picture will not help explaining a the benefits of a reverse merger.
      2. The example you showed here of HSK tests is only useful for someone who studied the language and returned to their home country. Working in the industry, I can tell you that 90% of people working in large Chinese Banks have no clue what an HSK test is. Its not that it isnt useful, its just that the test isnt widely known to local Chinese.

  10. As a trader (commodities, and forex) I did a quick search for the term “technical analysis” first on wikipedia, and then on youtube. The most important major european languages in order of importance on youtube (20 min+) videos is (# of 20+ min videos for “technical analysis”) (as of Dec 07, 2015):
    1. English (of course) (262 000)
    2. Spanish (20 600)
    3 French (11 400)
    4. Italian (5 100)
    5. German (1 880)

    German (my second foreign language after english) actually surprised me, I expected it to come in third after spanish, and I absolutely didn’t expect italian to have 2.5 times as much long videos as german

  11. I studied japanese since I was 13 because my mom forced me (it was free). So i remembered that I applied to Goldman Sachs and they actually got a real Japanese lady who will suddenly switch to japanese alternate sentence. She asked me (in Japanese) how will i describe what they do in operations and I blanked. Looking back, I regretted spending so much time and energy studying this useless language. Even those retail japanese companies don’t want me and they claim to go overseas to recruit. I failed my N1 so I’m not that great at japanese but I used to still be quite confident because “I’m still young”. Well, not anymore.

    1. Well… it’s not exactly “useless,” but it’s true that it’s not really the most useful language, either.

  12. Hello,
    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.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      – 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.

    2. If you speak a language well enough to read/understand an Information Memorandum or a Due Diligence Report or a Regulatory Submission you always have an advantage over a monolingual English speaker. It always saves time if you can read the document directly rather than wait for somebody else to read and summarise it.

  13. 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.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

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

      1. 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?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

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

          1. the UK. I thought German and French could be very beneficial, but now i don’t know

          2. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

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

  14. And what’s your take in this?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      English and perhaps Mandarin if you want to work in Asia, Spanish if you want to work in LatAm

  15. 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.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your input

  16. is Korea a great place to go for banking, finance and business? I like the country.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d prefer HK to Korea but if you speak Korean yes it may be a good place to be

      1. 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?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          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

        2. do you believe that in foreseeable future it will be impossible or hard to succeed without knowing Chinese?

          1. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            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

        3. 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.

          1. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            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.

  17. 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?

  18. 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?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 ?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      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.

      1. Thanks for detailed information. I will keep this in mind forever.

  21. 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?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      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

      1. About “usefulness” (or indeed otherwise) of Mandarin
        Do you agree with the article or not and why?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Yes Mandarin is very useful especially if you’re looking to work with Asian clients (predominantly Mandarin Chinese)

          1. Thanks. Maybe I should rethink its real value then!

  22. 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.

    1. Yes, it can be, but it’s a somewhat odd environment for finance. See:

      1. Thanks! A good article! There are some moments though which are not true now! But the main weak point might be correct – too small of an IB sector.

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Thanks for your input, Andrey

  23. 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?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

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

  24. ok…i have to forget the spring internship…english will be ever problem grrr

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      You can still try

  25. 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 )

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d say TOEFL scores above 109 –

      However, most banks don’t ask for TOEFL scores so they’d just assume you speak fluent English if you’re applying for roles in international cities like New York and they can tell through interviewing you

  26. Avatar
    spring internship :D

    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??

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Fluent English is likely to be the prerequisite

      1. Avatar
        spring intern....

        for fluent english…is good a b2 level??

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Most bankers in BBs speak fluent English, even if they are non-Native speakers.

        2. B2 is not enough. I’m English and spent a while in Germany where I reached B2 in German. I could understand but I wasn’t able to express myself adequately. You can’t persuade and sell at B2 level, you can only read IBs, DD reports, etc.

  27. 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.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your input!

  28. 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!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      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!

  29. 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!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      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. Avatar
    Yifei Yang

    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!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      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.

  31. 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.

    1. 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.

  32. 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?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

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

  33. 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?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I am pretty sure it is possible though I believe readers may have better insights!

      1. Thanks Nicole!

  34. Avatar

    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.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes. Being from a target/top university is better than from a no-name university.

  35. Avatar

    Is 15 too old to try for near native fluency?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      You may want to focus on enjoying life when you’re only 15!

  36. 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!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      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.

  37. 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)

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Korean & French? I think you’d know better

      1. Just curious haha
        But if I were to apply to a job in France or Korea, could I say I’m a native speaker of French or Korean, as I saw fit? Does the order in which you learn the languages really matter?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Yes, no.

  38. Avatar
    Aspiring Monkey

    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!

    1. Cantonese = useless. Japanese more useful in Asia, French more useful in Europe. Japanese not very useful in HK or mainland China.

      1. Avatar
        Aspiring Monkey

        Much thanks!

  39. How to improve English? Any recommendations?

    1. Practice writing about anything and everything, get feedback, learn from your mistakes, and continue practicing.

  40. 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?

    1. 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.

  41. Avatar


    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?

    1. 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.

      1. Avatar

        Thanks, and yes it is a nice language.

  42. 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?

    1. 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

  43. 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

    1. 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).

  44. 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?

    1. 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.

  45. 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.

    1. Yup that’s a good point. Being a native speaker has its advantages…

  46. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. “Fluent in the business terminology.” Yes, essential. I’m English but several years ago I found myself managing an operational carve-out from USA even though I was based in London. I sent a Spanish guy, from the London office, to Latin America to manage that section of the project. And he struggled initially. He’d come to London at 18 to study and had never gone back to Spain. So even though Spanish was his first language, he’d never worked in the language and didn’t know the business terminology.

  47. 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?)

    1. 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.

  48. 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?

    1. That was the point of the article: you can’t do that. Why would I hire someone who cannot communicate with others in the country?

  49. 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!

    1. I think in Germany at least English levels are quite high so it’s less of an issue… that wouldn’t happen somewhere like China.

    2. Avatar
      Marianna Malaspina

      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.

  50. Avatar

    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?

    1. 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.

      1. Avatar


        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!

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

          1. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            Thanks for your input.

  51. 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.

    1. Yeah professional, specialized vocabulary is totally different from what’s tested on such exams… buyer beware.

  52. Avatar
    Benjamin Winters

    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.

    1. Yup visa issues can be a huge problem as well, hadn’t even considered that.

    2. 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?

      1. Avatar
        BBQ Shape

        They’re talking about someone who is Asian, studied in an English-speaking country, and has some knowledge of their native language. They’re not talking about another race from the US or UK who studied a little Chinese and now wants to go work in China.

        Hate to say it, but not every country is as ‘open’ as we are here in the west.

        The English MBA in China is a waste of time. I’ve actually sat in on some classes to see what they do and it’s basically just a money sink. They sell it like you will get the “inside track” if you go to Beida or Tsinghua, but if you did English curriculum there then companies will want to know “what’s wrong with you?” for not going to school in the US or UK. In addition, if you ever decide to leave China, have fun convincing an American company what Tsinghua means. It is true that these are top schools but that’s for Chinese students studying Chinese curriculum. The English versions have about zero credibility with most people I know there. Oh, and no student loans for foreigners, you’re paying cash. Some will give full scholarships if you get a 750+ on the GMAT, but then you’re still at a place where most people outside of China have never heard of.

        And yes, companies can take their pick of Chinese grads who study in the US, UK, or Australia. I’ve known several people from “target” MBA programs in the US who go back to China and make $60,000 a year all-in and work like slaves. Work in Beijing and you can probably shave a few years off of your life when you develop some kind of lung disease.

        Visit China. Go have fun. Go play. Don’t go work or study there. That’s my advice anyways.

  53. 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?

    1. 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.

  54. 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!

    1. Yeah unless you have the time to go into super hardcore study mode I wouldn’t bother – just learn what interests you.

  55. Avatar
    Marianna Malaspina

    Now I am so glad my wise Italian mom made me study language while in Middle and High school in Bologna! 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!)

    1. 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.

  56. 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?

    1. 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

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

    3. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

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

  57. 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!

    1. 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).

  58. 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.

    1. 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

  59. 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?

    1. 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.

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