Does Business Need More Non-English EMBA Programs? |

Does Business Need More Non-English EMBA Programs?

By Ann Graham

Updated August 12, 2016 Updated August 12, 2016

Although so much of today’s global business is conducted in English, the commonly held language of business, this does not properly reflect the world’s immense linguistic diversity. The United Nations operates in six official languages, the European Union works with a remarkable 24. The most dominant language globally – by number of first language speakers – is Mandarin, spoken by 848 million people, followed by Spanish (414 million) and then English (335 million speakers).

English, however, remains the language of business for most matters conducted at an international level and is likely to maintain its dominance; however, with the increasing prominence of the BRICS economies and the growth of ‘glocal’ operations, the ability to conduct business in more than one language is becoming increasingly important. EMBA programs, such as those offered by the University of Miami, McGill-HEC Montréal, and the University of St Gallen are stepping up with solutions.

Foreign language Executive MBA programs

Most business schools worldwide offer their full-time and Executive MBA programs in English. However, schools located within border areas have a greater motivation to cater for multilingual audiences. The University of Miami’s School of Business Administration, for example, offers a Global Executive MBA program taught entirely in Spanish. Catering for those with an interest in conducting business south of the border, University of Miami’s 18-month degree is designed for Spanish-speaking executives, entrepreneurs and professionals and includes specialized modules for the Latin American region.

In Europe, the University of St Gallen’s Executive MBA program caters specifically for the German-speaking markets of Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The program is taught entirely in German to prepare business managers in the region to converse and conduct business across the three neighboring countries, and beyond.

Other schools take a multilingual approach to their Executive MBA program offerings to better prepare their students for the global business environment. The HEG-FR School of Management in Fribourg, France, teaches an Executive MBA program in three languages, with 60% of the courses and modules taught in French, and the remaining 40% taught in either English or German.

McGill – HEC Montreal’s bi-lingual offering

While multilingual Executive MBA programs are still the exception in today’s business education landscape, bilingual programs are becoming increasingly popular – and relevant. As one of the first truly bilingual global Executive MBA programs, the McGill-HEC Montréal Global Executive MBA, a joint venture of Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University and HEC Montréal, launched in 2008, has flourished. The bilingual format, which builds on Montréal’s unique bilingual heritage, brings together the premiere English and French language business schools in Quebec and, in doing so, gives the program’s participants access to the best resources and faculty of both schools.

Marianne Vandenbosch, Director of the McGill-HEC Montréal Executive MBA program, says: “As a truly bilingual program, all participants are able to understand and read both English and French, and to speak and write in one of the two languages. Classroom discussion takes place in a seamless flow of English and French. Participants value this because it really helps them understand and appreciate the ‘other’ community, whether Anglophone or Francophone, and inevitably helps improve their skills in their second language as well.”

Marie-Claude Pelletier, McGill-HEC Montréal EMBA alum, Class of 2012 and president and CEO of Groupe Entreprises en Santé, certainly saw advantages in embarking on a bilingual EMBA degree. “A bilingual program enables one to think in two different ways, to have a wider variety of professors, and to have this cultural richness in class.”

Another McGill-HEC Montréal Executive MBA alum (Class of 2011) to value the bilingual program is Johan De Leon. The president of says, “I think it’s an advantage. It reflects society, it reflects the best of what is out there.”

The language of business

Dr. Alf Crossman, former MBA director of Surrey Business School, believes the growth in non-English language/bilingual MBA programs is fairly modest and appears to be confined to Europe and North America. He sees English remaining the language of business for the time being at least.

“There is little evidence of this type of program being offered in the UK and there are a number of reasons why this might be the case,” Dr. Crossman says. “It is generally accepted that, whilst some of the BRICS and MINT countries might trade in their own languages, the majority of international business is still conducted in English. Consequently there is little demand for this type of program and it will always hold a niche position.

“To offer this type of course in the UK could be overly complicated for a very small market. In Russia, for example, MBAs delivered in languages other than Russian are rare; these are often delivered by overseas faculty with simultaneous translation. Lastly, we shouldn’t forget the UK has tended not to recognize the importance of foreign languages in business. This could be the main reason for the lack of interest.”

Catering for global business

In global business, diversity runs deep. While an EMBA degree typically has, at its heart, the goal of exposing students to different cultures and global business practices, the majority of programs use English as a common language of business. With shifting demographics and economic centers, it remains to be seen if this will change in the not too distant future.

This article was originally published in September 2014 . It was last updated in August 2016

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Written by

Ann is the senior features writer for the QS TopExecutive Guide and anything Executive MBA related.


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