The elephant on your internship application and how to overcome it

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Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, the Royal Bank of Scotland.  When applying to Spring Week’s, internships or graduate positions with any of these banking institutions you are likely to be asked if you have a second language.  This is undoubtedly true of different business sectors too.  Although they sometimes state “a second EU language is preferable but not essential”, in a competitive job market, you do not want to put yourself at a disadvantage.  In different countries, language education is prioritised more so than in Britain.  This has left some students lacking in language skills, whilst companies become more globalized and a second language becomes increasingly necessary.

Sarah Harper, head of EMEA graduate recruiting at Goldman Sachs, told TARGETjobs that “A high number of applicants to Goldman Sachs will be fluent in another language to English. In some divisions, typically client-facing ones such as investment banking, securities and private wealth management, the majority of graduate hires require language skills.”  Additionally, Antonia Choi, head of IBD graduate recruitment EMEA at Nomura, expressed that “of course languages are always an advantage.”  Most large banks would like you to be fluent in a second language.  This is a difficult feat to achieve if you are not from a bilingual household or haven’t lived or studied in another country.  However, it is never too late to start.  Languages are interesting for most and are increasingly important to companies as they expand into different regions.

Lancaster has several avenues that you may go down to improve your language skills.  The first is the Culture Society.  This society is popular on campus and provides classes in fifteen languages.  Membership to the society is £5, and this includes unlimited access to any of their weekly language classes.  This society is a good starting point for anyone who wants to learn in a more informal setting and to meet people who share their interest in the process.  The society President, Clarisa Chan, told me “[the] society has been running very successful language classes over the past few years”, Clarisa continues: “We’re always welcoming everyone to join our culturally diverse society. All our teachers are lovely student volunteers willing to teach their native language, or just the language they love.”

Another opportunity at Lancaster is hosted by the Confucius Institute, which was opened at Lancaster in 2011.  One of the aims and purposes of the Institute is to offer credit-bearing language classes in Mandarin to students, staff and members of the local community.  The centre is an official HSK test centre for providing Chinese Proficiency Test.  The Institute’s Director, Wei Shen, is a Professor of International Business at LUMS.  Shen told me that learning languages such as Mandarin are “essential for globally minded students to be one step ahead of their peers, as our world of business is now increasingly looking for talents who can demonstrate strong communication skills in a foreign language and ability to work in a culturally diverse environment.” A huge number of 873 million people worldwide speak Chinese as their first language, consequently making these classes a good place to start.  Mandarin has a reputation for being very difficult to learn, but having started taking these classes myself, I have found the lessons to be structured in a way that even if you have no prior experience of learning a language, you will be just fine.

The University has options to suit different learning styles and to teach a variety of languages; the Culture Society and the Confucius Institute are just two examples.  Similarly, if English is a second language to you, there are opportunities on campus to practice and improve your language skills.  For example, the Lingua Anglicus society offers peer to peer conversation practice.  As demonstrated above, many businesses, and banks in particular, are keen to recruit graduates and undergrads who have strong language skills.  In an increasingly globalised economy, these types of abilities have never been more valuable.