Suggestions for Foreign MBA Students Needing to Improve Their English-Speaking Skills

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No wonder so many Asian students are traveling to the U.S. to tackle local MBA programs. Those professionals taking home $60,000 per annum pre-MBA might expect to walk away with $200,000 within five years of completing a top-echelon MBA, according to the latest reports.

Last year, 2,000 Asian students traveled to Western Europe to enhance their business knowledge, and thousands more took off to Australia and the United States, according to the Web site Asian Correspondent.com.

"Combined, the U.S., Europe and Australia produce about 200,000 MBA graduates each year. Add to this the new breed of quality MBA programs that are emerging in Asia, and it is clear that the Masters in Business Administration has never been so popular," according to an article the site published earlier this fall.

The trouble is, many of these students are facing a serious language barrier that may hold them back if they do not improve their English-speaking skills.

Career coach Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, co-founder of Career Coaching firm SixFigureStart, notes that these days, she is encountering more and more Chinese and Korean students while working one on one with MBA students as part of the career training at Columbia, Fordham, NYU and Syracuse University.

"All of them all want the trophy of working in the U.S, for couple of years minimum if not to stay on and live here," she says, adding that being branded as good enough to work in the United States is like the "holy grail" for Asian students. "It means they can pretty much write their own ticket" if they choose to return home to look for work, she says.

But sometimes, she encounters students whose English is so bad Thanasoulis-Cerrachio can hardly understand what they're saying, putting them at a huge competitive disadvantage down the road. "If you are interviewing two talented professionals, one who speaks perfect English and one who you can't understand, who are you going to hire?" she asks.

Here are Thanasoulis-Cerrachio's top tips for foreign students who need to shore up their English-speaking skills:

1. Stop speaking your native language for the time being, even with your close friends. "Use English all the time," says the career coach.

2. Type out answers to 10 commonly asked interview questions, such as: "What are your key strengths and main weaknesses?" or "Tell me about a time you had a difficult client you needed to please and what you did" and practice your answers over and over again until they become second nature. If possible, practice your answers with a native English speaker or a professional coach to make sure you are good at pronouncing all the words you plan to use. Thanasoulis-Cerrachio recalls working with one student from China whose English was poor. When she came up with words for her interview speech that she was not able to pronounce well, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio sat down with a thesaurus and helped her edit her answers using alternate phrases.

3. Learn songs in English and sing them to yourself often.

4. Many Chinese students learn English as a second language at school, but they need more work. Continually seek ways to take new classes in English. (Check out local community centers and high schools for classes during the evenings or weekends.)

5. Make new friends who only speak English and watch only English speaking films.

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