Improving your English language skills before going to grad school

Excellent English language skills are required not only to get into most MBA programs, but also for a career in the English-speaking business world. We spoke to Christina Ball, PhD and Founder and Director of Speak! Language Center, to learn more about their English courses for business school applicants and students.

In short

What is B-Speak?

English is the global language of business, which also means it’s the global language of MBA programs. However, a large proportion of MBA applicants do not speak English as a native language. When this is the case, they normally have to submit a TOEFL score to prove their proficiency in the language. It’s another barrier to doing an MBA, but also to securing a job in the English-speaking business world.

B-Speak! aims to shrink that gap between non-native speakers and English proficiency. Since 2012, they have been helping international students at US business schools improve their English. Christina Ball is the Director and Owner of Speak! Language Center. She says it is the customized nature of their English teaching that sets them apart from test prep or group-focused programs.

“What our program is designed to do is clearly assess each individual’s speaking, writing, listening comprehension, and also their confidence and public speaking skills,” she says. “Then we customize the coaching to fit their needs and goals.” (01:40)

She continues, “We combine the online lessons with our online curriculum, which has lots of support for things like pronunciation, admissions interviews, job interview prep, case method discussion, building confidence in public speaking [and even practice with small talk and American culture] it’s very customized [to the student].” (01:58)

Why B-Speak! isn’t simply a TOEFL prep course

The TOEFL test is an industry-standard assessment, and one that is accepted by business schools across the world. Although Christina accepts that TOEFL is a popular tool for assessing English proficiency, she also believes it has its limitations.

“It doesn’t really give an accurate picture of the human being’s personality, their speaking style, and their listening comprehension. It’s just an assessment designed to lead to a number which will help admissions professionals debate between one person and another,” she argues. (07:41)

Instead, B-Speak!’s assessment measures a wide range of factors that influence communication – some of which can’t be quantified or translated into a test score. Christina believes it is these intangible things that really measure how well somebody can communicate.

“We have our own assessment which is very holistic,” Christina explains. “We interview the person on Zoom first and we assess them in a more holistic way – how is their confidence, how is their body language, how is their grammar, how did they do this question in the past tense…it’s much more personalized.” (08:12)

The business-centered B-Speak! curriculum

It’s not just the personalization that sets B-Speak! apart. Their curriculum is business-centered, aiming to provide students with the theory and vocabulary they need to be a success in their post-MBA career.

“You can take classes that will do TOEFL prep. That’s not what B-Speak! does. We focus more on the actual individual – your personality, your strengths, your weaknesses, and then we contextualize it within business schools and business,” explains Christina. “We have you read articles about business, we have you read case studies that you’ll actually be doing in the classroom, we ask you behavioral interview questions that you’ll be asked in your MBA interview.” (08:37)

TOEFL prep programs may teach you how to pass an exam, but B-Speak! goes much further than that. Their syllabus prepares students not just for their MBA application, but also for their time during and after the program. 

The B-Speak advantage

Christina estimates that the total cost of their B-Speak program will be no more than $1,400 – an investment that pales in comparison to the total cost of an MBA. For this, you’re not just getting a language teacher, but a mentor – someone who can also support you during your application and during your time in the program.

“Most of our students do well with 30 one-on-one hours or fewer…an average [price] would be around $50 an hour for the coaching if you’re paying the full price. All of our partner schools get a discount – [so it will be] around $45 an hour for the coaching [instead],” says Christina. (09:42)

“We have about 15 B-Speak! coaches and they’re all veteran teachers,” she adds. “This is your coach, they’re in your corner, they’re helping you, they’re cheering you on. Having someone like that to support you throughout your growth as an applicant and then as an MBA student is really an advantage.” (03:16)

If you’re a non-native English speaker, an MBA alone is not enough to launch a career in the English-speaking business world. Communication skills, which are highly valued by employers, cannot truly be measured by a test score. By investing in your English skills now, you’re setting yourself up for a brighter future career.

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