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How to Make Learning Stick: Using Your New Language Skills at Work

In this article, we share useful tips for finding or creating situations in the workplace that can boost your confidence and improve your English language skills.

Learning a new skill takes time, and learning a new language is the most difficult skill to learn as an adult. When you are challenged in your work environment by the daily tasks you confront, adding the extra challenge of learning a new language can seem like too much to take on.

But if you can master the art of working in English, you can be more effective at your job and open up a whole new world of possibility for your global career.

In child development, educators talk about a threshold that emerging readers cross – when they go from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’. This is the point at which a reader’s energy is no longer primarily consumed with the act of reading and can shift to absorbing and assimilating information from texts.

Learning a language is similar: there is a point at which a language learner shifts from focusing on learning the language to being able to integrate that language into their daily activity. If your investment in language training is to see a return, you need to be able to shift from learning English to working in English.

Connect your language skills to your work skills

Maybe you’ve mastered the contents of your English course – the complex vocabulary, grammar rules and nuanced expressions. Way to go! You have accomplished quite a lot.

But how do your peers, managers, and clients/customers know you aced that online test? You need to be able to translate your online ‘book smarts’ into workplace skills that directly contribute to your role and responsibilities.

The first step to making the shift from learning English to working in English is to ask yourself: What are the skills that make you effective at your job? What are the critical functions you perform on a daily basis? Take a moment to consider this, and then consider how you would conduct those activities in English.

The only way your co-workers and supervisors see your growth in language skills is through how you use English in the workplace. Are your emails in English improving? Are you better able to follow conversations and meetings conducted in English? And are you able to speak English well enough that your language skills don’t hinder workplace productivity?

Effective Global Professionals need to be at CEFR Level B2 or better. But for most job roles, that competency cannot only be on paper. You need to be able to communicate fluently at Level B2 or better.

Improving your spoken English is the best way to demonstrate your language skills.

One of the biggest challenges with learning a new language, particularly if you have been learning in a self-paced online program, is having the confidence t

o use your new language out in the real world. Maybe you are unsure of your accent or pronunciation, maybe you still speak haltingly and are having to stop to recall vocabulary or expressions. No amount of extra online study is going to get you past this – you have to interact in English with real live people.

Here are four simple tips for finding or creating situations in the workplace that can boost your confidence and improve your spoken English language skills.

1. Look to your existing relationships.

When starting out, look for low-stakes opportunities to communicate. Don’t start by scheduling a meeting in English with your most valuable client. Consider the relationships you already have – perhaps with co-workers or colleagues fro

m other organizations. Try to find people who work in your industry or have a similar job function as you. Then invite them to a regular meeting (in-person or virtual) to stay in touch – and tell them you want to conduct the meeting entirely in English. This way, you are leveraging the strength of your existing relationships to create a ‘safe space’ where you can feel comfortable if you make a few mistakes.

2. Speak English at work, out loud, every day.

Try to find an opportunity for an immersive English environment every day. If you don’t have any meetings in English, call a friend ‘just to chat’. If all else fails, write your emails in English and then read them out loud to yourself.

3. Ask questions.

If you encounter an English word or phrase that you don’t understand, ask about it! Professional English is full of words and phrases that might be specific to your industry. Maybe your company has evolved a particular way of speaking about your products or services that adds nuance to expressions that you thought were simple translations. Many companies even adopt made-up words as part of their brand identity, and these are often based on a sophisticated understanding of how the English language is put together, on modern slang expressions, or on emotive reactions to concepts that are sometimes only loosely associated with the word(s). (For example, see The McRib, Big Ass Fans, Slack, and Girlboss*.)

These are things you can only learn by asking a real live human being (not a search engine). Asking a colleague to help explain something has the added benefit of starting a conversation, so you are practicing your communication skills too!

4. Think in English.

(Ok, this one may not sound like a tip for improving your ability to speak English, but if it helps -- think of it as conducting a conversation with yourself.)

As you go about your day, you can quietly quiz yourself on the English words and phrases related to what you are doing. It may sound silly but as I am writing this I am thinking about the words for ‘sentence’, ‘paragraph’, and ‘brand name’. If you come to one you don’t know off the top of your head, look it up! This will help

build your vocabulary in a way that is customized for your life and always relevant to your unique situation. Repeated practice and regular consideration of the words and phrases that describe your every day activities will increase your ability to readily recall them when you need to.

Stop thinking about ‘setting aside time’ every day for English learning.

It’s time to start integrating English into your everyday workflow.

Whether you’re finding it easy or difficult to complete your online language learning program, getting that completion certificate is only the first step. You need to make a deliberate effort to put your new language skills to work every day in order to retain the knowledge you invested in your program and grow into a proficient communicator** in the global workforce.

*To read more about Girlboss, check out our Annabel's English article, "Girlboss: What this brand name can teach you about workplace etiquette"

**To learn more about the levels of language proficiency, check out this excellent resource from the Corporate Finance Institute, including how to incorporate your English language proficiency level into your resume.

Are you currently learning English (or any other language)? Are you struggling to connect what you are learning in your language training to your every day work life? Tell us about it! Connect with us on social media or send us an email: We’d love to hear your story, and we’re happy to provide expert assistance if needed.


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