If you’re a non-native speaker working with native English speakers, you may have no choice but to practice English at work every day. However, using English at work doesn’t have to be a pain.
However, having to speak English at work can be a blessing in disguise. Many people who speak English as a second language don’t have the opportunity to practice every day. If you have to work in an English-speaking environment, you’re obligated to make English a part of your daily routine. So, count yourself lucky and take advantage of the opportunity to practice and learn as much as possible.
Read on to learn what steps you can take to learn English at work!
If you work in an English-speaking environment, you probably know how to have a simple conversation in English (at the very least). However, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to learning a second language. Even native English speakers make mistakes!
Improving your English can help you socialize with your coworkers, impress your boss, and even perform your job better. So, here are a few ways to effectively practice and learn English at work:
1. Don’t Get Stuck on Autopilot
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “autopilot” refers to a device that allows a vehicle to drive or operate itself. However, when a person is “stuck on autopilot,” it means that they are doing things without thinking. If you’re stuck on autopilot, you don’t change your behavior to fit the situation. Instead, you simply do things automatically without using your brain!
This is especially common when a person feels insecure about their English-speaking abilities. For example, if you know how to talk about the weather in English, you might want to talk about the weather with your coworkers as much as possible. This is a natural reaction because talking about the weather feels comfortable and familiar to you. However, this is a bad choice.
First of all, talking about the weather all the time would be very boring! Both you and your coworkers will want to talk about other things after a while. So, when you find yourself wanting to talk about the same things over and over again, push yourself to find new topics. Don’t let yourself get stuck on autopilot! If you need new things to talk about, check out this guide to making small talk at work.
2. Focus on the Basics First
It’s important to practice making small talk and casual conversation at work. However, if you struggle with the English related to your professional responsibilities, small talk should not be your number one concern. Instead, focus on the English that you need to know to do your job.
If you already know enough English to do your job well, great! You don’t need to worry about this step. However, if there is a technical language or ways of communicating that you still don’t understand (but need to understand), you must learn them first. The easiest way to identify gaps in your work-related English is to simply do your job.
As you work, take note of areas where you failed to communicate effectively or had difficulties fulfilling your responsibilities due to gaps in your English. How could you have done better? What list of business English words do you need to study and memorize? How quickly can you learn enough English to avoid similar mistakes in the future?
While it’s important to focus on the basic English you need for your job, you shouldn’t stop there. Some people might feel that, as long as they can do their jobs, they don’t need to study anymore. This is rarely true. In a work environment, you will almost always get curveballs (unexpected situations) that will require you to use your English skills.
3. Make Practicing English at Work Your Second Job
Your boss hired you for a reason. Regardless of your position or job title, you have certain responsibilities at work, so fulfilling your work responsibilities should always be your number one priority.
That being said, if you work in an English-speaking environment, learning English should be your number TWO priority. You should treat practicing and speaking English at work as your second job. As long as learning English doesn’t cause you to shirk (avoid) your work duties, your boss will probably be very pleased that you want to improve your English!
Try treating each workday like an English class. When you hear a new phrase or word, write it down on a notebook or a document on your work computer. More importantly, when you get the opportunity to speak in English, use it! Speaking English at work is the best way to improve your abilities and gain confidence as an English speaker.
4. Speak Until You Are Understood
If you speak English for long enough, you will eventually have to deal with confusion and misunderstandings. Maybe you used the wrong word or said something in a confusing way. Sometimes it is no fault of your own; maybe the other person just wasn’t paying attention.
In any case, you shouldn’t just give up when someone at work doesn’t understand you. Instead, experiment with different ways to express the same thought.
More often than not, native English speakers will be able to deduce what you mean if you try to explain yourself more than once. This also forces your brain to be pragmatic (practical) when using English at work. It allows you to see where you’re making mistakes so that you can fix them in the future.
This is difficult for many non-native speakers, as it can feel daunting (intimidating) to continue speaking after making a mistake. However, it’s important not to give up. You’ll feel much better knowing that the other person understood you, even if it takes a few tries!
5. Listen Until You Understand
A conversation is a two-way street. In other words, you speak to a person and they talk back. As a result, you shouldn’t only care about making yourself understood; you also need to care about understanding the other person.
Let’s face it, native English speakers don’t always make it easy for non-native speakers. You may not want to constantly interrupt a conversation with questions, though you should never be afraid to ask for clarification (more on that a little later). So, the best remedy is to listen.
This sounds like obvious advice, but most people don’t listen as well as they should. When you’re listening to someone speak a different language from your own, you have to listen even more intently (carefully). Make sure to keep your mind focused whenever the other person or people are speaking.
A coworker may begin speaking to you and you start feeling like you’re trying to play catch-up. Don’t stress. More often than not, the other person will give you information that helps put the entire conversation in context. For more help listening to coworkers in English, check out this guide on improving listening comprehension.