Too Busy to Study English? Here’s How to Learn English at Work!
How in the world can you fit learning English into an already tight work schedule?
By learning English at work!
The seven tips in this post will help you get some studying during your work hours.
- 1. Get a Personal Instructor
- 2. Keep Your Desk and Shelves Full of English Books
- 3. Focus On Your Business Vocabulary
- 4. Practice and Save Your Writing
- 5. Review and Edit All of Your English Writing
- 6. Practice Having a 15-minute Conversation with a Coworker
- 7. Work on Your English Accent
1. Get a Personal Instructor
I know what you are thinking right now.
You have tons of meetings, reports and clients to take care of. Where in your schedule will you fit in a tutor?
Surprisingly, to learn English, it has been said that you only need two to four hours of instruction a week. Sure, you could do more, but think of this as the sweet spot you want to aim for. If you work five days a week, you could split that into 25 minutes each day.
To find the right instructor to teach you at work, you have a multitude of options. You can have an instructor come to your office, or if that is not doable (possible) then you can find a qualified, online teacher who waits on the other side of your computer screen.
Berlitz is a well-known global company that specializes in helping students of all levels learn English. They offer courses in their language centers and online.
Another option is Voxy. They offer online English courses tailored specifically for business English learners. You can even request a demo to see how the process works.
And the best part is that many employers will pay for you to have English classes onsite or online—ask your boss if there are any current opportunities for you to improve your English.
Tip: If you decide to have a class onsite at your job, make sure to reserve a conference room where you won’t be disturbed. In large companies, you may have to reserve a room weeks in advance. Just confer with (discuss it with) your immediate supervisor. Two heads are better than one!
2. Keep Your Desk and Shelves Full of English Books
Do you have a desk or some shelves at work? Then you have a great place to keep English textbooks and reference books. Keep a couple of good, quality books nearby to look at whenever you are unsure about something.
To review basic grammar, check out “Barron’s Business English.” You will learn about simple sentences, subject and verb agreement, and how to write letters and other types of written correspondence.
A good grammar companion book is “Clear Grammar I.” The format of this book is easy to follow and covers all the basic tenses in English, such as the simple present, the past tense and the progressive tenses. The book also includes chapters on prepositions and count and non-count nouns. There are even pages dedicated to English pronunciation in this textbook, which come in handy for when you are speaking.
Okay, you have the right English grammar books, but what else might you need to cover? What about learning how to effectively connect with your peers at work? The book “How to Say It at Work” shows you just how to do it.
“How to Say It at Work” covers topics such as verbal and nonverbal communication and how to handle difficult people—like your boss, perhaps? This book also reviews business words and phrases to incorporate into your lexicon (vocabulary).
Here are some examples of how you could use these books at work:
- Do you have trouble with certain pronunciations? You could, for example, use the office copy machine to make a copy of the pronunciation techniques for certain words and phrases found in “Clear Grammar I” and keep it on your desk, or taped to the wall near you. Then you can look up and practice the English pronunciations while also working.
- When you receive a memo or letter related to work, print it out or make a copy to take notes on. Refer to your English reference books when you are not sure about the vocabulary or grammar that has been used in the writing. Fold this copy of the memo or letter and close it within the pages of the book where the vocabulary or grammar is explained.
- You are tapping your fingers on the desk, waiting for a coworker’s response before proceeding with a task. Take a few minutes to flip through your books and get extra practice.
- Bring a book with you to your coffee break or to lunch, to squeeze in a few extra minutes of studying.
3. Focus On Your Business Vocabulary
We all know that verbal communication is very important on the job and in business relationships.
Use the top 50 words for business communication from the first chapter of “How to Say It at Work” to your advantage. Actively use words such as collaborate, offer and team up in your conversations at work.
English Club lists the most common vocabulary for a variety of professions such as advertising, marketing and banking. Write new vocabulary on sticky notes and stick these around your desk at work.
- To stay on top of your wordsmithing (vocabulary building) exercises, put your new business vocabulary words on index cards and keep them at your desk for easy follow-up.
- Choose one new word or phrase and challenge yourself to use it five times during one work day. New work day, new word!
- Record yourself reciting these new words as you say them out loud. Then you can hear your own pronunciation, and you could even share this with a native-speaking friend or English tutor for feedback.
- Repeat your vocabulary to yourself during your workout. After all, many companies value work-life balance and offer exercise facilities on site. If this is something you use, then you can also be studying your English there.
When you feel like a fish out of water (like you are not in your natural place) at work, it is crucial to have the vocabulary to communicate with confidence.
Talking about business vocabulary and communicating with confidence, have you heard of FluentU?
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
4. Practice and Save Your Writing
It might be easier to practice your writing in a word processor like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice before sending your email.
This way, you will never need to worry about accidentally hitting the “send” button before your email is ready. And if you have English enabled as the language on your computer and in Microsoft Word, you can even use its spelling and grammar checker.
Another huge benefit to writing in a word processor first is that you can save the document with your email draft. Keep a folder on your desktop with your email drafts saved, and you can revisit them later. When you learn new English lessons and get more English writing practice, you can read through these to find more English errors to correct, or just to see how much your writing has improved over time.
You can also submit these written messages to italki to receive feedback from native English speakers on your writing—just be sure to remove any personal information and private business information from the message first.
You can also hire a private tutor on italki to read your writing and give you more professional guidance.
5. Review and Edit All of Your English Writing
So, now you are learning to improve your writing at your desk.
You will want to use Grammarly, a free online resource, to check your writing for grammar mistakes while you practice.
Just copy and paste your work into the space provided on the site. Grammarly will analyze your writing and provide immediate feedback on how to make corrections. For advanced writing issues, you will need to upgrade to the premium service.
The free version provides great help, but the premium subscription might prove more beneficial in the long term, especially when you are learning on the job.
Either way, keep track of your mistakes and corrections so you can review them later on your own, with your reference books or with your instructor.
Another writing tool you might find handy is the Purdue Online Writing Lab. The lab provides a chance for you to review basic grammar terms learned in your books such as the parts of speech, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure.
Tip: Review the punctuation and sentence structure lessons on the Purdue Online Writing Lab. Then practice writing your own sentences and then plug them right into Grammarly to see how well you did.
6. Practice Having a 15-minute Conversation with a Coworker
You have been reviewing grammar and vocabulary with your instructor and working on your writing, but now it is time to kick it up a notch and test your English skills: Practice your English by having a 15-minute conversation with your coworker.
Yikes! Yes, it is a scary proposition, but you can do this. Pull aside a coworker you are friendly with and explain the situation, that you are learning English and would like someone to talk to. Many coworkers understand how difficult it is to learn English and would be glad to help you. Spend your coffee break or lunch break together having a casual conversation, or stay at your desks and talk about something that is going on at work.
If your coworker is American, one good book to practice with is “Common American Phrases in Everyday Contexts: A Detailed Guide to Real-Life Conversations and Small Talk.”
Before your conversation, pick a few phrases from the book that you would like to practice. For example, you could select common phrases like “have one’s finger in too many pies” or “too good to be true.” Feel free to ask your coworker to repeat a word or two, or to explain the meaning of something they said to you.
Another website to visit is Randall’s ESL Listening Lab. Randall’s site has a variety of dialogues that range from easy to difficult. The conversations feature native English speakers and the vocabulary is highlighted in the quiz script.
Get creative with the dialogues you learn on Randall’s ESL Listening Lab by selecting a couple of dialogues that review common situations between people. For example, two dialogues of interest from the site might be “What a Busy Day” and “Daily Schedule.”
Many of the new words you pick up listening to dialogues you will often hear during conversations with coworkers or friends. Select key vocabulary from these dialogues and practice them with your coworkers during a coffee break or at lunch.
Tip: Pick five or more phrases to practice in your conversations each week. Write them down in a list on your smartphone, computer or in a notebook that you keep with you at work. Be sure to use them at work and in casual conversations. Repetition is key!
7. Work on Your English Accent
Many English learners want to improve their English accent.
Using a program like “American Accent Training” will definitely help you sound like a native English speaker. This program includes five CDs and a guidebook. The guide covers information on how to correct intonation and make word connections.
The staircase intonation is a good example of what you will learn. What exactly is staircase intonation? Well, according to Ann Cook, author of “American Accent Training,” when native English speakers talk, they start high and finish low. Test this at work as you listen to your coworkers. Listen for the peaks (high points) and valleys (low points) in their speech.
Another interesting concept you will learn is that native English speakers tend to stress content words over function words. Content words such as nouns, verbs and adjectives give more details about a sentence. Whereas function words like articles, prepositions and auxiliary verbs connect words, thus are rarely stressed in speech. This is another thing that you can try to listen for when speaking with native speakers, after studying it in your accent training program.
You can listen to a huge variety of English speakers on the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA). The archive features English speakers from all over the world. If you need to practice U.S. or British English, there are many speakers to choose from on the site. From U.S. Southern drawl to East Coast swing, you can learn how to mimic native speakers with practice.
Each audio features a transcript of the recording and information on the speaker’s background. Many of the dialogues are under four minutes, so you can listen to them quickly and review the transcript at your leisure.
Tip: When you go to meetings where people are speaking in English, bring a recording device. Then you can listen to the meeting again later, and try to repeat the way that your native-speaking coworkers have said certain English words and phrases.
So, there you have it—all the tools you need to learn English at work.
With these resources and tips, you are sure to improve your English and go right up the corporate ladder!
Sandra holds a degree in psychology and a minor in political science from the University of Houston. As a contributor and on-air talent expert for StudioD, her work has appeared on websites such as Global Post and eHow. Additionally, Sandra is a screenwriter and active member of the National Writers Union.