8 Ways to Learn Professional English by Living Your Life
If you are learning English with the purpose of advancing your career, you are probably taking professional English courses, classes or training programs.
But are these courses enough?
To learn even faster and more effectively, you should be practicing your English outside of the classroom setting.
There are a number of things you can do in your daily life to make professional English a part of your routine.
- Reasons for Learning Professional English
- The Difference Between Professional and Casual English
- 8 Tips for Learning Professional English
Reasons for Learning Professional English
There are many reasons for learning professional English, even if you are not looking for an English-speaking job right away:
- You will have more job opportunities. Many large businesses now require that you speak English, especially if they deal with any international customers or partners. Knowing English will open doors for you to better careers and make you stand out as an applicant. Learning professional English is a great way to master English for advanced learners.
- You will be able to communicate better. No matter where you are in the world, since so many people know at least a little bit of English, you can use the language to communicate.
- You will have an easier time getting promotions. Even if you start at the bottom of a company where knowing English is not that important, you will have an easier time getting promoted if you know English. Many managers, executives and other important company members must know English.
- You will have the chance to work abroad. If you’ve been hoping to move someplace that speaks English, getting a job there will be important. Knowing English will give you an important advantage when you are applying.
As you can see, learning professional English has many benefits!
The Difference Between Professional and Casual English
Do not worry if you’ve been learning “regular” English all this time—you need to know basic English reading, writing and speaking skills to learn business English well. The basics of English are the same whether you are talking about the great movie you saw yesterday or the important meeting you have coming up.
The differences are found in the vocabulary and topics of conversation. Professional English is focused on communicating clearly in a business setting, with co-workers, customers, your boss or anyone else related to work.
Even greetings are different. Rather than saying things like, “Hey buddy,” you address each other by professional titles.
Knowing professional English really means knowing how to make phone calls, write reports, engage during meetings and be a part of the everyday office routine.
You will also need to know how to speak about the area of expertise of your company in English. In other words, if you work in a law company, you might need to speak about law in English.
There are ways to make professional English part of your everyday life, so you can be ready to apply your skills to your career.
8 Tips for Learning Professional English
1. Focus on a profession.
“Professional” is a catch-all category. That means it is a very general term that includes many different professions.
Professional English classes and courses cover the basic ideas, topics and vocabulary that you will need to know in any business setting.
However, depending on where you want to work, you are definitely going to need some specialized vocabulary in addition to your general business English.
To make sure that you can actually use your English skills in the real world, use your time outside classes to learn professional English that is relevant to your industry. The vocabulary you learn, the news you read and every other part of your learning should have your industry in mind. This will make you even more prepared for a job in the field!
2. Set up an RSS feed.
RSS stands for “Rich Site Summary,” but it is often called “Really Simple” instead. That is because an RSS feed takes all your favorite blogs, news sites and other websites, and puts them into one place for you.
The great thing about these feeds is that you do not have to visit each website one by one. You can just load up your RSS reader and see all the recent news and updates in one convenient place.
There are lots of excellent (and free) websites you can use to create an RSS feed. Some of our favorites are Feedly and The Old Reader.
To use your RSS feed for learning professional English, add all your favorite blogs and news sites about your industry or business in general into the reader you choose. For example, you could keep track of new blog posts on the FluentU Business English blog.
Spend a few minutes every day looking through the headlines and browsing the articles and posts. You will be learning English and keeping up with important news in the business world.
3. Use authentic videos to see business English in action.
Fortunately for the language learners out there, we live in a very digital age. That means there’s tons of content on the internet to help you learn business English. The first step is just to go and do a Google search for “business English videos” and see what’s available and what you like.
A big step forward, however, is when you start consuming content designed for native English speakers.
Many news outlet websites have a business section with videos, so that’s a good place to start. Here are some examples:
- Business News on CNN
- Business, Financial & Economic News on the Wall Street Journal
- Economy and finance news from a German perspective—DW
I also recommend watching clips from Shark Tank, a show where entrepreneurs (someone who starts their own business) can pitch their ideas in front of a panel of investors (someone who gives an entrepreneur money in exchange for a piece of the business).
As I mentioned earlier, focus on a specific profession. If you’re planning on working within the law, find a legal drama to watch. In the medical profession? Try a TV show set in a hospital. While fiction isn’t always 100% realistic, you’ll pick up vocabulary that you’d hear around work.
Here are a couple of shows you could start with:
- Law & Order (legal). This long-running crime series has had lots of spin-offs and covers events adapted from current headlines.
- Matlock (legal). This series is about Ben Matlock, a defense attorney in Atlanta, Georgia who charges $100,000 per case.
- The Good Doctor (medical). This show is about Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon who also has autism and Savant syndrome.
- M*A*S*H (medical). This award-winning series covers the lives of an Army hospital in the Korean War who deal with their surroundings through laughter.
Another way to get this kind of exposure is to use a virtual immersion program. One example is FluentU, which has a broad library of authentic videos with learning features added on. On this program, you can watch clips in English—including business English from news segments, insider business advice and more—that have interactive subtitles, adaptive flashcards and personalized quizzes.
Consider a program like FluentU if you aren’t understanding enough of the authentic English content on your own. Accurate subtitles and a built-in dictionary can help you understand everything that you’re watching.
4. Listen to the radio.
Wait, the radio still exists? Yes! Even in an age of computers, streaming services and TVs, the radio is still one of the best places to get your news and information on the go.
There are many news and talk shows on the radio, which you can listen to on the way to work or school or while you are doing other things around the house. Listening to news or industry talk shows can expose you to professional English, as well as to opinions and ideas about things that are happening in the business world.
The radio has also learned to work together with the internet to be heard anywhere you live! Many radio websites stream their current program. If you cannot access the station that way, you can use a service like Tunein, which lets you listen to radio stations from anywhere in the world.
Some great general business talk and news shows are the “Bloomberg Radio,” “The Larry Kudlow Show” and many others that you can find here.
5. Always be listening.
And while we’re on the subject of listening…always have your ears open!
If you already work in a place where people speak English, listen to the language they use. Listen during meetings or in lunch outings. Just listening to the language will help you learn it better. Pay close attention to the words they use, when they use them and how the use them. Listen to accents. Listen to jokes, slang, idioms, phrases and anything else that you hear people saying.
If you do not understand something, ask what it means. Do not feel shy!
If you do not work in an English-speaking environment, visit one! Find a place where people from your profession of industry go, and listen to them speaking. If it is a public place, you can even introduce yourself, explain that you are learning business English and ask them if they’d mind if you just sit and listen to them talk. You might make a connection that way, too!
6. Mix business English with regular English.
Even if you are learning professional English, you might still be learning regular English as well. The two do not have to be separate! You can easily learn both at the same time. Learn things in pairs, combining your casual English learning and vocabulary with the professional version of it.
For example, if you are learning words related to shopping, you can also learn words related to business expenses.
A receipt is called an invoice in the business world. The store you just bought pants at is a retailer, which buys the pants in large numbers from a wholesaler. You wanted to buy more things, but you have a low balance in your bank account. If you were on a business-related shopping trip, you would have called your low balance a small budget.
Let the business and the casual worlds of English join together into one!
7. Use a social media aggregator.
Like an RSS feed, a social media aggregator combines different social media websites and information into one convenient place.
Services like TweetDeck and Hootsuite let you customize what you see in your social media stream. You can watch people having a conversation on a specific topic on Twitter, or see updates about a business or industry and what people are saying about it.
After you set up an account for any of these services, you can follow the conversations on your topic of interest. Once you feel confident enough, join in! Social media is a public conversation that anyone can contribute to. Leave a comment, send a reply tweet and you will be getting great practice for your professional English.
8. Go face to face.
Nothing beats real conversations and meeting people in person!
Talk to people who work in the business you are interested in, visit meetings or special events open to the public, and just get yourself out there! You will be getting practice, but you will also be networking—that is, meeting people who might be able to help you in your career one day in the future.
If you are nervous about your level of English, and it is preventing you from joining conversations, tell people that you are still learning. Most people will be happy to help, slow down, or explain things if they know you are learning.
Professional English learning does not have to happen only in the classroom. Now get out there and start learning!