Learning English Outside Your Field

A while back, my colleague Kate Hardin wrote a wonderful post on studying for your field in English. The flip side is knowing English outside of your field.

Many ESL students master the specialized vocabulary of their profession, be it medicine, computer programming, mechanical engineering, etc…. But once they begin communicating with colleagues in an English-language environment, they realize they don’t know much of the language outside of their field.

Often, brilliant global professionals learn the highly specialized English of their trade without mastering the more common English found in everyday conversations and communication. In this post, I’ll give you some tips on how to master general English, once you’ve become proficient in the English of your chosen profession.

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Don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand

This is very important in daily communication in English. If you find yourself in a new English-speaking workplace or are attending an English language conference for your trade, you must remember that your skills are valued. You wouldn’t be hired at a global job or invited to an important convention if you were’t seen as a talented individual with a lot to offer.

Your colleagues and supervisors are unlikely to reject you or see you as less valuable just because you don’t understand English as well as a native speaker. If you hear something you don’t understand, ask for extra explanation. If you read an email, memo, or other written material that seems confusing, show it to someone and ask them to help you understand it.

When it comes to second language, asking for help doesn’t just get you the short-term assistance you need. Asking for help also helps you learn and grow as an English user. Your co-workers can teach you new things about English, and they will likely be glad to do so.

Seek out pop-culture

Popular music, TV shows and movies are all full of the idioms, conversational language, and non-technical English you need to know in order to understand people in an English-speaking setting. Seek out the kinds of shows, movies, music and other entertainment that native English speakers like. The English speaking world is a huge source of media entertainment, so you’ll have a lot to choose from. Find film and music that you enjoy, and dive in.

As you start to consume English pop-culture, you’ll pick up a lot of new English just by watching and listening. But you can also ask English-speaking co-workers, neighbors, and friends about things that seem unclear in TV, movies, and music. People love talking about pop-culture, so this again is a situation where the English speakers in your life will be glad to discuss what the words from a popular song, show, or film mean. And they’ll probably also be happy to talk to you at length about shared pop-cultural interests. So as a bonus, you can get a lot of good conversation practice out of your love of music and videos.

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