6 Mistakes to Avoid When Learning Professional English
Updated: Dec 6, 2018
Having spoken to hundreds of English language learners over the past few years, I have been able to identify some common mistakes.
Based on this experience, and my own experience learning languages, I’m going to share with you the 6 most important mistakes to avoid in order to reach fluency as quickly as possible.
While a lot of these mistakes can be generalized across all languages, professional English is a specialized form of language and so requires additional throught.
Let’s get started.
6. Assuming that all four language skills are equal
Fluency in any language requires mastering the four major skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Two input (reading and listening) and two output (writing and speaking).
Unless you are living and working full-time in an English-speaking country, then you, like most language learners, are probably more comfortable reading and listening than writing and speaking.
This is completely normal because of the difference in the amount of time that we spend on each of the four skills.
As a language learner, you should be conscious of practicing at least three, preferably four, of these skills every day, even if it is just for a few minutes each.
It seems quite simple or obvious but I have often spoken with people who focus almost exclusively on one or two of these skills and are weak or extremely weak in the other two or three.
Even if you have to talk to yourself. Pick a topic and speak!
5. Not focused enough
Similar to #6 above, I often see that people choose the wrong content.
If your current goal is to learn professional English, then I suggest spending, if not all, very close to 100% of your learning time on professional English.
I say this because language learning is about a lot of things but the most important is words, or vocabulary.
There is so much vocabulary in any language that until you have a native-like level in the language, dividing your resources (time) will only delay fluency.
Check out my previous article if you are searching for authentic online content that professionals all over the English-speaking world are reading. When you’re ready to work on your comprehension, check out these five websites that I recommend to every business English learner.
A lot of this has to do with confidence and often the lack of confidence is related to a lack of words or vocabulary.
As language learners, we feel unconfident if we can’t think of a word, and so we stop and try to think of the word and this slows us down tremendously.
By focusing your effort on just professional English, you can build up a huge vocabulary (both passive and active) in this area.
As your speaking becomes more fluent, you’ll feel more confident. In the process you will have also gotten a ton of repetitions seeing and hearing grammar in context.
Then you can read Shakespeare, books about cooking, art, sport or whatever interests you. You will have confidence and won’t be fighting the language anymore so it will all come easier.
4. Using translations
One of my core principles of language learning is no translations. Some polyglots will disagree with me on this but my logic is as follows.
Let’s say you own a factory that manufacture televisions. Your assembly requires ten steps to produce one television and your competitor’s assembly line can produce the same television much faster in three steps.
Which assembly line would you rather have? All other things being equal, I’ll take the three-step process! It is more efficient with less possibility for error.
Translating is very similar.
The whole process of translating into and back out of your native language adds several unnecessary steps. The less similar your native language is to English, the more severe this problem, as many words cannot be directly translated.
And that’s just vocabulary. Syntax adds another layer of difficulty.
So it might take a little bit longer to learn everything directly in English, but over the long-term you will save yourself much more time and frustration.
Of course quitting the language entirely is a bad idea. You should never do that!
Here I’m suggesting that you should never say that something is “too difficult”.
In my opinion, you should always be consuming content that is one level above your “current level”. So if you’re around a B2 level, try C1-level content. If you are C1, go with C2, etc.
I learned this through experience. After I had reached a C1 level in German, I tried several times to listen to the most advanced audio possible, C2. It was extremely difficult and I felt lost so I went back to C1 content.
After several weeks I realized that I could still understand C1 content with no problem. Surprise!
It wasn’t until I forced myself to watch and listen to C2-level content that I began to make progress. Day after day I made a little bit of progress until eventually I understood C2 just as easily as I had previously understood C1.
If I had never gotten out of my comfort zone (C1), then I’d still be telling myself complex stories about why I couldn’t understand C2-level content. When in reality the solution was very simple: watch and listen to C2-level content!
2. Lack of context
Context is crucial to language learning because it helps us remember.
If you want to learn professional English vocabulary, sure you could download a list of words and read them every day.
In fact, this is what most language learners do and this is what traditional school-based learning methods all over the world encourage through their teaching and testing formats. This is exactly what I did when I tried, unsuccessfully, to learn French and Dutch.
However, if you take that same vocabulary and insert it into conversations, articles and books, videos and other authentic business content, you will have an experience attached to each word and thus you will be more likely to remember that word.
The key here is “interesting” content.
If you are interested in improving your professional English then I assume that you have some interest in business.
If business content and conversation is boring to you then you will probably have a difficult time learning professional English.
But if you enjoy business and focus on learning in context, you will find that the learning process will accelerate exponentially.
And yes, everything that I just said applies to grammar as well. In fact, I feel even more strongly about grammar.
1. Expecting perfection
The amount of stress and loss of fluency that we suffer by trying to produce the perfect sentence every time, simply isn’t worth it. Over time, it costs you tremendously in confidence and fluency.
If we embrace the errors and follow a system to recognize and correct them, then over time they will become less and less.
So remind yourself each day that errors are a crucial part of the language-learning process. Accept them. Embrace them!
And also remind yourself every day why you want to improve your professional English. As long as you dedicate yourself to this goal and put in the time each day, you will eventually get there.
If you avoid these 6 mistakes, you will get there even faster.
About the Author
Jason Gower is the creator and instructor of Expand Life Business English courses. He has more than fifteen years of business experience and has learned both German and Spanish to a C2 level. Click to learn more about Expand Life Business English courses.