The world is global, interconnected and rapidly changing. Knowing more than one language is the way to get ahead.
Maybe you’re starting an online company and want to reach out to investors across the world. Maybe you’re a new hire tasked with an international client. Maybe you’ve just moved to your dream European city, and even though your coworkers can speak English, you know you’ll never really fit in without picking up the local dialect.
Whatever the reason, you now find yourself needing a new language in a business environment. It might seem daunting at first, but these handy tips will get you on your way.
- Start by learning body language
- Incorporate a few words at a time
- Keep track of unfamiliar words
- Volunteer for projects outside of your comfort zone
- Be goal-oriented
- Learn strategically
- Have conversations with your coworkers
1. Start by learning body language.
Communication is derived from physicality. That’s why the first language that you should study isn’t your target language. It’s body language—specifically, the postures, gestures and mannerisms of native speakers.
Why? If you know the language perfectly but still act differently, you’ll never be regarded as an insider. On the other hand, if you fit in with native speakers in terms of actions, you’ll be accepted much more quickly, even if your language skills aren’t perfect.
The next time you’re sitting in a room with an international client or working with native-speaking employees, pay attention to their mannerisms: What do they do with their hands? How do they position their bodies? Do they lean in so close you can feel their breath, or do they maintain a careful distance even from dear friends?
Imitate what they do. That way, even when you’re self-conscious about your grammar or accent, you will still look the part of a native speaker. That will go a long way.
2. Incorporate a few words at a time.
As you learn, go easy on yourself.
In a business environment, you might feel extreme pressure to perform right away—if you start Mandarin lessons on Monday, you should be closing high-status business deals by Friday. Right? Unfortunately, that’s not feasible.
On the other hand, you might have the opposite problem—even after you start learning, you might be too nervous to employ what you’ve learned. What if you make a mistake and insult a client, for example?
Here’s the bad news. You won’t master the language overnight.
Here’s the good news. Your clients will appreciate the small steps that you take. Even knowing a few words will make them feel valued. So don’t wait until you’re fluent: Start small. Begin with common greetings and phrases, and slowly work your way up.
3. Keep track of unfamiliar words.
Whether you work in an office where everyone speaks your target language, or whether you’re on a small team in charge of international clients, pay attention to what native speakers are saying. If you don’t know a word, ask or look it up.
Keep a running list in your phone so that you can access it on the go. Take note of business-related terms, of course, but also write down slang and idioms.
4. Volunteer for projects outside of your comfort zone.
In order to learn, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you’re new to your target language, you might be tempted to keep your head down, but the way to learn is to stick your neck out.
Take on extra projects in whatever area you’re weakest in. For example, if speaking gives you trouble, then step up to deliver a presentation. If the thought of writing makes you panic, volunteer to complete more reports. The more practice you get, the easier it becomes.
5. Be goal-oriented.
First, develop a SMART goal: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Divide this goal into smaller goals. For example, if you’re starting from an absolute beginning (A1) level, then your six-month goal might be to reach a comfortable lower intermediate (B1) level.
Subdivide that goal into smaller milestones along the way. After two months, test to see if you’ve reached A2. After three months, challenge yourself to give a basic presentation in your target language.
Not only will these milestones help you adjust your study routine for maximum efficiency, but they will also keep you motivated—when you feel like you’re not making progress, just look at the things you’ve accomplished and realize how far you’ve come.
6. Learn strategically.
Now you know how to keep track of your project, what is the best order to actually progress in?
Start with greetings, and employ them often to get comfortable with the language. From there, work on basic grammar—you don’t need to master the Konjunctiv II or l’imparfait, but you should be able to construct elementary sentences and ask questions.
For vocabulary, mix everyday words with terms specific to your industry. To find out what words you need, take note of conversations not just in your target language, but also in English; what phrases come up often? Which do you use the most? Every day, write down ten new words to translate and memorize.
7. Have conversations with your coworkers.
Now we get to the really fun part! To master speaking your target language, you have to practice it, and for that, you need conversation partners.
One of the benefits of learning a language for business is that you can find a language partner without leaving your office. Instead of logging onto social media or locating a language exchange in your area (which are both great options!) you don’t have to go further than the break room.
If you’re in a group of learners, then team up at lunchtime to review grammar and practice conversation skills. You can answer questions, share what you’ve learned and motivate each other to keep going.
If you’re in a target language country, then you have even more options. You don’t have to go out with all of your coworkers to happy hour right away, especially if you’re nervous that you’ll sit in a corner, too intimidated to talk—or, worse, that your coworkers will switch to English for your benefit.
Instead, hang out with one or two patient coworkers. I recommend two: That’s a small enough group to let you talk freely, but because you’re with two people, you won’t feel pressured to keep up the conversation when you need a break.
If a full hour of your target language is too intense for you, then set a specific amount of time—such as fifteen minutes in the beginning and fifteen minutes at the end—for your target language, and let yourself switch to English in the middle.
Get to it!
Learning a language for business is not as hard as it seems. The Rocket Languages online courses can help you practice your pronunciation and your writing right up to an advanced level suited for a business environment. Start your free trial today!
Post by guest blogger Jamie McGhee: Jamie McGhee is a novelist, playwright and aspiring polyglot currently making her way through East Africa with a backpack.