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How did you improve your English for work and other professional purposes?

We're interested in how non-native speakers improve their English for professional purposes in the UK/USA and overseas. Can you share your experience of building fluency for the workplace? What strategies helped you to make progress quickly and break down any barriers to communication?

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It may sound out of place, but it's been true for me. I watched and memorized a lot of stand-up comedy jokes. (i.e. Seinfeld, Carrey, Connolly, etc.). I'm Mexican and lived my whole life in Mexico. I studied English in elementary school and needed it in college, but the truth is that it was until I started working in Mexico for a U.S. company that I found myself capable of breaking the ice with jokes that I liked, while imitating the accent (phonetic memory, not just learning the language).
Don't misinterpret, I've used English in every job for 20+ years, at a professional level. But professional or technical jargon is the easy part of it, I'm a chemical engineer and could speak with Germans about chemistry even though my German is very limited. But professional relationships require also a personal touch, and it is there where submerging myself in comedies, movies or series without subtitles and hearing them over and over created the phonetic structure I needed to improve my accent.
This is my two cents advice.


I attended a European-style Lycée in Central America, where learning was a serious 50-hour/week study affair.
In English, French and Castilian Spanish you had to own a top-level dictionary, thesaurus and grammar manual for each languae.
You were taught never to go past a word you didn't have the meaning for and to "clear" such using all necessary tools.
This system pervaded the entire curriculum; you used this system for Geography, History, Math, Biology, etc.
There were "instant checks" where any of the teachers would roam the room as you studied and would stop by someone's desk at random and ask them what they had just read, then ask for the meaning of some of the words within the last page. (The teacher already knew which were the usually skipped words) It took two minutes. If you failed, you had to clear your misunderstood words methodically, including synonyms and making sentences with them until fluent.
This led to superior comprehension, a wider vocabulary, diction, and articulation.
Years later, when I arrived in the U.S., I was miles ahead of my peers in College and beyond.


As a lifelong American, I am not answering this question with my own experience. However, what I have seen work quite effectively for non-native English speakers, and those with this experience would say the same, can be summed up with one proper noun: Toastmasters!


Watch TV. Especially, the BBC.

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