Make Your Second Language The Center Of Your World


You want to learn a second language? Then make that second language the center of your world. Doing this is key to rapid language learning, and I am about to tell you why and how.

Are Second Languages A ‘Natural’ Thing?

Let’s start putting it out there – second language learning is not something that is ‘natural’ for human beings. Just imagine a stone age person going to another tribe and trying to learn their language, just out of curiosity. Does this sound likely?

No, because the human brain is primarily wired for survival.

However, this does not mean that learning a second language is impossible. It just so happens that intelligence, culture and learning are things that human beings are really good at. This gives humans the ability to learn anything — including a second language —even as adults.

How Does Learning A New Language Work?

In natural conditions, humans learn a single language when they are children. When you want to learn a second language, you need to simulate the natural learning process that you had when you were a child as much as possible, which involves:

  1. An environment with constant feedback
  2. A safe environment for trial and error
  3. A language mentor
  4. Active use of the language on a daily basis
  5. Constant exposure to the language

The primary issue that adult language learners face is not that they are unwilling or unable to learn. Rather, it is the difficulty of creating an environment which provides them with these five natural learning conditions.

Babies are able to spend all of their time observing their environment and learning, whereas adults are much busier and do not have a lot of time available for language learning.

They have jobs to do. They suffer from mental fatigue. They are happy if they just get to rest every once in awhile. The adults whose environment allows them to speak their target language during their daily lives, like at work, with their partner, with their friends etc., are the exception rather than the rule.

Live Your Life In The Second Language

If you want to make fast progress in any second language, you need to start living your life in that language. Everything you do on a daily basis — all of it has to be done in the language you’re trying to learn.

In an ideal world, you would be able to:

  • Redesign your work in a way that gives you the chance to speak the language
  • Do all of your reading in your target language [e.g. newspapers, books]
  • Speak to your friends and your spouse in the target language
  • Do all of your media consumption in your target language (easy thing to do)
  • Listen only to music in your target language
  • Etc.

I know, you do not live in an ideal world. And that is okay. But, really, it all comes down to a single question:

How can you redesign your life in a way that you are exposed to the target language as much as possible?

Follow These 6 Tips


Here are 6 tips on how to design your life to utilize these 5 natural learning conditions even in an imperfect environment:

  • Make friends with people from the target language or people who are also learning the language and try to speak with them exclusively in that language.
  • Ask everybody with whom you speak the language to give you as much feedback as possible.
  • Get some of your close friends or family to study the language along with you
  • Make consuming all your media (newspaper, television etc.) the first step in your process of making the language the center of your world. This is the easiest one to do.
  • Get a language mentor — somebody who is willing to spend some part of his/her time helping you improve your second language skills through speaking, writing, or watching a film together, or a professional language mentor , an teacher, who can design a personalized course just for your needs.
  • Find ways of passively learning the language while doing other things like cleaning the house or driving (audiobooks, radio, etc.).

In the beginning, you might not be able to come close to doing the majority of your daily things in your target language. But gradually, as you are shifting around your daily routines in a way that exposes to you more and more of the language, you will start getting more used to it. As this happens, you will find it easier to make a conscious effort to find ways of making your target language a normal part of your day.  Don’t stop until you can honestly say that your target language is at the center of your world.

To truly master a language, it has to become the center of your universe.

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Tim Rettig is the editor of Intercultural Mindset Magazine and publishes content on intercultural communication on his website


How To Boost Your Spoken Business English With 5 Powerful Tips


‘I have learnt English for many years. I can do grammar activities well, I can read and write correctly, but now I need to present my company and negotiate with customers, and speaking is too difficult. Why are my speaking skills so bad? How can I understand foreign people better? How can I improve my Business English?’  

– Comment from English student on Quora

Have You Ever Found Yourself In Any Of These Situations?


I often get students who have learnt business English for a long time, but still struggle: they can understand texts easily, but when they have to  communicate in day-to-day business English situations, they don’t feel confident enough.

These are the main problems they often face:

  • Unsuccessful communication:I do not know how to say what I think, I cannot express all the ideas I have.’
  • Cultural barriers: ‘I was misunderstood, we communicate differently in my country.’
  • Accent and pronunciation: ‘I do not understand foreign people when they speak English, or they do not understand my accent.’
  • Lack of confidence: ‘Speaking on the phone is too difficult and makes me anxious,’ ‘Job interviews are just too scary.’

If you said yes to any of them, especially if you come from countries like China, Japan, Russia or South Korea, you’re not alone. And you’re also in the right place! In this article you will find 5 powerful tips to boost your speaking and listening skills for business English .

But first – Why is it that investing so many hours in learning English still feels like it’s not enough?

The Reasons Why You Keep Failing At Spoken Business English

Let’s look at the main reasons why your spoken business English skills are not as good as your writing or your reading:

  • Lack of practice in the ineffective traditional teaching methods
  • No time to prepare
  • Anxiety and lack of confidence

1. Lack of Practice in the Traditional Teaching Methods

We know why you keep failing at spoken business English! And the reason is… because you haven’t spoken enough! Easy, right? At school we spend most of our time reading and writing, and we don’t spend that much time speaking.

This lack of practice is the main reason why your written skills are (way) better than your speaking or listening. The traditional teaching methods focus far too much on the books, and very little on real life situations.

2. No Time to Prepare

If speaking and listening seem difficult it is also because they’re live. They’re about performance. There is no undo. No revision. We can’t go back and check that word we didn’t understand. We can’t delete that sentence with poor grammar we just said. It can be a bit scary, especially if we are talking about Business English.

3. Anxiety and Lack of Confidence


Anxiety is your biggest enemy! When we write, we can take our time and think about the words we want to choose. We can use a dictionary or ask somebody for help. With speaking and listening, there is no time to think, and this causes anxiety. This can make you lose confidence, which makes you speak (or understand) worse than you would. The workplace is not always the most relaxed place, and business English can feel daunting at times.

So now you understand why, what can you do to improve your speaking and listening skills? Follow the next 5 powerful tips.

Tip 1. How Active Learning Will Help You Communicate More Effectively in Business English


The first thing you have to do is to ‘learn how to learn’, that is, memorising a list of words or follow complex grammar rules is definitely not the road to fluency.

  • Switch from passive  to active learning. Would you learn how to cook by reading a recipe book? Probably not. You would most likely learn by cooking, and by burning a few dishes, using too much salt, and messing up. It’s the same with Business English – we need to step into the kitchen and get a little burnt sometimes. By this I mean, practice whenever you have the chance, don’t be scared of making mistakes, and don’t worry too much about getting it perfect the first time. We learn much more from from doing than from reading and listening.
  • Use it or lose it. Get rid of all the things you learnt that aren’t helping, and make a list with the specific things you actually need (phone conversations, writing emails, negotiating, giving presentations, understanding a conference, asking a girl out, you name it). Once you have your goals, your direction, then you can collect the most common phrases that native speakers use in those situations.
  • Join a class. There are countless options out there, but there is no faster and more effective way than having a personal teacher to help you out with the specific points you need to improve.

Active learning: start using the language as much as possible, remember only the most useful things you need, and join a Business English class.

Why: you will learn faster how to communicate effectively, more like a native speaker.

Tip 2. Why Context Is The Key To Boost Your Communication Success


When we learn, we need a situation, a meaning, we need to make sense of what we learn. If you learnt all the words in the dictionary, would you know how to speak the language? Probably not. This is because you need to know how words are connected, how you can link them, and what combinations are usually used together.

  • Learn in context. When do you use that word? In what situations?
  • Use the right collocations. Collocations are combinations of words that go together. We don’t do the bed, but make the bed. If you master these, you will be much closer to sounding like a native speaker. Learning how words are combined or using a collocations dictionary will make you sound like a pro.
  • Learn in chunks. Instead of learning a list of words with no context, try learning your vocabulary in a sentence. This will help you remember them better.

Context: learn the words within a sentence, and in the situations you will use them.

Why: they are easier and faster to remember, and people will understand you better (hence higher success rate!)

Tip 3. Why Shadowing Is The Easiest Way To Increase Confidence

Shadowing is a very powerful technique to improve your business English. It consists of repeating a piece of English audio as you listen. You should repeat after the speaker as soon as possible. Don’t let the speaker finish the sentence, and try to speak almost at the same time. It’s similar to when you sing along your favourite song! It’s much easier if you have the script, as you can read it at the same time you listen. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything you’re saying, this is just about imitating a native English pronunciation. This will help you improve your pronunciation, rhythm and intonation, as well as your listening skills. Once you’ve mastered this, confidence will go up and up.

Any audio would do, but ESL LAB offers dialogues organised by level, where you can choose among very basic and common topics. They have the transcripts, that you can read as you listen, and there are comprehension quizzes available.

Shadowing: listen to an English audio file (or video) and try to repeat after, trying to imitate the speaker.

Why: you will considerably improve your pronunciation, intonation and rhythm, as well as your listening skills, which will help you gain confidence.

Tip 4. How Speaking Will Help You Overcome Cultural Barriers At Work

We’ve talked about learning how to cook by cooking, and learning how to speak… by speaking! Communicate as much as possible in English, find colleagues you can speak English with, and pay attention to the way they speak, and how it is different from your culture. Join a tandem Facebook group, use Meetup to find people in your area, meet travelers on Couchsurfing, or meet people at conferences; the options are endless. These are all awesome opportunities, but the fastest and most effective way to overcome those barriers is to join a course with Talaera, where you will be carefully matched to a professional teacher, and have tailored training to your specific needs. Tell them your goals, and your teacher will help you get there.

Speak: Speak English! With colleagues, friends, or travellers, or find a teacher.

Why: learning by doing is the most effective way to understand how a language and its culture actually work.

Tip 5. How To Boost Your English Accent By Recording Yourself


And last but not least, if you want to sound more like a native speaker, recording yourself will boost your accent. For this, choose an English audio file with its transcript, listen to it carefully, and then record yourself while reading it (with your phone, for example). Then, listen to your recording and find the differences between the original and your speech. Underline the words that you mispronounced and try repeating them until you get them right. You might have to repeat the process a few times, but once you get it, your accent will be much better!

Record Yourself: record yourself while reading an English text, listen to it, and practice the words you mispronounced.

Why: you will realise exactly what you have to improve, and your accent will sound much more like a native speaker.

Bonus Tip!

Google Docs has an amazing feature called Voice Typing that can become a very good friend of yours to improve your pronunciation, especially if your speaking level is still very weak. Open a Google Doc, click on Tools – Voice Typing and set the language to ‘English’. Choose a text or a series of sentences you would like to practice. If you pronounce them correctly, the system will recognise your voice and will type it automatically. If it types something you didn’t mean, it means you should work a bit harder on them. Awesome for when you don’t have a native speaker to help you out, right? 🙂

Interested in improving your business English? Visit us at

25 Useful Resources for Business English

In addition we have compiled a list of 25 useful resources you should bookmark. Check them out:


  1. Free Collocations – Dictionary with word combinations.
  2. Cambridge Idioms – Dictionary with idioms and phrases.
  3. Wordreference – Dictionary with tens of language combinations, synonyms, and definitions. It also includes a discussion thread about more subtle meanings.
  4. Forvo – Find out how any English word is pronounced.

    Listening & Speaking

  5. Talaera – Learn English effectively with professional teachers and tailored training to your specific needs.
  6. Ted Talks – Inspirational and interesting talks with transcripts.
  7. Ted Ed – Education platform where you can find lessons and videos about ‘ideas worth spreading’.
  8. ESL LAB – Short dialogues with transcripts and comprehension quizzes organized by level.
  9. Blinkist – App where you can listen to short versions of 2000+ bestselling nonfiction books.
  10. BBC English at Work –  Animated series that focuses on English communication in the office.
  11. BBC Pronunciation – Video series where they show you how English is really spoken.
  12. BBC Radio 4 In Business – Podcasts with insights into the business world to practice your business English.
  13. Connect With English – Video series to practice common day-to-day situations and activities.
  14. British Council Business At Work – Videos, audio files and texts related to business and work.
  15. English Class 101 – Audio English course.
  16. Audible – Amazon audiobooks.
  17. Video Vocab -Short videos that teach vocabulary in specific business areas like human resources, accounting, marketing, project management, and technology.
  18. Real English Business Course – App with lessons for conducting meetings, giving presentations, negotiating, and communicating by telephone. (Free with in-app purchases)


  19. Meetup – Meet people in your area or organize your own.
  20. Couchsurfing – Meet travelers from all around the world visiting your city.
  21. TandemPartners – Find people who want to learn your language and are willing to practice English with you in exchange.

    Interesting Articles

  22. 11 Idioms & Expressions You’ll Hear In An International Workplace
  23. 5 Simple Rules for Mastering the Difference between Exact and Exactly
  24. How to succeed in the international workplace when English is not your first language
  25. How To Keep Small Talk Comfortable At Work

How to succeed in the international workplace when English is not your first language

You are outgoing, confident, and witty. Your colleagues always compliment you on your speaking abilities and presentation skills.

But now that you’re working in an English language environment, everything feels off.

You’re less enthusiastic about speaking up during meetings or volunteering for presentations. In fact, you’ve become the opposite of the social person you used to be and you’re worried about your accent or self-conscious about pronunciation. When a big part of your job is about interpersonal skills this is a problem.

A few workplace communication challenges you probably face include:

Continue reading “How to succeed in the international workplace when English is not your first language”

7 great idioms every language learner needs to know

One of my most motivated students is an advanced ESL student, and we work exclusively on idioms. She’s obsessed with idioms, so much so that now I’m obsessed with idioms. I collect them like people collect stamps or seashells. Every time I hear one or use one that she and I have not yet talked about, I type it into my notepad on my phone. So, by the time I see her each week, I have a treasure trove of idioms to share with her.

We get giddy talking about idiomstheir history, their usage, how they differ between her native language and English, and how the idioms differ between American English and British English. Needless to say, it’s a lot of fun for a couple of lovers of English.

With that in mind, here is a handful of phrases that she and I recently discussed.

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Why learning this one English tense will make you sound like a pro

What is typically one of the first tenses taught in English classes but one of the last to be fully and correctly integrated into speaking and writing?

It’s the often misunderstood (and sometimes dreaded) present perfect tense.

From the perspective of an ESL teacher who speaks English as her native language, the correct use of the present perfect tense sets you apart from other ESL learners.

In fact, it’s a critical component in making you an advanced English speaker.

Continue reading “Why learning this one English tense will make you sound like a pro”

5 Simple Rules for Mastering the Difference between Exact and Exactly

I love it when there are similarities between the English language and the native language of the student I am teaching. This happens sometimes with my German-speaking students. We are both excited because we know the word, grammar construction, or idiom that is being introduced is more likely to stick since it is the same or similar in German.

But learning English can’t always be rainbows and unicorns.

There are differences between German and English that can’t be ignored.
One such difference is the use of the word genau in German and exact/exactly in English. In German, genau can be either an adverb and adjective.

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5 Easy Tips To Improve Your English Writing Skills – Start With Your Emails


If you are shy or self-conscious about your accent, email offers the perfect communication method. But there are a few mistakes that quickly reveal whether you’re a non-native English speaker.

These are not the same mistakes native English speakers make. Even a native English speaker with limited education knows these rules intuitively. In other words, these mistakes just sound wrong.

Look out for these errors while proofreading your next email.

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How Reading Comprehension Strategies Can Help You At Your Workplace

Star students demonstrate excellent reading comprehension skills. Guess what? Star job applicants do, too.

You don’t have to be born with great reading comprehension skills. It’s something you can pick up and practice, and there are specific strategies for developing this skill. Here are 3 reading comprehension strategies that you can apply to your job hunt.

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Do You Want To Build Your English Speaking Confidence? Use Idioms

We’ve all been thereat least anyone who has attempted to master a new language has. You are in a conversation with some English-speaking friends or co-workers, and you have this brilliant, well-articulated idea to express. The problem is the idea lives only in your mind…and in in your native language. You attempt to articulate it, but your verbal translation just doesn’t do your original thought justice.

Continue reading “Do You Want To Build Your English Speaking Confidence? Use Idioms”