I recently defended my doctoral thesis in management science and I realize that English is the key to the job market and research field.

During my primary and secondary education, I was good at English and in the meantime I have become a little rusty. My university studies resulted in a total break with this language for more than 10 years.

When I started my doctoral thesis in 2011, I got into the habit of studying English: (watching movies in English, phone and computer set in English etc). I also read at lot of papers in English, and I managed to exploit their content satisfactorily, but in practical terms, it's a language that I don't practise (and that I never actually practised).

So, I have regained a lot of vocabulary and basic grammar rules in recent years, so I read easily, I understand whole conversations, TV news, movies etc., but being a perfectionist, I consider my level very below average and I have a lot of hesitation to talk to people. Today I am unable to write an email without the help of Google, and even less to teach in English, so my questions are:

  • Do I have to look for an English business training?
  • Or, do I have to upgrade first and look for training in common English later?
  • Is there a way to reliably and objectively measure my level of English in order to choose the right training?
  • Finally, can I really train myself through websites, tutorials, apps, watching videos of conferences, etc.?
  • 1
    I live in Paris (FRANCE) Feb 20, 2018 at 20:05
  • I'd definitely recommend watching English movies/TV and listening to our music. Listen to interviews with famous people you like. While these methods might not help you specifically with business, they'll help you to develop an understanding of how we speak in different regions and you'll pick up words and phrases that text books won't teach you. I'm a native English speaker, but I use this method for learning German.
    – Andre
    Feb 21, 2018 at 16:15

6 Answers 6


You have reached a certain level of English (presumably intermediate to advanced) by informal learning methods. When you continue in the same way, you may still advance–though perhaps slowly–or feel that your level is stagnating.

There are two things you need to do in order to advance:

  1. Clearly define your goals.
  2. Precisely identify your current weaknesses.

With regard to goals, you need a more specific statement than "I realize that English is the key to the job market and research field". Do you want to improve your English for a business environment or for an academic environment? You will need to prioritise one over the other, since you will need different sets of terminology and different types of usage for these two enviroments.

Once you have set a priority, you need to identify more specific, smaller goals, e.g. for an academic environment:

  • I want to be able to write a journal article without constantly looking up grammar and vocabulary online.
  • I want to be able to teach a 60-minute class about topic X in management science.
  • etc.

Then you need to identify our weaknesses. There are several things you can do for this, e.g.

  • Carry a notebook (or take digital notes) to track things that cause problems: finding the English word for x, a grammar mistake, words that you don't understand when listening to the radio or watching a video, etc. This note-taking mechanism should be portable so you can use it whenever you need it.
  • If you suspect you have weaknesses in grammar, find a grammar test and check what types of mistakes you made. (E.g. How English Works by Michael Swan and Catherine Walter has a diagnostic test that then tells you what parts of the book to focus on.)
  • Identify the specific weaknesses that make it difficult for you to write e-mails (also add which types of e-mails!), teach a class, etc.

These goals and weaknesses can help you determine what areas to focus on, regardless whether you continue learning on your own, with a language partner or by taking a course. For example, when you decide to take a course, you can first enquire about what it will cover and check whether it covers topics that are relevant to your goals and weaknesses. If you decide to continue learning on your own, the list of goals and weaknesses will guide your choice of learning activities and materials. If you decide to learn with a language partner, it will also help you choose activities with your language partner. Of course, you can combine all these learning approaches (formal courses, independent study, a language partner), depending on the time you have.

If you want to objectively measure your level of English, then take an official test. There is a lot of choice, for example, those offered by TELC, IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge English Language Assessment, etc. These tests will help you determine your level, but the reports won't help you determine your goals, nor are they specific enough to provide information on your weaknesses (you'll have to remember how well you did in each part of the test, which can subjective).

You may also be able to find some informal tests online; these may give you a rough indication of where you are and help you decide which level to choose in an official test.

So I would recommend the following order of steps:

  1. Find a free or cheap online test that gives you a rough estimate of your level.
  2. Determine your specific goals and weaknesses.
  3. Direct your independent learning towards these goals and weaknesses.
  4. If you find too many weaknesses, especially in general English language skills, take a general course. Ask the language school if they provide an entrance tests to determine your level. This test may be more accurate than the free tests you find online.
  5. If you find that your weaknesses are mostly in the specific skills you need for an academic or a business environment, than find a course that focuses on that type of English (academic or business).
  6. If you still want or need an official certificate that identifies your level, you can take one of the official tests listed above. (I don't think any of these test costs less than €100; only you can decide whether the cost is worth the certificate.)

As I am from Rajasthan, my primary education was mostly Hindi based and had a really less touch with English and this paid me a lot in a negative sense when I started looking for a job.Usually, people like me have to face a lot of problems to crack a simple interview and it becomes worse when you are actually really good at academics but don't know how to express yourself.

Well, I was actually introduced to English when I got admission in Delhi University college where 80% of the crowd belongs to an English medium background.It was really tough to adjust to this new English environment but somehow within first two years, I managed to grab some often used phrases and sentences to get with my mates pace but gradually I realized that bounding myself to a limited number of words and sentences is not enough so I started learning new words but again just reading out new words is not enough .It is about remembering those words and to use them in daily life.

I sorted it out through a special technique taught by Vocabsolution that not only makes you remember thousands of words in a quick time but also helps you in remembering them for the lifetime. Their technique is based on relating already known things to newly introduced words. So its actually not letting you remember those words, it actually helps you to create a photographic memory that imprints in your brain which is more active.There are some examples that I think I should share with you all.

Delicious= Delhi+ see+us

Monopoly= MONU(Name)+POLYthene

With this technique, I was actually able to learn around 5000 words in a span of three weeks(Depending upon your interest).The whole secret comes in a form of DVD or Pendrive whichever you choose and set of words are divided into sessions that let you learn through Audio and visual techniques.I would definitely recommend Vocabsolution to everyone who belongs to English language and wants to excel in this language.


I think that in order for you to fully master the language and be able to use it comfortably you have to answer these questions:

1- Am I motivated to master it?

2- Am I going to use it on a regular basis or just for the sake of knowing it?

3- In case I'm going to use it on a regular basis, then in what context mostly?

Answering these questions will help you set a path for your learning journey. Also, given that the language you use right now is French, then it would be definitely easy to transition to English, you just have to feel confident about it. As an answer to your questions, I would recommend that finding a practice partner is helpful if you want to self-learn for starters. But business training is costly and I have seen many friends take it without much success. If you find that you have to take it, then just conversations will do.

All the best


You live in a European capital city and have an academic affiliation, or at least contacts and career prospects.

You probably have non-French colleagues, and a probable language of collaboration is English. If you do not have non-French colleagues, then your advisor and other senior researchers, and maybe you, presumably have contacts abroad. Try to get foreign collaboration going.

If you are not currently in academia, but you are interested in an academic career, start applying to postdocs outside France. At least in my experience (mathematics), excellent knowledge of English is not a requisite, if your research output is good enough. Interest in learning the language of wherever you are applying is a positive sign. Getting out of France will almost certainly improve your language skills.


If you want to learn English in a more fine way, you should focus on your sentence structures, good vocabulary, once you do that, you will be covering the lack points of speaking the writing as well. You can take the help from VocabSolutions also.It has beyond doubts an excellent Video Tutorial to form a very strong base for GRE Vocab. But there would still be hundreds of alien words that you would come across practicing or giving GRE practice tests. So make your own word list from those words to supplement this Audio DVD.There is not any scam I am learning and its good video course. It has good reviews too, no one has complained and it's not fake, it's just a rumor spreading.If I have to rate I would definitely give 5 stars for Vocabsolution.

  • Our policy requires that if you are affiliated with the service mentioned/advertised, you should explicitly disclose that. Apr 17, 2018 at 14:25

When I was applying for a (IT) job in an university in USA, I was told not to worry about my English, because "language of science is bad English". You may want to check if such question (relative importance of English) was asked on Academia SE and how it applies for your specialty, and also SE had data science forum, where you might get more informed response about the need and importance of English (so you will worry less).

But if you want to improve the level of your English: There are many free or very inexpensive online resources to improve your English (obviously it is a whole industry), even collection of links is a small industry (thousands of blogs), see this excellent resources for learning many languages. Another resource which would keep you busy and learning for a while (years) is https://www.edx.org/

If you want to spend more money, your progress will be faster. italki.com is a website which links teachers to students.

If you have spare room or couch, consider joining couchsurfing community as a host, and English speakers come to you - free opportunities to practice your English.

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