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How I Improved my English


Education

Introduction


I was born in Bavaria and raised with Bavarian and Austrian accents mainly. My high school education in Bavaria gave me a solid foundation in English. I am truly thankful for that. English skills are so important these days!


Most of my lessons in my Computer Science studies were held in English, almost all the books and literature were written in English. When I continued my PhD in Bioinformatics - again - all important papers in the field were written in English and I authored my PhD thesis in English. Sure thing. And not a huge problem. My English skills were good enough to easily pass the English test to apply for an MBA at Royal Holloway in London.


In my professional life, I found myself mostly working with English-speaking companies. In fact, in Berlin-based companies, it’s hard to find many German-speaking colleagues these days. English is the lingua franca. Throughout all these experiences, I never faced any significant issues with English skills.


My English Is Not Perfect


However, the more I immersed myself in English, the more I began noticing minor and major mispronunciations. As I became attuned to various English accents, I realized how much I was mixing UK English, US English, and other accents, all underpinned by a thick German undertone. This realization led to a bit of self-frustration and a burning question:


Could I, a non-native speaker, speak English like a native?


How to Get Things up and Running


At the start of 2023, I set a yearly goal for myself: Start English lessons with a professional trainer for an hour each week, aiming to speak like a native speaker.


Of course - most of the time I set goals talk about them and never accomplish anything - but this time it was different.


An English Teacher


I was fortunate enough to find the incredible Gargie, who runs the Specialized English Academy.


Our lessons encompassed extensive reading, pronunciation exercises, and included English conversations. It’s quite unusual to go back to school, being a student again, and realizing how many mistakes one makes all the time plus having a teacher that points out all mistakes immediately.


But that’s the beauty of it. Usually nobody tells you your mistakes - but a good teacher will. And this helps you to improve.


Main Levers to Improve My English


Taking notes on words I mispronounced was crucial. I learned to soften the “d” sound, for instance, it’s not pronounced as “moTTTTivating”, but more like “mo’d’ivating” in US English. I also had to alter my intonation. In German, we tend to modulate our voices more, while English speakers speak more monotonously in comparison. Changing this made a significant difference.


By combining these techniques, I noticed a marked improvement in my pronunciation. Now, when I listen to an English podcast, I automatically practice the words and jot down those I would have mispronounced.


I Benefit from It Professionally


I aimed to sound more North American, and I believe I’ve achieved that. I make fewer pronunciation mistakes and people ask me where I am coming from far more often than before. It’s no longer obvious that I come from Bavaria.


More importantly, sounding more international has enabled me to secure international projects more easily. That’s anecdotal evidence, but I am getting that feedback during project acquisition often.


After all, would you hire the Interim CTO with broken English or the other one who blends seamlessly into a US American and internationally operating company?


I think the answer is clear.


Conclusion


Although my English isn’t perfect yet, it has improved significantly over the last 1.5 years, and I feel much more comfortable now.


Special thanks go to Gargie for being such a great teacher and bearing with me for the last 1.5 years. Thanks for your support along the way!


And if you ever think about going back to English school - then do it. It’s worth the effort in so many ways!


Let’s see what I can do next. Maybe I should work on my French skills this time…



Client and article written by Raphael A. Bauer

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