How to keep English sharp (non native speaker working in non English speaking country)?

New answer on Jun 04, 2020
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Anonymous A asked on Jun 02, 2020

Hello! I am a non-native English speaker working in a non-English speaking country. Although emails are in English, in reality, I seldom use English to communicate in my job. My English used to be quite fluent when I use it every day, but now as I work in a non-English speaking country, I feel that my oral communication skills had deteriorated a lot since I haven't spoken English on a regular basis.

As English is crucial in the interview process, I'm wondering how to keep English oral communication polished and sharp? For you consultants also in my shoes, how do you fix this problem? (For example, doing case practice in English at least once a week? Or maybe taking English speaking classes with native speaker?) Thanks!

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Content Creator
replied on Jun 02, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


I´d say it depends on your target.

In case you want it as a general skills, I would focus on "fun" things to keep it alive:

  • Books & articles (Economist, etc.)
  • Press (e.g., The New York Times has a free bulletin that it´s delivered every night to your mail)
  • Movies and TV shows - available with subtitles everywhere

In case you are preparing for MBB or consulting interviews in general, YES, it´s fundamental skill and I would add, on top of the rest:

  • GMAT verbal part
  • Cases

Hope it helps!



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Anonymous updated the answer on Jun 02, 2020

Hi there,

Besides the reading suggestions other experts have given, I would suggest you deliberately practice the top-down communication.

I have observed some non-native english speaker candidates in their communication, from both my past experience as interviewer and now as a coach. Their English skills were not a big problem; in fact they can speak quite fluently for pretty long. The more common problem is the answer was not concise, not to the point, and not in a structured way. So I felt lost after 3 minutes while they still keep talking.

Practice how you can give an answer in a structured and succinct way, using the pyramid principle. You can spend 10-15 minutes on this everyday, on almost any topic.




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Content Creator
replied on Jun 02, 2020
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

this is what I would suggest based on my experience studying a couple of languages now:

  1. General. Book a weekly session on (or similar platform) with a coach. You can book some excellent ones for $10-15/hour. This will help in both practice and motivation. Ask them to focus on Business English
  2. Vocabulary. Work on vocabulary using Anki (it’s free on mac/PC but you pay for the iOS app). Once you understand how it works, it’s a fantastic resource thanks to SRS system
  3. Reading. Read daily something you really like in English. Don’t try to read stuff you are not interested in as either you have a super-strong willpower or will quit in 1 week. Ideally take a novel that intrigued you and want to re-read and read it in English
  4. Speaking and Listening. Practice cases in English with other candidates, both as interviewer and interviewee

Hope this helps,


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Content Creator
replied on Jun 03, 2020
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

Having learned (and maintained) 3 languages, I recommend the following approach...efficiency in time is key here:

1. Conversational: Download the app HelloTalk. It pairs you up with people that are opposite to you (i.e. learning your language, but native in English) and you chat via text, audio, call etc. It has awesome features (such as edit functionality so the other person can edit your messages for correctness).

2. Vocabulary: Use either handwritten flashcards and/or the app Quizlet. Review these whenever waiting (i.e. on the bus, cooking, on hold, etc)

3. Listening: Download English podcasts and listen while you sleep. I.e. put the phone next to your bed, at a soft enough volume that you can sleep, but loud enough that you cna hear the words. You'll be amazing how your listening improves.

4. Dedicated/tailored training: Go to It's the PrepLounge for languages!

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replied on Jun 02, 2020
Ex Kearney Senior Manager | Ex McKinsey Engagement Manager | Interviewer & Case Coach at McKinsey (200+ Real Interviews)

Hi There,

I was in your shoes prior to McKinsey. I would say the problem was not on the fundamental (as it was very well utilized in a written form). However, when it came to oral communication, it was messy and all over the place.

These are a few things that I did to keep improving my English speaking ability, also to increase my chance to get into MBB back then (I didn't want my English ability limited me to get into the firm):

  1. Befriended with a native speaker or foreigner in the office or my surrounding. Spoke to them about anything (life, works, etc.) 1-2x a day for 30-60mins
  2. Used full English in a case practice with a native speaker once a month and with my friends (although he/she was non-native) at least once a week
  3. Took English class for public speaker once a week
  4. Watched English speaking movie without subtitle and try to mimic the way they spoke

It took me ~4 months to boost my confidence to do case interviews in English.

Hope this helps!

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Anonymous replied on Jun 02, 2020

Hi there,

To maintain a high level of English communication, I would recommend to make it a habit to

  • Read business news articles (FT, The Economist) and listen to the news in English
  • Do a practice case every 1-2 weeks to keep your case solving skills and English communication fresh
  • Push to be in an English speaking situation while one the job (e.g., in case your manage is having meeting/call, ask if you could join to support him)

I hope this helps


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Anonymous replied on Jun 03, 2020


Only one advice on my side : practice, practice, practice!

This is the only way to be as fluid as possible on the day of the interview and to enable part of the passive vocabulary (the words that we know and that we understand but that we do not use verbally) active.

No miracle recipe ...


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Anonymous replied on Jun 04, 2020

Hi A,

So many cool answers, considering the fact that you can fnd it in every community on language learning. Basic areas where I would recommend you to keep using English:

- Professional (inerview with interviewee, reading media,articles, researches, watching presentations)

- Speaking English (movies, videos, series with subitles, Englesi community or English speaking partner where you can try to find in some internet communities)



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Content Creator
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut
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