Ten years of learning business English? Worth a shot, I thought.
Ten years ago today, I hopped on a plane to go and live in New York.
“Go and live” was optimistic given that I had no place to live when I landed; I had to put down my agency’s address as my home address. At least I knew that I had a startup job waiting for me when I landed, I reckoned.
The flight from Stockholm Arlanda Airport to Newark International Airport took over ten hours, so I had time to think. Rather than thinking about where to live in New York, I mostly thought about speaking and writing English.
I was already an established public relations professional in Sweden with reputable experience advising global clients. Like most Swedes, I spoke English well enough for everyday situations.
The issue was that a lot of my professional confidence originated from the fact that I’m a fast and robust writer—in Swedish.
Writing well in Swedish was how it all started for me. The opportunity to make a living by writing drew me into public relations in the first place.
I had this feeling that the team in New York were expecting me to do in America what I had been doing so well in Sweden.
But I knew that my business English wasn’t up to par.
The ability to express oneself creatively is born out of a sense of freedom, freedom to confidently experiment using words and sentences as “willing” building blocks. If you only have one rudimentary set of building blocks, that freedom to roam disappears.
The team in New York probably had no idea how much of my actual usefulness came from being a solid writer … in Swedish.
C’est la vie. Business English was like my non-existing living situation. Another something that I would have to figure out once the plane touched the ground.
I decided to retire my Swedish blog (“Doktor Spinn”) and breathe life into Doctor Spin, a PR blog in English, during that ten-hour flight.
I had no intention of running a PR blog for the sake of running a PR blog. I just wanted somewhere to practise writing business English. The proposition of being indexed by search engines—and then found by interested readers—only served to introduce accountability.
Friends and colleagues thought that launching a blog in English was a strategic move. As an NYC-based PR adviser and startup COO, maybe blogging in English was a calculated attempt at scaling my personal brand? Of course, it wasn’t, but I never corrected anyone about this, either.
I just kept writing to improve my English.
Today, ten years and many words in English written later, I’m now declaring this project to be finalised.
The project isn’t over in the sense that I’ve somehow learnt enough. It’s over in the sense that I can now express myself freely. I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns, even.
I will never be as good a writer in English as I am in Swedish, but the confidence in using English is there now—and that was the whole point of this decade-long exercise.
In any case, I’ll continue to blog in English. Not because I must practice, but because Doctor Spin is a PR blog written in English now.
As I close the books on this project, do I have any insight to share with you? Well, getting an apartment in New York City took three days. This English project took ten years.
That’s just the way these things works, I suppose.