What is Global English …


… and why do we need it?

Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Global English. Part 2 will focus on the benefits of Global English.

The recent Olympic Games in South Korea reminded me again why Global English is so important, because both French and English are the official languages of the International Olympic Committee. I always like the medal ceremonies when they introduce the athletes in three languages: French, English, and the language of the host country.

Global English has its roots for me in work I began about 12 years ago, delivering plain language training and writing, and advocating for plain language in government documents. Also called “plain English,” or “plain writing,” the plain language initiative in this country—to make information understandable and accessible to all U.S. residents—is already decades old. (See my recent Politics of Plain Language post.)

Global English, additionally, seeks to bring clarity to a worldwide audience using English that reduces ambiguity, eliminates uncommon terms and unusual grammatical construction (unusual grammatical construction in English, really?), and makes English sentence structure more explicit.

For example, if we say that we will arrive at a designated place “around six,” what does a non-native English speaker hear? If the conversation is explicitly about time, the person may understand that “six” means 6 o’clock, and may even know whether we mean morning or evening. However, because the word “around” literally means “on all sides,” how does our non-native English speaker understand “around six”?

Or, what does “hover over a menu item” mean in a software instruction manual? (If we’re not computer literate, this phrase may have as little meaning to a native English speaker as it does to a non-native English speaker.) On the other hand, directions phrased as: “When you position your mouse pointer over a menu item”—while still assuming some degree of computer literacy—let us know specifically what to do, rather than us trying to intuit what or who needs to do the hovering and what hovering has to do with software at all.

The English language in international trade

Business English, a subset of Global English, is English language related to international trade. Business English often focuses on vocabulary and topics used in business, trade, finance, and international relations, and can also drive the language and skills needed for typical business communication such as presentations, negotiations, meetings, correspondence, and reports—even small talk and socializing.

That’s because much of the English communication that takes place in business around the world (yes, that would be “on all sides” of the world) occurs between non-native English speakers. In other words, two or more parties conducting business may not be able to speak or understand each other’s native languages, but can communicate and conduct business using Business English or Global English.

To be clear, though, Global English is not about controlling the English language by specifying which grammatical structures terms are allowed, and how those terms may be used. Global English is much looser, emphasizing grammatical terms and structures to avoid, rather than cataloging all the structures and terms that are allowed.

So, instead of saying, “Do you see what I mean?” (because just how do we “see” meaning?), I might ask you: “Does this make sense?”

Does it? Please let me know in the comments! And stay tuned for Part 2.

Till next time, I’ll be WordWatching … 




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