Mark Powell talks about international Business English and its need for an extreme makeover, dicussing alternatives such as Globish and English as a lingua franca.
If international Business English really looked the part, it would be trim and tanned, dressed in Tommy Hilfiger and sporting a Bluetooth headset. But a glance at what we continue to teach shows it to be overweight and out-of-date, wheezing along flabbily in a pinstripe suit. An extreme makeover is clearly long overdue. Nurse, scalpel.
We have a choice of surgical procedures. The first, pioneered by ex-IBM vice-president Jean-Paul Nerrière, is known as Globish. According to the website, it’s ‘the dialect of the third millennium’ and ‘a dependable language for business or travel anywhere in the world’. With a jargon-free vocabulary of just the most common 1500 words, it sounds ideal. Where do I sign the consent forms?
But read the small print first. Where did Nerrière’s word-frequency list come from? Sex and violence are on it, but meeting and appointment are not. And since when was jargon a bad idea? It’s often the only thing two experts with imperfect English have in common. Worse still, to paraphrase proposed merger in Globish you’ll have to say the idea we propose to combine our companies. Uh-oh, looks like the less vocabulary you have, the more grammar you’re going to need! Sorry, doctor, I’ve changed my mind. Get me out of these pyjamas.
OK, how about ELF or English as a lingua franca? The idea here is to fight the flab we call grammar. Passives, tags, gerunds, countability, multi-word verbs, embedded clauses – all native-speaker blubber. Forget your grammar exercise regime and switch on the liposuction. Go on, ELF yourself! Before you know it, you’ll feel twenty kilos lighter and be speaking a sexy new style of English.
Only problem is, if you’re a non-native, that’s probably the English you already speak. Maybe international English is just a euphemism for intermediate English. And if the language you’re using is working, why not just make that your working language?