So Can You Speak Globish?

English is the global language of business, yet English is also the native tongue of relatively few people, and it is notoriously hard to learn. What can be done? Jean-Paul Nerrière came up with an answer: Globish, a kind of simplified English that is vastly easier to use and can work almost as well as a full command of the language in most business situations.

Nerrière, a Frenchman, was an international vice president of marketing at IBM when he noticed a pattern in how non-native English speakers communicated at conferences. As Michael Sakpinker writes in the Financial Times, he observed that

when a Japanese employee met a Belgian, a Chilean and an Italian, they managed. None spoke English brilliantly but each knew the others were making mistakes too. When an American or British manager walked in, everything changed. The native speakers talked too fast and used mysterious expressions.

The secret was to employ a stripped-down vocabulary and, crucially, avoid all figurative language and never tell jokes. So Nerrière developed a list of 1,500 English words that he is convinced you can use to communicate just about anything, and he has been building a business in training people to speak with that basic vocabulary. At his website,, Nerrière describes his simplified tongue in a seven-minute video done entirely in Globish. It doesn’t sound crude or lacking, though Nerrière retains a strong French accent.

Is this really a language? Or is it really a kind of pidgin, a stepping stone to a language? Robert McCrum, of the Observer, who has written a book titled Globishsays it’s actually designed to be a barrier to be full English:

A good European, Nerriere describes Globish as a device that will ‘limit the influence of the English language dramatically’. He says: ‘I am helping the rescue of French, and of all the languages that are threatened by English today but which will not be at all endangered by Globish. It is in the best interests of non-Anglophone countries to support Globish, especially if you like your culture and its language.’

Isaac Chotiner, in The New Yorkerhas observed that Globish “is an overwhelmingly economic phenomenon—the language of Singaporean businessmen closing deals with the help of a small arsenal of English words, and of European officials calming financial markets by uttering stock phrases on television.”

The world market for communication will make or break the future of Globish, but it probably can’t ever be more than a stepping stone. Sakpinker describes chairing a panel of the heads of international telecom companies:

Their vocabulary is bigger than 1,500 words. They engage with native English speakers with confidence. And they are taking over the world. . . . The discussions were fast, free-flowing – and entirely in English. There were frequent questions from the audience. . . . You can appreciate how impressive this is only if you have attempted to master a foreign language yourself. These elite performers actually do better than many native English speakers.

The need for a global language is a big part of the fact of globalization, and the dominance of English looks inevitable for a good long time to come. Those with a gift for learning languages are bound to have a big advantage. For everyone else, why not start with Globish?

Taken from 01.03.12