Global English: EFL, Just Talk English, or translatable English?

I started using the phrase global English in the 1990s. However, today it means different things to different people. I'm familiar with three common definitions, and no doubt you know some more.

  1. EFL (or ESL). An old phenomenon: English taught as a foreign language (or second language). The gold standard for EFL or ESL has always been English as spoken by a native speaker. Any native speaker, from New Delhi, New York or New Plymouth.
  2. Just Talk English. Higgle-de-piggledly ad-hoc English is used worldwide by non-native English speakers to communicate with one another. The purpose is neither to be correct, nor to sound like a native speaker, but to be mutually intelligible. This is a big shift in language use.
  3. Translatable English. Some people (including us) define global English as written and spoken English that is easy to translate and clear to people of a different language background.

David Graddol in ongoing research for the British Council [PDF] has estimated that non-native English speakers already outnumber native English speakers. The demand for EFL teaching in schools, universities, and private classes is at its peak around now, and will dwindle when English has become a fully-functional worldwide language. Already it's the language of choice in most international firms with a polyglot workforce. And so the reign of the native speaker will soon be over.

We can no longer sustain the illusion that the local English we learned at our mother's knee is by definition ideal — no matter how thoughtless or jargon-riddled or complicated or sloppy or incorrect.

No point in protesting the trend: it's a fait accompli. The see-saw has tipped.

Contented courses can help to dull the pain: we show you how to write English that is easy to translate and easy for foreigners to understand. That's what we call global English.
*Photo: Okinawa Soba. From a group of original 1895-1935 glass lantern slides depicting scenes and people in pre-WW2 China. They were tinted by hand using fine brushes at the time the slides were made.


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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