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English: ‘Lingua Franca’ of the Business World

The exponential growth of the English language is undeniable. There are now more non-native than native speakers of English and it is the fastest-spreading language in human history. English has become the language of international politics, science, the Internet and we now estimate that English is spoken at a useful level by some 1.75 billion people worldwide—that’s one in every four of us.

In this post I’ll be considering how this so called ‘Englishization’ is influencing companies to adopt an English only language policy. As a teacher of Business English I feel well placed to address the subject. I have taught English to business people from all over the world, many of whom work for multinational companies that are located in non-English speaking countries. Herein lies one reason why English speakers in the business world are becoming ever more commonplace. Many organisations I have taught in are choosing to implement an English only policy in the workplace. This is to say that whatever country the company operates in, communication between employees must be through the medium of English. This is to be expected of multinational companies with multinational employees but why are companies based primarily in only one country encouraging employees to adopt an English only policy? Nowadays many companies look to establish and improve partner relationships all over the world. A global strategy requires a corresponding language strategy.

As companies look to grow globally they often look across borders to find new skills and new ways of thinking. A widely held belief is that English is now so well established as a global language that it’s much easier for employees to enter into an English speaking work environment and hit the ground running. The benefits to the employer seem obvious, having a workforce that speaks the same language surely makes for a more communicative and more efficient place to do business. However, how do the employees of these companies feel about this English invasion?



There appear to be four types of employee response, ranging from oppressed to inspired, but why so? Why do some see the English only policy as a great opportunity whilst others view it as a threat?

My time spent teaching in-company classes demonstrated how English language abilities can vary enormously from country to country. I have no doubt that many Scandinavian and northern European employees could adapt seamlessly to an English only policy. But can the same be said for Southern Europe, South America, Asia and other parts of the world?

English language levels vary greatly due to the importance placed on English in the educational systems of these countries and the similarities English holds with other languages around the world. English, being a Germanic language, shares many similarities with other languages from the same family. Languages such as Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and German itself. The same however cannot be said for other widely- spoken languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Hindu or Arabic. Languages that have next to no common features with English.



Other employees feeling frustrated or oppressed may point to a diminishing sense of cultural identity. Why must we all speak English and discard our own language which has served us perfectly well for years?

Whatever the employee reaction may be, many companies around the world are continuing to adopt an English only policy. To the oppressed, frustrated and indifferent I would advise learning English in order not to get left behind in the ever-changing world of international business. And to those feeling particularly inspired why not think about adding another string to your linguistic bow?  Mandarin Chinese is on the rise and could soon be competing with English as the language of international communication. Whilst English holds a sizeable head start over Mandarin it would not be the first time that one language has replaced another as the international language of choice. The term ‘ Lingua Franca ’ reveals that English hasn’t always had things its own way. However, as English continues to grow from strength to strength it’s safe to say, in the short-term at least, that the ‘Englishization’ of workplaces all around the world is here so stay.

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