Is This English?

English is often assumed to be an “international language” (whether there is such a thing is a topic for another day). As a result, some English words have become everyday terms in some non-English-speaking countries, not least in the business environment, with many users having no real knowledge of what the words actually mean and dangerously assuming that this is how English speakers talk.

Recently, a French client asked me to check and edit a series of short texts that – it turns out – she had written in “international English” (so she said). It soon became apparent that she could not actually speak English and had used Google Translate to complement French corporate speak, which included all sorts of English words. The result was gibberish. I tried my best to explain that her texts would make no sense to English speakers, that for all the corporate speak that you may hear across the Channel or the Atlantic, English speakers never used the vocabulary that she insisted on using. To no avail. This was (her understanding of) “international English” and this lexicon had to be used for the app her company was designing for one of their clients.

Let’s clarify: international English means a form of English that can easily be understood by any English speaker, i.e. using no specifically British / Australian / American / Irish, etc. cultural references or expressions and, when there is a possibility of 2 spellings for a word, the one common to most English-speaking countries should be used (e.g. “realize” rather than “realise”). “Business speak” is not international English. To English speakers, this foreign corporate jargon is nothing but gobbledygook and should be avoided at all costs. Think about the differences between British and American English such as “pants” or “purse”: same words, different things – and much confusion. Similarly, and more embarrassingly still, Frenglish makes no sense to English speakers (see video below for illustration).

If you need a text in corporate English, write it in plain French and trust your translator to translate it into intelligible English for you.

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