March 22

Why ‘International English’ leaves a bland taste in my mouth…

One of the plenaries at TESOL-SPAIN was a talk by the great Penny Ur on English as an International Language in which she raised some interesting points about “users” of English rather than “learners” and asked where the model for an International English would come from.

Perhaps I’m extremely biased as I’m a confident English user and have never had to go through the experience of learning English, but the idea of an International English does leave me with quite a few doubts.  I think one of the beauties of any language is its eccentricities and often not being a fully-competent speaker of one variety of the language can open up a world of possibilities and encourage further communication between people.  I speak Spanish well (that’s to say I speak Castellano well) but I have no doubt that if I went to South America some of my phrases would be met with strange looks.  It could be embarrassing, it could be enfuriating, but I imagine I would enjoy the experience of learning new vocabulary and communicating with local people in the process.

What do you think?

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Posted March 22, 2011 by Teresa Bestwick in category My thoughts

5 thoughts on “Why ‘International English’ leaves a bland taste in my mouth…

  1. Walton

    I agree with you. I think one of the reasons English is such a widely spoken language is its flexibility. Unlike French or Russian where a central body tries to control the language and which words enter the language, English picks up new words and grammar structures from local language. Also the idea of a standardized English sounds reasonable if we talk about Chinese users, but will we also do away with native variations like American, Australian, and Scots English?

    1. Teresa Bestwick (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment, Walton. I agree with you about the flexibility of English and the wondrous way in which new words are added and become part of the language from different sources.

  2. shadowfalcon

    I like the idea of a standard international English in theory but the reality would be too regimented and simply boring. You have the perfect example in your post about learning new phrases.
    One thing I really enjoy is hearing words that have practically dissappeared from common usage in the UK but still thrive elsewhere.

  3. Mike Unwalla

    Many people in business use ‘international English’.

    English is a rich language, but that richness causes problems for people who do not know English well. International business people want to USE English. English is a tool.

    People have devised various models of international English. My favourite model is Kohl’s ‘Global English’ (

    shadowfalcon is correct. International English is boring. However, international English lets people communicate effectively.

    1. Teresa Bestwick (Post author)

      Thanks for your comments, Rx and Mike.

      Mike, I agree with you that international English may help people communicate more easily, but perhaps “simplifying” language isn’t always the best option. I read an interesting article recently about how some of the German population are concerned by the increasing number of anglicisms in their language – words and phrases which are understood by a greater majority, such as das Marketing. Perhaps those people using these anglicisms are right and there are enriching their language and making communication on the international plain easier, but is that necessarily a good thing for the language itself?


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