What are the reasons why so many professional people are currently attending Business English courses? The answer to this question is simple. English is the language for doing International Business. As a consequence, companies need those employees who are in relation with foreign clients or suppliers to have the skills in English which enable them to do their work efficiently. Even if an employee has good knowledge of the English language, he/she still needs to acquire the language to their professional area (logistics, human resources, etc.) and therefore need to attend a Business English course.
In this post we will look at why English is in this position, what the implications of this are for the English language and Business English training courses and what future developments we can expect to witness.
British colonialism spread the English language around the globe as it was administratively imposed on the non-English speakers in these colonies. English started to become increasingly influential on the world-scene at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The Versailles Treaty of 1919 was drawn up not only in French (the diplomatic language of the time) but also in English. The US’s powerful political, military and economic position in the second half of the Twentieth Century meant that English became the main language of communication in such organisations as NATO and the IMF. The following facts from the British Council website reveal the current widespread use of English: English is spoken as a first language by around 375 million and as a second language by around 375 million speakers. Around 750 million people are believed to speak English as a foreign language.
Due to the fact that Business English is so important, companies require increasing numbers of their employees to have knowledge of this language. This knowledge is no longer the preserve of people in positions of responsibility; technicians who have to phone for support in another country and receptionists who receive foreign delegations also need to be able to do certain parts of their jobs in English. Companies therefore allocate a proportion of their training budgets to business English courses. This more diverse demand has led to the development of training courses which specialise in exactly what the delegate needs to know in order to be able to function correctly at work.
As Business is done in English between people who are not necessarily native speakers of the language, a simplified version of English is now emerging. This version is sometimes called ‘standard’ or ‘international’ English. This new type of English for Business purposes is trimmed of all the non-essential grammatical structures and has a reduced common vocabulary. Phrasal verbs such as ‘go on ‘ and ‘set up’ are not as important as ‘continue ‘ and ‘create’, for example, and knowledge of the difference between the present perfect and the past simple is no longer a priority in the training room.
The primordial objective of the business person using international business English is to communicate efficiently and effectively. Native speakers with their fast delivery, colloquial expressions and unclear pronunciation are feared in the business place as they have become the most difficult people to understand. The result of this is that native speakers may have to start learning how to speak a more communication-friendly form of their own language – i.e. international English
According to a recent BBC article, US economic, military and political dominance is likely to decline over the next two decades. This change shows that the situation that made English into the international Business language is going to change in the future. Will this mean that another language will replace English as the new language of international business communication? It is improbable as Chinese, for example, is such a difficult language to learn and does not have the same world-wide spread as English. Another emerging economy, India, already uses English substantially in everyday life. It is also true to say that International English is easier to learn than other forms of English such as British English or American English. The result is that this standardised international version of English will become more and more prevalent in international business and training courses will have to reflect this reality.