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Let’s be Franca – Translating into Global English

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

The English language is unavoidable. Yes, with approximately 800 million native and non-native speakers scattered worldwide it has, without tooting our own horn, become the lingua franca of the world. Whether this linguistic imperialism is due to the sheer immensity of the British Empire or the 21st-century digital uprising, it goes without saying that the demand for English is through the roof.

Street signs in Singapore

We Brits, given our esteemed literary history, enjoy using jargon and flouncy vocabulary to decorate the message in the classiest way possible. But, with all the complexities of the English language, like phrasal verbs, idioms, allusion… surely not everyone can instantly become a master of tongue with the ease of a native speaker? And surely not everybody wants or needs to? Linguistic legend David Crystal states that two-thirds of English speakers are non-natives. So, it would only make sense to use English in a way that it can be widely understood. Enter Global English… a simplified form of English that facilitates communication between non-native speakers.

Plain and simple

As a language of business, one of the main criteria when translating into global English is keeping sentences short, simple and unambiguous. Otherwise, language starts to become too exclusive and confusing. For instance, the sentence:

The relevant ideas which you have shared in respect of the case under review have been carefully considered.

…could easily be simplified as:

We have considered your ideas carefully.

England vs. the world

Moreover, technology has undoubtedly had an influence on how widely used English is, be it casual, formal, localised or globalised. Some purists believe that it is our fast-paced society, with its need for instant gratification and its short attention span, that has led to the dumbing down of English. However, who says ‘simplification’ means ‘limitation’? Haven’t we just created a more accessible English for everyone to understand and enjoy?

Avoiding ambiguity is also crucial. Using phrasal verbs such as ‘get’, which can have a number of different meanings, can disadvantage foreign readers, who will spend more time working out the context. Just think of the number of instances where ‘get’ can be applied…

A tree of possibilities

Prepare to be bowled over

But working with ‘non-standard’ English isn’t just down to umbrella simplification. It’s also about tailoring. There are many variants of English that stretch way beyond the UK and the US. So, when translating for these markets, we can adapt by taking cultural influences into account. Many English speakers seem to have already started spreading their own take on English words and phrases. Instead of the phrase ‘back to square one’, for instance, it is more common in India to say, ‘back to pavilion’, referring to the popular Indian pastime, cricket.

A cricket batsman

Some may even adapt words based on their own sense of linguistic logic. Anglophones in the Philippines have even coined the term monthsary. Although native speakers are more accustomed to saying ‘6-month anniversary’ this is, in fact, incorrect seeing as the prefix ‘annus’ means year. Perhaps we could learn a few things about our own language from our international counterparts…

Here at WIT, we understand the value of tailoring a text to its reader, and how knowing who you are speaking to can have a huge impact on your word choice. Know your audience, we’ll take care of the rest!


By Gina Agnew


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