Jean-Paul Nerrier’s Globish

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This is a comment on a great post by The Tesla Coil on the Graddolization of EFL. David Graddol honored MELTA with a visit last summer. Thanks, Tony Watt for the Globish link:

Only 4% of the people communicating with each other today in English are both/ all native speakers. Jean-Paul Nerrier wants to “make it more comfortable for people to talk to each other all over the world.”  He’s redefined the core elements of English, breaking it down to 1500 words, with simple structures, no idioms, no jokes. Out of respect to “real” English he calls this language Globish, and has courses to go with it. His pitch:

Now, I’ve been training business people here in Germany for 12 or so years now, and must say: He has a very good point. Most of the people I teach do business in English in teams and business contexts where most members are non-native speakers. As soon as even one person can’t speak German, talk switches to English. I’m amazed at how good-natured everyone is about it. Some companies are offering DAF (German as a foreign language) courses, but it takes foreigners longer to learn the language, especially when their spouse is not German, than for the rest of the company (!) to brush up their English.

Some sort of Globish is clearly the type of English they need to handle most back office work or the occasional from-the-airport-to-the-meeting business trip, which is perhaps 95% of the English-speaking situations my students will be in. All they can afford to reach in English is lower intermediate: Basic functional language is just one of the skills they need.

But there are two little problems with this:

First of all, while my learners want to work on producing language themselves, which is great, they’re lousy at understanding other non-native speakers speaking another brand of English. How many people are speaking the same lower-intermediate interlingua today? Have any of you compared lower intermediate Business English books being used in, say, China or Saudi Arabia with those being used in Germany or Greece? Have you taught using them? Are the interlinguas at all connected to the teaching, and how do they compare?

The second is the lure of the real world. Anglophile kids. Movies. Music. Social networking. Trips. It’s there, that curiosity to actually understand the sexy sides of real English. I always manage to sneak them into my courses. Most of that exploration won’t happen on the company bill. But, hey, what did God make the internet for?

Learning English? How do you feel about the concept of Globish?


10 Responses

  1. I’m a native speaker of English, and I would like to argue the case for wider use of Esperanto.

    You write of your learners: “they’re lousy at understanding other non-native speakers speaking another brand of English.” That’s not the case for Esperanto. I understand Japanese, German and Portuguese Esperanto speakers, and they understand me.

    Take a look at

  2. @Bill, Esperanto? Great enlightened idea, but is there a market for it where you are? I’ve never come across an Esperanto course at any of the companies I teach at, or heard of an HR manager willing to invest.
    A typical scenario here: Two technical staffers at a German SME (in their 40s or 50s) need to go to China on business. They had English at school, and have attended company courses periodically since, and so their boss alots maybe 200 Euros each for a crash course to get them ready for the trip and able to talk to the English-Chinese interpreter within a few days. This is an extreme example, but many of my clients are on a shoestring and have little time.

    Chris, I know. Guilty laughter.

  3. I think that the kind gentleman in the video is lucky to be near retirement age because the young business people that I am working with here in France are already WAY past his level of English and use a language that is rich in its content.
    And it’s not because of me, though I try to help, but because they are eating up the language around them.
    I have one client who even insists that his children only watch DVDs in the original language up to the age of 14 and his teenagers are now watching Skins – which might not be the best thing in terms of other lessons they may learn but as an indication of their English level it’s good.
    Globish might be a good starting point but it’s not going to be enough.

  4. I agree with Bill Chapman about Esperanto.

    Its a pity however that most people do not know that Esperanto has become a living language, however after a short period of 122 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA World factbook. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and a language choice of Google, Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers,(people who have used the language from birth), include World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to NATO and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet. According to the CIA Factbook the language is within the top 100 languages, out of all languages, worldwide.

    Your readers may be interested in the following video 🙂 A glimpse of the language can be seen at 🙂

  5. Interesting. I seem to remember reading somewhere (and Ive no idea if its actually true) that in Globish, you can’t say “tomato” you have to say “small red fruit” or something like that.

    If that’s indeed the case, then I think its clear what the problem’s going to be with a language whose lexicon is restricted to some 1500 words. But hey.

  6. Hi Chris and Nicky,

    We’re obviously talking about people trying to get by on next to nothing very little, and something tells me that does target the older generation, Chris. David Graddol made us all feel very insecure about whether those of us in adult education would have any students left in a few years time. But just do the math, and if we’re happy enough to truck along with those born after, say, about 1965, notoriously overworked yet keen to get their English right, we should have students to take us through to retirement (retire-what? old-age-unemployment).

    Love the small-red-fruit story, Nicky. Also thinking of all the technical terms that they have to put in context. The two guys I was talking about were very-false beginners but knew the terminology, and they’d sort of spurt out streams of technical terms they looked up in their digital dictionaries without being able to tell me or each other what to do about them. We all got a bit of a physical workout, demonstrating and acting things out. What a party.

    People like your parents-of-kids-watching-Skins, Chris, are obviously on a different track and destined for slightly more sophisticated communicative roles in life. I wish they all could be…

    Hi Beian,

    A great humanistic project. I’ve spent some time exploring your links, and was positively surprized to find that there are people who learn Esperanto as a child, and grow up bi/multilingual.

    But the questions remain: Which elementary schools are teaching it? Which head of state will use it to deliver the state of the union address? Which spy network can be wiretapped only if the agency is fluent in Esperanto? Language functions follow needs. Perhaps Justin Timberlake has to learn it and China must adopt it as its official language of diplomacy before more people will feel the need to learn it.

    I like the concept of a language that escapes our power structures, but that would be trying to escape the real world. A personal anecdote: My dad was an idealist who believed that we could change the world if only everyone learned Latin. Yes, Latin. It being a dead language, he said, there would be no imperialism involved. This was the late 1960s, and he thought that logical thinking was the way forward in overcoming widespread illiteracy and short-sightedness, and that Latin was completely logical, whereas English is horribly illogical, as we know. So he developed a way of teaching Latin that is very similar to Suggestopedia, and I had fun being his guinea pig for a few years. He basically hoped to teach ghetto kids in DC Latin from first grade. Unfortunately, he found few fans outside his personal network of Catholic priests interested in Gregorian chant at 7:30 on Sunday morning. If you Google his name, to misquote Santana, he’s not there!

    That can most certainly not be said of Ludwig Zamendorf.

  7. I don’t understand why monsieur Nerrier wants to “codify” the result of learning in the process… globish is a transitory stage when people learn English, it’s not the ultimate objective! He says people from all over the world understand each other better that way. I don’t agree!! I’ve heard people struggle in English in France (at breaktime the students often rush back into English) : American students having a hard time understanding Corean or Japanese people! I agree with you Anne: Globish is not the same for everyone at a given time, it is a *transitory* stage in the process of learning English. I noticed the same with French: students from one nationality complaining that they don’t understand other members of the class, from another nationality. And yes, Chris, no jokes!!! what a shame to amputate language from its very salt and fun!! and Nerrier’s accent is even more ridiculous than Jacques Chirac’s! OMD we don’t want to learn globish, we want to learn English!!

  8. Merci, Alice, thanks, Chris!

    There are so many different intentions that people will pursue in learning anything. If some folks don’t aim very high, I sort of think that’s their right – and their risk. But I think it’s only fair to send them the right message: If they’re not the ones defining what skill level is appropriate, they’d better meet the standards their counterpart requires. You wouldn’t send an amateur team to the world cup and let them get creamed. I think that’s what’s bugging me about M. Nerrier: He thinks he can define a new standard and make it right and accepted just by proclaiming it.

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