Globish….good, bad or ugly?

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With the 11.5% rise of the Yen against the Dollar in 2010, many Japanese businesses face the problem of how to communicate their ambitions within the culturally distinct market of the West.

Is the solution to make English the compulsory language of communication for all global businesses or to implement ‘Globish’- an interlanguage variant on English that aims only for a basic understanding between its users?

This dilemma arises from the proclamations of Monex Group Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer, Oki Matsumoto, within a September 8th article posted on online news platform Bloomberg. Matsumoto, in order to maximise his company’s global prospects, has invited all ranks of employees to converse in ‘Globish’ at regular parties. This promotion of English within Japanese businesses is not a new one and is also popular with businesses such as Rakuten Inc. and Fast Retailing. It certainly does seem a sensible idea that enables Japan to seize upon the internationalization of the global market (propelled in a large way by the growth of the internet over the past ten years). Yet surely the best way to communicate with Western markets would be through the learning of ‘Pure English’, for as Globish creator Jean-Paul Nerriere admits his language only extends to the “just enough” approach towards communication.

The decision to make English the ‘language of business’ could potentially be, in the long term, the most economical method of communication for businesses across the globe. It would enable all businesses to freely communicate on whichever plane they needed to, saving time and money. Moreover it would not be restricted by the cultural parameters of Globish (which uses just 1500 common words of English’s 200,000 strong vocabulary); these limitations mean that the connotative meaning of conversations may not always be apparent. For Japanese businesses to be able to be progressive and ‘think outside the box’, both taking and bringing ideas to the Western market, then a linguistic understanding beyond the pragmatism of Globish must surely be sought.

However, despite encouraging a global pluralistic attitude, the consequence of relying on English might be the indirect downgrading of other languages. This could potentially result in a sense of lost cultural identity within Japanese – and other countries’- businesses. Honda Motor Co.’s attitude definitely leans towards this view, with its Chief Executive, Takanobu Ito, calling an enforcement of English in the workplace “ridiculous”. He argues that English should be used only when absolutely necessary and when other languages become impenetrable within business conferences. In this light, the ‘just enough’ mantra of Globish would seem the perfect alternative, a parsimonious language used only when needed. It would cost less and be quicker to teach than English and would enable all countries (including English-speaking ones) to continue using their own language for domestic dealings, whilst on a global plane one united linguistic platform could be used.

Furthermore with China overtaking Japan as the world’s second largest economy, the adoption of Globish might prevent the foreseeable need for Japanese employees to learn both English and Mandarin, in order to be up-to-date with their companies’ expansion prospects in both cultural sectors.

With the enthusiasm for this idea in Japan, it remains to be seen if Western countries will overlook the limitations of Globish and embrace a global communication. Perhaps if they did, it would create not only stronger links between the economies of the East and West but improve the relationship between these distinct global sectors as a whole.

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