“International English”: An alternative to US or UK English

06 Sep 2016
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English dictionaries on book shelf and boxes with US and GB flag
Foto pixabay/unsplash, CC0 Public Domain

Are you based in Germany but have an English website or publish advertising materials, brochures, product catalogues or annual reports in English? Then you’ve probably had to think about whether to use American or British English. The problem is that in today’s global economy texts are rarely read exclusively by either the British or by Americans. And when it comes to your web content, e.g. websites, blog articles or social media posts, people all around the globe have access.

Keep in mind that you are using English as a lingua franca, so not only native English speakers are reading your texts, but people of all nationalities for whom English is a second language (also see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_English).

The different ways of spelling words in American and British English (color vs. colour, fulfill vs. fulfil, aluminum vs. aluminium) presents only a minor challenge for an international readership. Differing word choice (highway vs. motorway, lawyer vs. barrister) is already more of a hindrance. What is really tricky is the use of country or region-specific expressions or idioms (e.g. derived from baseball or golf: You’re in the big leagues now!; His performance was not up to par) which only certain groups of native English speakers understand.

The answer to this dilemma is “International English” –

also called “Global English,” “World English,” “Common English” or “Globish”

When using international English, make sure to

  • use language that is understood both by native English speakers around the world, as well as by people who speak English as a foreign language.
  • write clear, short sentences.
  • chose idioms carefully.
  • use humor in a culturally sensitive way and culturally “neutral” language is given preference.
  • avoid using phrasal verbs (e.g. to put someone off; to go on about) and colloquial expressions (e.g. to blow someone off; great to have you on board!) wherever possible.
  • write dates in a way that everyone will understand, e.g. by spelling out the month: 4 March 2016 instead of 04/03/2016 (UK) or 03/04/2016 (US).
  • include the international prefix with phone numbers and the country name with addresses
  • be precise when using currencies. Avoid writing “$1000,” but instead write “USD 1000,” “UD 1000” or “CAD 1000.”

The next time you need an English translation or proofreading job done, consider whether international English isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. Your professional language service provider will be happy to help you with this. And while you’re at it, why not spend some time thinking about whether the images and photos in your English publication are suitable for readers around the world?

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