At the first event of the new year, we gathered to listen to Friederike Sell’s talk titled “International English for native English speakers” – Why we have to encourage the re-learning of a mother tongue in international organisations. The lively discussion that followed proved to be hugely engaging and thought-provoking.
The entire world speaks English. So many international businesses use English as their working language, which makes sense. But if we take into account that native-English speakers use the language differently from non-native speakers, we need to question if it is as simple as that.
The answer is no: after illustrating some differences between how English is used in the two groups, Friederike elaborated on why organisations with a multilingual workforce should make a point of using international English rather than ‘English’ as their working language – and what possible negative implications there are for both native and non-native speakers if they don’t.
By international English, Friederike means a non-complex, collaborative form of communication. Something that is efficient, effective, fair and inclusive. It minimises misunderstandings, and respects everyone’s contribution to a project and a common goal.
Friederike demonstrated with vivid examples what happens when native-English speakers use unnecessarily complex or idiomatic phrases that can lead to misunderstandings: non-native speakers might feel disempowered and experience a kind of status loss, which is clearly not a desired outcome as it hinders collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
On the other hand, she also shared how non-native speakers of different language background can come up with creative language use to achieve mutual understanding by co-constructing meanings. Native-English speakers can miss out on these if they don’t embrace this kind of international use of their mother tongue.
Friederike finished by mapping out some steps that anyone can take to make their English more international, both on an individual and an organisational level. She emphasised why both native and non-native speakers can benefit from language awareness in the workplace, how it leads to increased work satisfaction, and suggested that organisations should consider having a clear language policy.
Effective communication does not hinge on mastery of grammar and words, but on establishing a connection and building trust.
Friederike’s talk sparked an engaged discussion that clearly showed that this was a hot topic that all language professionals who attended could very much relate to.
After the discussion, everyone had a chance to introduce themselves in 30 seconds, and then, we continued the conversation over a drink or two and networked well into the evening.
Thanks for everyone who joined us and participated in the discussions. We’ll be back in February.
About the speaker:
Friederike Sell is part of BEIO Consulting, a consultancy that helps internationally-operating organisations which use English as their working language. The consultancy is based on a 7-year research project at the University of Bonn, Germany, and advises on how to use English such that it is efficient, fair and inclusive for speakers of any language background.
Friederike holds an MSc in Applied Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh and is working on her PhD on cognitive aspects of foreign language use at the University of Bonn. Her work is supported by the British Council Assessment Research Award and the Doctoral Dissertation Grant of The International Research Foundation for English Language Education/Cambridge Assessment.
She is an advocate of multilingualism and never gets tired of raising awareness about how language use affects human interactions in more ways than we’re usually aware of.
Finally, to round it all up, watch this 30-second video for a humorous take on international English: