The primary goal of Global English is to make your writing clearer for both nonnative English speakers and translators.
“But,” you say, “our business isn’t international! We work only in the United States [or Australia, or England, or whatever other primarily English-speaking country you’re in]. So there’s no point in bothering with this Global English stuff. It’s just extra work! Besides, people will get the point.”
Maybe your business could survive assumptions like these 100 years ago. But the simple fact is that your audience is global no matter where you are or what you do. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 80% of Americans are native English speakers. That means a fifth of your clients, customers, and audience are not native English speakers. Moreover, the Bureau reports that 60 million Americans don’t speak English at home. If 20% isn’t a large enough number to convince you, then your business has much bigger problems than your writing!
If your business has a website, you’ve got a global audience. According to one source, 73% of internet users don’t speak English! My personal homepage—which, trust me, is an incredibly low-traffic site—has had visitors from Canada, Brazil, Latvia, the U.K., and Israel in the past few months. On the web, you automatically have a global audience, and you can choose whether to embrace that audience or leave them to fend for themselves.
If you choose not to leave your readers to fend for themselves, the previously cited article by Antoine LeFeuvre in A List Apart provides helpful guidance.
LeFeuvre’s main point is that you need to build your content for a multilingual audience. The mantra that is often heard in web design discussions now is “mobile first”: design your sites under the assumption that users will access them via mobile devices. LeFeuvre claims that “foreign first” is an equally important mantra: design your sites under the assumption that you’ll be creating multilingual versions that are translated and localized for your global audiences.
LeFeuvre makes a strong point, and makes it well. But the argument sets up a false dichotomy: if your site isn’t multilingual, it’s not friendly to foreign, nonnative English-speaking readers.
This dichotomy is false because you have another option: create your content in Global English. By writing in Global English, you’ll ensure both that your English-speaking readers encounter the clearest-possible writing, and that your non-English-speaking readers have the best possible chance to understand your meaning when they use machine translators to translate your content. And, when you start with Global English content, you’ll be able to create foreign-language sites much more easily and cost-effectively.
An article from the Harvard Business Review about a new HBS class emphasizes this same point—that the market for every business is international: entrepreneurs need to “build for global competition from the start.”
If you’re an entrepreneur today, “you have to think much earlier and much faster,” according to Harvard Business School professor William Kerr, who teaches the new course, titled Launching Global Ventures.
Kerr concludes by claiming that even if a company “is based solely in Boston, the world and competition move so fast that founders need to think globally from the start.” This quotation is a perfect restatement of the idea I tried to articulate in the previous post.
Kerr makes another important point about how businesses need to think globally. The article’s author paraphrases Kerr’s points:
Throughout history, Kerr argues, global ventures have been governed by two common forces. First, there must be an advantage to connecting two different places—Christopher Columbus’s desire to link European markets to Chinese silks, say, or Silicon Valley’s desire for cheaper programming talent in India. Second, a global company needs methods and tools to enable the venture, such as long-haul ships for Columbus or the Internet and telecom infrastructure for Skype.
Kerr’s point about the “methods and tools to enable the venture” is crucial. Communication is a tool that every business uses every day. As with all tools, it can be used well or misused. But most of the time, it’s such a basic, essential tool that it’s simultaneously constantly used and constantly ignored.
If you recognize that you need new methods and tools to deal with a new global economy, then you’re in a perfect position to rethink even this most basic tool. Global English, because it’s based on evidence and centered around writing for the global market, is the ideal foundation for your communication strategy. Global English should be the cornerstone of your efforts to “build for global competition from the start.”
In short: you don’t have to immediately create foreign-language content to have a business that’s friendly to your global audience. By writing in Global English, you’ll take a substantial first step toward content that works for the world.