Communication /Voice Culture

5 Reasons Bad English is Good for Global Business (Heather Hansen)

The former CEO of Volvo once said in an interview with our APSS President, Fredrik Härén, that they liked to joke within the company that their official corporate language was “Bad English”. Anyone who works in an international environment is familiar with this language. It’s a funny mix of grammatical errors, mispronunciations, and made-up words that, somehow, everyone understands perfectly.

The fact is, “bad English” is actually very good for business. Here are five reasons why:

1. Bad English is inclusive 

The folks at Volvo didn’t think that speaking “bad English” was a negative thing. By embracing bad English, they gave everyone a voice. Even those who weren’t confident in their English could speak up and share their ideas, because they weren’t afraid of making mistakes. They didn’t feel pressured by the company or their colleagues to be perfect. Their “bad English” was good enough.

When everyone is able to contribute to the success of the company, you create a more innovative and collaborative workplace that has a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

2. Bad English is efficient

Do you have any idea how much time is wasted by employees trying to present themselves perfectly in English? If you speak a foreign language, compare the time it takes to write an email in your native language versus your foreign language.

For most people, it takes significantly longer to write something perfectly in a foreign language, and includes a lot of Google translate, second-guessing, and asking for colleagues’ opinions before they can get it just right. This time could be better spent working on core areas in the business.

3. Bad English is simple

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Speaking bad English forces us to simplify our ideas to the very core and express them clearly. In fast-paced global environments, this helps us speed up our communication and ensure we have fewer misunderstandings.

4. Bad English is clear

Currently there are about 400 Million people in the world who speak “good English.” They were born into the language and speak it natively (and some speak it better than others). Compare this to the 2 Billion voices that have learned to speak English in a classroom. They are the ones we usually accuse of having “bad English,” yet they are more successful in global communication than you might think.

Studies show that miscommunication is more likely to occur when one of the 400 Million native speakers enter a global conversation. This is due to their use of slang, jargon, sloppy pronunciation, advanced vocabulary and culturally-specific idioms.

The 2 Billion “bad English” speakers are actually better off without us. If we all learned to speak as simply and clearly as they do, we would actually be easier to understand.

5. Bad English is egalitarian

Have you ever heard a really eloquent speaker say absolutely nothing at all? It’s amazing how impressive people can sound when using tone, pace and pause effectively, even though they have very little substance.

When we start listening to what people say instead of how they say it, the most talented people with the best ideas can start to rise to the top. It’s interesting to note that only 11.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs were born outside the U.S. and an even smaller percentage of these leaders speak English as an additional language.

Do the people with the best ideas in your company rise to the top, or are your leaders the people that sound like they have the best ideas?

Bad English is Good Enough

Perhaps it’s time to stop “fixing” what we deem to be “bad English” and start redefining what it means to speak “good English.” If you can understand, and you are being understood, then you speak “bad English” perfectly!

As one of my global, C-suite clients said when I asked whether he’d like to work on his grammar:

“My grammar? No one cares about my grammar! As long as they can understand me, it’s good enough.”

This article first appeared on LinkedIn. You can view it here.

Leave a Reply