Saying More With Less
(International English Version)

Which of the world’s most widely spoken languages has no native speakers?

I can see you thinking: The most widely spoken world language is Chinese, but this includes many native speakers. Then there is Spanish, there is Hindi, English, Arabic, but they all have many native speakers, too.

Okay — This is perhaps a trick question. The answer is: English as a Second Language (ESL). Of 765 million English speakers world-wide, 335 million are native speakers. The remaining 430 million use English as a second (or third or fourth) language in addition to their own native language. So ESL (or International English, as we’ll call it) ranks third among the world’s most widely spoken languages (after Chinese and Spanish and ahead of Hindi and Arabic.). Alone among the world’s major languages, English is spoken by more people as a second language than as a native language.

International English is also the most widely spoken business language in the world today. Most people incorrectly assume that it is the same language spoken by native speakers of English. It is not.

International English consists of a basic vocabulary of about 5000 words plus the technical words from your particular profession or line of business. Most educated native speakers of English (like educated native speakers of other languages) recognize up to 50,000 words (and use up to 25,000). The difference consists of words such as:

So the majority of words that are familiar to native English speakers actually lie outside the boundary of International English.

When there is a problem in understanding, native speakers and ESL speakers usually assume that those using English as a second language are the cause. In fact, the situation is the opposite. Because of the way International English is defined, most ESL speakers are experts in International English. Most native speakers of English, however, have not learned the skill of knowing where the boundary between their native language and International English lies.

The goal of International English is clear communication. It is not the finer points of language, exactly correct grammar, perfect pronunciation or the ability to express every thought with the same precision we can in our native language.

Jean-Paul Nerri�re, a retired IBM executive, has taken the point further by identifying a part of International English using only 1500 words which he calls Globish. Nerri�re is a Frenchman who spent much of his career in Asia. He noticed that many of his Asian business partners found it easier to deal with him than with native English speakers because his International English was easier for them to understand. He notes that you can you can simply say the room where food is cooked if you don’t know the word kitchen. This approach is not elegant, but it is practical. As part of this project, he has identified a small group of English words which makes basic communication possible. You can find more information on Globish at

International English is more powerful than Globish. When it is properly used, International English can make commmunication easier and help us work more effectively with others. When one person is using International English and another is using native English, in contrast, the result is confusion, missed opportunities, poor teamwork and bad business practice.

Here are some tips on mastering International English for native speakers of English:

If you use English as a second language for business purposes, here are some tips for you:

International English is a strong tool for global leaders. Like any tool, it is only useful to the extent that you take the time and effort to master it.

Craig Collins is Principal Consultant of Orion International. He and his associates have helped hundreds of managers and professionals to sharpen their skills as presenters through workshops and coaching. He can be reached at