What is “Globish”? Why should we care?

The search term “Globish” returns over 100,000 hits on Google. What is it and why should language teachers care?

The term itself is a combination of “global” and “English”.

One site describes Globish as a simplified, yet standard version of English, based on a core vocabulary of 1500 words. The word itself and the concept behind it are the brain child of Jean-Paul Nerriere, a business man who speaks English, and his own version of it, Globish, as additional languages.

The premise? That if everyone in the world who wanted to speak English learned this simplified form of it, that they’d all learn much faster and be more effective.

This is a seductive concept… Fewer vocabulary words theoretically means less work. Less work always sounds attractive to language learners desperate to gain fluency.

The work of Dr. Hetty Roessingh, a senior researcher at the University of Calgary, reveals that by Grade 1, students who are native English speakers normally have a vocabulary of 5000 words. By grade 12, that number has increased to 80,000 to 100,000 words. She argues that we should be trying to enrich the vocabulary of English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students, not whittle it down.

What do you think? Is 1500 words enough to be considered a complete understanding of a language?


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


6 Responses to What is “Globish”? Why should we care?

  1. Guus says:

    A while ago, a Newsweek article hyped Globish as the next language for global communication, a language that native English speakers will have to learn to speak.

    It prompted me to write a blog postabout it. In my view, Globish is no more than using the largest common denominator when communicating with someone who is less than fluent.

  2. Mike Unwalla says:

    People learn English for different reasons. Globish is a tool for communication in international business.

    @Sarah: Is 1500 words enough to be considered a complete understanding of a language?

    No. Nerrière explains that the 1500 basic words in Globish can be increased to approximately 5000 related words by using four methods. For example, one method is to add prefixes and suffixes.
    In addition to the basic words, speakers of Globish need the applicable technical vocabulary for their particular subject.

    Globish is only one type of simplified English.

    Many organisations successfully use simplified English. For example, Special English from Voice of America is used for news broadcasts (www.voanews.com/specialenglish/about_special_english.cfm).

  3. I agree with the main concept: “Less work always sounds attractive to language learners desperate to gain fluency” but disagree with the Globish language as the solution. Here is why. It does not matter how many words you know to gain fluency; for example, there are many Chinese students who know more than 5000 words and who don’t speak English at all. What is more important that knowledge of words is the ability to form the English speech center in the brain that is separate from the native language speech center.

    There is a large difference between active and passive vocabulary; an adult learner who has 1500 words in his active vocabulary will have natural fluency whereas a learner who knows 5000 words as translation to his native tongue (that is has a passive vocabulary of 5000 words) will have a beginner’s level or will not be able to speak at all.

  4. S. Hoenle says:

    Well, 1500 words is a rudimentary vocabulary sufficient for survival, but I’d hardly call it a language.

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