The major factor involved in the importance of English in international business is the acceptance of English as the international language of the business community for the purpose of uniformity in communication. Accepting English eliminates the need to explore an alternative language. If not English, then what language works better for the international business community?
English as an International Language
Perspective of English as Global Communication
If English as a global language "means that English has the widest distribution on the most continents, it is true. If it means that English is the language most utilized for international communication between and among language communities, it is true. But if it implies that English is the language of all the peoples of the globe, it is manifestly false" (Harris, 2001, 685). What may be good for the functionality of business may not be accepted as being good for the non-business community. With any new project or venture, research and development of the product or service should be done so that words used to communicate with the new market are not received with offense. Be sensitive and respectful concerning the decisions made in regard to the ways communication is used and worded.
Perspective of English as Learned Communication
"It is crucial that students are equipped with-and be aware of-both the linguistic and strategic repertoire that they can draw from in situations where they use English to communicate with those who do not share their first language and culture. In addition to the development of strategic competence, students also need to be reminded that communication is a two-way road. That is, making one's own message clear and trying to understand others is not the sole responsibility of non-native speakers or speakers of 'less standard' English varieties (however that is defined). Everyone is responsible for overall successful communication, whether it is international or not" (Matsuda and Friedrich, 2011, 340). Be mindful that words can have different meanings in different parts of the same country. Therefore, having words that have different meaning in different parts of the world is a reasonable possibility. There can also be different versions of English in different locations. Business English could also be different from the native English of an English-speaking country. Do not assume; technology has been made available to know for sure what is involved in any given business project or transaction.
English in International Business Communication
"In thinking about the impact of English on international business, there will be two effects: the intra-language effect and the inter-language effect. The intra-language effect would relate to the impact that English has in stimulating international business activity between English-speaking countries" (Hejazi and Ma, 2011, 153). If the native English of each of the two countries is slightly different, it still could have the feel of dealing with a non-English speaking country if time is not spent coming to an agreement defining business English. Business professionals new to a market will benefit by finding out how things work and use the same language the other market stakeholders are using.
"The inter-language, commonly referred to as "lingua franca", effect refers to the impact English would have on stimulating FDI activities between countries which have different official languages. The inter-language effect would have two dimensions: the first involves the use of English by a non-English-speaking country when carrying out international business with English-speaking countries; the second involves the situation in which English is used as a vehicle language between two non-English-speaking countries that use different official languages" (Hejazi and Ma, 2011, 153). Even though cooperation in using English in both cases may result in positive benefits for the countries involved, sensitivity in communication should be exercised to avoid miscommunication that may offend members of the markets involved. Good judgment with word choice is very important.
The importance of English in international business will depend on the purpose of the communication for which English is involved. Since the importance of English will vary depending on whether its use helps to complete business transactions, the deciding factor will depend of the opinion of the users concerning that fact. The success of communication in business will involve other factors. The more English works in communication for international business, the more it will be used. It will then be used because it is used by the people for whom businesses want to communicate.
Harris, C.D. (2001, October). English as International Language in Geography: Development and Limitation. The Geographical Review, 91, 4, 675-689.
Hejazi, W. and Ma, J. (2011). Gravity, the English language and international business. The Multinational Business Review, 19, 2, 152-167.
Matsuda, A. and Friedrich, P. (2011). English as an international language: a curriculum blueprint. World Englishes, 30, 3, 332-344.