Themes > Business communication >Offshore English
Offshore English

A new variety of English is emerging. More and more non-native speakers of the language, whether on business or on holiday, use it to communicate with other nationalities. This raises a fundamental question about learning English. Should you aim for native-speaker accuracy? Is it more realistic to accept that communication in English should be effective and comprehensible but not necessarily perfect?

Offshore English is a kind of universal language spoken largely by non-native speakers off the shores of Britain (or indeed the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and other countries where English is the mother tongue). Other languages influence Offshore English (we call it "mother tongue interference") so that some statements sound a little odd. Here are some examples: (click the "Correction" button to see what they meant to say!)

"Our wines leave you nothing to hope for" (Swiss restaurant menu).

"Running water is flowing through all the bedrooms" (Austrian hotel brochure).

"Please leave your values at the front desk" (French hotel sign).

"Ladies have fits upstairs" (Japanese shop sign).


However, although a native speaker often finds the slightly distorted English amusing, very few people fail to understand the message.

In fact, Offshore English often emerges in international business situations. Although it is not of native-speaker perfection, it is widely understood by speakers and listeners alike.

For example, "I am working for my company since three years" is not grammatically accurate. The sentence includes two mistakes common to many nationalities speaking English as a Foreign language. However, in this example, there is no danger of misunderstanding what the speaker means.

An other example is the use of the expression, "in former times". This sounds odd to a native speaker, as it summons up images of ancient Greece or Rome. The speaker actually means "in the past". This mistake usually occurs in the context of a longer conversation, so most people realise that the speaker is not really referring to ancient history!

Many non-native speakers of English speak less than 100% accurate English. If the meaning is clear, then it is not necessary to worry too much about it. Some mistakes, however, are serious, and can cause misunderstanding and / or embarrassment. It is these that the learner needs to concentrate on. For example, "I'll give it to him when I see him" is a serious mistake if the speaker really means "I'll give it to him if I see him".

Native or non-native?

Many learners of English would like to be as accurate in that language as possible. However, their target level can depend a lot on who they need to communicate with. In actual business practice, they may find that when they deal solely with other non-native speakers, effective communication does not require a native-speaker level of accuracy.


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