Globish and the IT department

Published: June 14th, 2010

We’re always hearing about IT departments and business users failing to speak the same language. It’s a problem that may be more literal than we think.

Recently the Ottawa-based Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) announced a call for participation from IT managers and software companies in a series of surveys developed by the Canadian Centre for Language Benchmarks. The purpose is to identify precisely what level of language proficiency would be required to succeed as an employee of this sector. Funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the four-part research project will be asking questions of programmers, analysts, Web designers and so on. The questions are fairly straightforward:

When following group discussions or attending meetings…

is the topic…






is the topic… familiar? Often




unfamiliar? Often




concrete? Often





This very worthy project comes out at a time when the very nature of English as a language is being rethought. Building in part from the work of a former employee of IBM in France, author Robert McCrum recently published Globish: How The English Language Became The World’s Language. In it, McCrum examines how English is evolving into a sort of lingua franca that appears to be taking root in countries all over the world. It may not be English as we know it. There may be short forms, acronyms or other linguistic short-cuts that could confuse native English-speakers but are readily understood by people from two different foreign countries.

McCrum is aware that such notions threaten many people, but technology is part of the reason he believes Globish has accelerated so rapidly. “The IT revolution and global capitalism is eroding the boundaries of the nation state (see Iran's Green revolution), and as those boundaries become more porous, I argue that the language to which people will turn for international communication will be Globish.”

Maybe. And if so, will that change the way we consider the results of a research effort like the one ICTC is supporting? Will we require a level of English-speaking equal to that of someone fluent from birth to work in our IT departments, data centres or application development teams? In an age where we have become accustomed to the idea of “good enough computing,” will Canadian IT managers also be content with good enough Globlish?

“Globish may be, as I contend, a global phenomenon, but, like Latin before it, is vulnerable to change and decay. It won't be global forever,” McCrum writes. In the meantime, any communication problems among technology staff might not be a case of speaking English too poorly. It’s possible that they may simply be speaking Globish too well.

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