About 375 million people live in countries where English is our native tongue. As copywriters know, it’s challenging enough to communicate well with native speakers.
But what about the 375 million people who speak English as a second language (ESL)? Soon, they will outnumber native English speakers.
In our industry (telecom), more buying power is concentrated among non-native English speakers than native English speakers. So it’s crucial to consider their particular needs.
Whether you choose to address a global audience or not, the Internet and social media bring your message to ESL speakers. Most Web pages are in English (although Chinese is rapidly catching up).
Many non-native speakers studied English because it was required in school. A few grew up to use English often, usually in a business or professional context. Fortunately, many of our customers are in this group.
Do you want to include non-native English speakers?
Most non-native speakers have learned some English, but use it rarely. Many recent U.S. immigrants are just learning English. So when you write, you have a choice: whether to include these 375 million non-native English speakers in your potential audience, or to exclude them?
When we first learn language as a child, we learn the simplest, shortest words first. Our first 100 words enable us to say a lot. They become our most familiar words. That poses a question: How big a vocabulary do you need to get your point across?
The Voice of America broadcasts abroad, where most people speak English only as a second language. So it had to develop a special vocabulary for non-native English speakers, to address this problem head-on.
About 1,500 English words can tell any story
Voice of America limits its vocabulary to about 1,500 words. That’s enough to report news, talk politics, explain science and tell stories well. Its 1,500 word list can help you find words simple enough for a global audience to understand.
Simplified English started in America. As waves of immigrants arrived from different countries, each started to learn a bit of English. They had to learn to communicate with each other in English. That’s how American English became a lively, colorful language, even when you only know a few words.
Simplified English enables you to reach a bigger audience. And it enables non-native English speakers to understand your message better.