BELF increases awareness of communication styles in multinational companies

Obviously I checked acronym BELF by googling before starting to write about it. And never mind its intriguing meanings in the urban dictionary, this rendition is about English as a Business Lingua Franca as introduced to the academic community in Louhiala-Salminen, Charles and Kankaanranta (Aalto University School of Business) in 2005.

“Our corporate language is English,” state many international and multinational companies firmly. Presenting at ProCom‘s international communications seminar, Anne Kankaanranta and Leena Louhiala-Salminen reminded us that it would be beneficial for the corporate world to acknowledge that there is a difference between the daily working English and the standard official English, however we may want to define it. BELF is one answer to the question “what is international English” pursued and pondered by many international organizations.

What is international English?

BELF is a shared, company-specific and preferably jointly agreed internal way of using English. A kind of code that “gets the job done”. It allows more alternative ways of using English than what is considered standard or official as used in public in external communications, for example on the website or in the press releases. It is a “sliding concept” that is perhaps more easy to define as a solution that can be flexibly adapted to the situational needs of communication.

In summary, BELF is simplified English to get a message through in a specific work situation, such as when writing e-mails to team members or sharing instructions on the intranet. It is a highly specialized way of sharing regional business knowledge and jargon in English, and it is inherently intercultural. Its core and purpose is global communicative competence (GCC).

According to Kankaanranta & Louhiala-Salminen’s research on BELF, there are three success factors to consider: correct facts & content, politeness & creating a connection, and structure & clarity. BELF requires more checking of facts compared to using native language. Those “stupid questions” must be asked because communication must be absolutely explicit. “You just have to behave in a non-natural way,” said one of the Finnish respondents interviewed for the recent study.

I know that grammar is quite an unpopular concept in any organization, as it is mostly considered something unnecessary and time-consuming, but since clarity is considered very important, it might be a good idea to realize that most of the grammatical rules in English have actually been established to achieve clarity and avoid misunderstandings, not to annoy the language users. In conclusion, BELF is a great shared resource to business needs among cultural diversity and multilingualism, as knowing your communications is always part of knowing your business.


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