Should We Go with “English-Only”?


Lots of companies are making English the official or only corporate language. Is “English-only” the way to go? The short answer is – it depends. Many companies throughout the world have adopted “English-only” policies for the simple reason that it may be the only language that speakers of diverse languages have in common. If someone from China is trying to communicate with someone from Ukraine, it is most likely that English is the language that both can speak. Benefits cited for these policies include improved global communication, ability to use sector-based, rather than regional organizational strategies, and more inclusive culture. Companies throughout the world, even Honda in Japan, which had previously opposed such policies, are jumping on board. One of the incentives often used to drive the use of English is bonuses for improved scores on English tests.

However, along with all of the benefits there are plenty of concerns associated with “English-only” policies. The first major concern is legality. If a language policy is used to discriminate against a class of people, it is generally not legal. Policies that are in place to limit free speech or to prevent organization of workers are also forbidden in most democratic countries. But even if it’s allowed, there are also drawbacks to having workers communicate in a second language. These problems include limiting communication if everyone is not fully proficient, and slowing down work as people have to devote more energy to communicating in a second language.

What makes the most sense? A policy that promotes English proficiency and inclusiveness while allowing workers to communicate in the ways that best enable them to get the work done. People naturally gravitate towards the easiest communication routes, and the easiest routes are the ones that enable the best work. A policy that supports and incentivizes English proficiency will ensure that workers are able to communicate in English. Once people can communicate easily in English, and English is the common language, that’s the language people will communicate in.

A good language policy:


Does Not

Make it easy for people to communicate with each other

Make communication more difficult

Provide Support for proficiency in a common language

Make people feel excluded

Recruit and screen potential employees who are proficient in the necessary languages

Limit people’s rights to speak

Want to make sure your employees can communicate in English? Check out this solution for English assessment.    

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