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How many Englishes are there?

And which is the right one?

English as a first language: We have all heard of US and UK English. And Canadian, Australian, South African and New Zealand varieties.

But what about World Englishes, Global English and international English? And Plain English?

English as a second language: World Englishes usually relate to varieties that have for many years existed alongside other national languages – especially in countries with multiple languages where English is commonly used, such as India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Singapore.

English as a foreign language: Then we distinguish countries where English is used almost exclusively for international communication, such as France, Japan and the Netherlands.  

So, which is the right variety? The right English will be the one most fitting the context.

If you`re living in Britain, for example, you’ll come across many regional varieties of spoken English, but most people write in standard English. This follows that referenced in the Oxford dictionary and in a style guide such as that of the BBC.

In the United States, for formal writing, the Merriam-Webster dictionary is considered the standard.

Global English, international English and Plain English govern language choices in today’s international use of English in the workplace. In an international context in particular, we need to be considerate to those with whom we interact, whose level of English might be unknown to us, and should therefore aim to write clearly and concisely.

Two useful websites that address this are the UK Plain English website, and the US Plain Language one.

Which English do you use? Which category does it fit?


Carol Waites (PhD)

Presentation/editing by Christina O’Shaughnessy (editor)

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