The English empire [economist.com]
YANG YUANQING, Lenovo’s boss, hardly spoke a word of English until he was about 40: he grew up in rural poverty and read engineering at university. But when Lenovo bought IBM’s personal-computer division in 2005 he decided to immerse himself in English: he moved his family to North Carolina, hired a language tutor and—the ultimate sacrifice—spent hours watching cable-TV news. This week he was in São Paulo, Brazil, for a board meeting and an earnings call: he conducted all his business in English except for a briefing for the Chinese press.
Lenovo is one of a growing number of multinationals from the non-Anglophone world that have made English their official language. The fashion began in places with small populations but global ambitions such as Singapore (which retained English as its lingua franca when it left the British empire in 1963), the Nordic countries and Switzerland. Goran Lindahl, a former boss of ABB, a Swiss-Swedish engineering giant, once described its official language as “poor English”. The practice spread to the big European countries: numerous German and French multinationals now use English in board meetings and official documents.