Simplifying English: 5 Alternative Systems for Easier Language Learning

Do you think English is complex? If so, you’re not alone.

Although linguists often suggest that English is relatively simple compared to some other languages, many students find it immensely difficult to learn.  While English morphology, for example, is straightforward and regular, its spelling system has troubled students (and scholars) for ages.  Of course, many other aspects of learning English could be hard to master and this only becomes more important as its usage expands across the globe.

In fact, as English gains more traction as the language of international business, law and commerce, the greater the number of attempts to make it easier to learn.  Thus, over the last several decades, different linguists suggested alternative versions of the English language, all of which failed to gain prominence in the ESL world.

1.  Basic English, 1930s

Basic English came into existence back in 1930, when an English linguist and philosopher Charles Kay Ogden published a book titled Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar.  The book proposed a simplified system of English that used only 850 basic English words and relied on simple grammar rules concerning plurals, compounds, verb forms, and the like.

Primarily intended as an international auxiliary language, the system was further developed by I.A.  Richards and Bill Templer, but was never widely used.  As is the case with most other international auxiliary languages, Ogden’s system was criticized for being based on personal preferences regarding what should be included.  Nevertheless, his list of 850 words is still taught to students of English in certain Asian regions and these are the only remnants of the system that survived to this day.

2.  Threshold Level English, 1975

Developed by van Ek and Alexander, Threshold Level English is a syllabus that covers fundamentals students are expected to master before they start developing their knowledge based on their professional or academic interests.  Although not much of this syllabus is in use in the ELT world today, van Ek’s project was significant as the basis for defining the goals of modern language teaching.  Namely, the project defined multiple categories that should be considered as the ‘common core’ in learning a foreign language, which were later used as a reference for creating similar systems in other European languages.

3.  Nuclear English, 1978

As suggested by the name, Nuclear English is a system that focuses on the core of English necessary to maintain efficient communication.  Proposed by famous English linguists, Randolph Quirk and Gabriele Stein, Nuclear English addressed several important issues related to learning English as a second language.  However, this system has never been developed beyond the basics and remains only one of the examples of the important work done in the field of simplifying English.

4.  Globish, 2004

Behind this cute name there is a formalized subset of the English language developed by Jean-Paul Nerrière in an attempt to make English more suitable for global use.  Again, Globish aims to find a common ground for mastering English efficiently using only 1500 words and some simple but standard grammatical structures.

The system is based on patterns that non-native speakers use when communicating in English, which the author observed over the years of attending international conferences.  As opposed to the previous two systems, Globish actually did have some success among students of English around the world.  Globish the World Over, a book written entirely in this system is translated into 12 different languages and is seen as a global phenomenon.

5.  Basic Global English, 2006

One of the latest attempts at simplifying English came from a German linguist Joachim Grzega, who created a system that focuses on 750 general words and 250 individual words that enable a student to carry out basic communication.  Again, Basic Global English explores the ways to enable English students worldwide to acquire the language on a level necessary for basic communication.  It includes a set of rules concerning grammar, vocabulary and basic conversational strategies that represent fundamental resources for learners of English.


A large number of students would probably agree that more efficient methods for mastering the language are needed in the age when this language is spoken almost everywhere.  However, none can actually help if students themselves are not motivated to learn it.  One way or another, English can be mastered and efficiently so, but one first needs to be ready to dedicate his or her time to practicing it.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect of learning English?

A History of ELT, Second Edition. Howatt, A.  P.  R and H.  G.  Widdowson.

“Globish and Basic Global English (BGE): Two Alternatives for a Rapid Acquisition of Communicative Competence in a Global World?” Joakim Grzega.  Available at: //

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