Monday, 14 February 2011


Rory Sutherland, one of the UK's leading ad-men, tells a great story about how Frederick the Great of Prussia re-branded the potato.

Frederick was very keen for his subjects to adopt the potato in order to stave off famine and stabilise the price of bread, so he made them a compulsory crop.

Frederick's subjects, however, were less keen, claiming they were not even fit for dogs to eat.

They hated the potato.

Despite meting out some severe punishments, the potato, like the 3rd person 's', simply did not take.

So Frederick resorted to Plan 'B'.

He declared the potato to be a royal vegetable.

Only royalty was allowed to grow it.

Only royalty was allowed to cook it.

Only royalty was allowed to eat it.

And, of course as a result, pretty soon, everyone wanted to grow, cook and eat it.

Such a great demonstration of altering the perceived value of something sprang to mind as the BE world's great and good wrestled with the concept of BELF last week.

Intermediate English is a very useful level of English: you can converse, make deals, read reasonably complex texts, and come to an agreeable arrangement with an ATM.

However, the name 'Intermediate' tells you that you're average.

The designations 'B1/B2' have a middling quality about them.

But that's only one point of view, perhaps a native speaker's point of view.

If we shift our perspective and call it 'Business English as a Lingua Franca', then the whole thing suddenly sounds a lot more attractive.

Now, Intermediate English is a royal vegetable.

It probably always was to the people who used it, but maybe the people who taught it were less convinced of its royal status.

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