Do you need a translator when you speak? That may seem an odd question here is the US where most people speak and understand English. For some among us who are learning English as a second language there can be times when translation or explanation of words is needed. But for the most part, we speak the same language, so why would I ask the question?

There can be several reasons. For one thing, there are generational differences- especially our use of texting. Those who grew up with cell phones and texting tend to be faster in their use and often use a lot of abbreviations – like idk for I don’t know – to save time. It may seem like code but for them, it is very natural and second nature.

For those of us from the Baby Boom Generation, we have a lot of words and references that leave younger generations clueless. We make references to events – like Watergate, Vietnam, the British Invasion – that they have no understanding of or often appreciation for because they didn’t live through it as we did. We must be careful not to assume knowledge and patiently explain the resonance and relevance of those times.

For someone who is learning English as a second language there are things that don’t translate word for word, rather thought for thought. People need time to understand the expressions that we take for granted. Like “dead as a doornail” makes no sense in translating word for word. It is a phrase that has come down through time and we all know what it means but someone learning English and trying to translate it into their own language would not know. This is something we all need to watch out for.

And then there is jargon and acronyms – tech talk. Every industry has them and when we “talk shop” with other coworkers we use them freely. Everybody in the industry knows or learns the “language” that makes it work. The trouble is when we converse with others who aren’t part of our work environment. We tend to forget that they don’t know our “language” until the glazed eye look comes.

Part of clear communication is what I would call “self-translation” – wiring our brains to edit out the jargon before we start a conversation with friends or family who don’t inhabit our workspaces. It can even happen with non-work organizations we participate in, like school, church, sports, or non-profits – like for me Toastmasters.

There are many things that we can do to make sure when we talk we are really communicating clearly. This week I will be covering a few of those to give you food for thought – to use a common phrase. Your feedback is appreciated – especially your experience with this and examples of good or not-so-good communication experiences.