The global language?

posted by Scott McKenzie

One of the great things about working at H&K is the opportunity to work on truly global and multi-national accounts. We have offices in around 40 countries which means I often find myself discussing cross-cultural issues with colleagues and clients.

One of the the key things that strikes me about this is how we as native English speakers make it so difficult for our non-native speaking colleagues. We have a habit of using idiomatic expressions only we Brits (or Aussies or Americans) would understand.

This was brought home to me this week when I was at a training course with people from across our network. We had consultants from Dubai, Jordan, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Belguium, Poland, USA and Holland. The level of English spoken over the two days was incredible.

Yet I still found myself cringing when having to explain terms like “down the pan”, or “play the field” or “kick the bucket”.

You’re now wondering what type of course I was on?!

I guess my point is that as communicators we have a responsibility to ensure our messages are clear, compelling and coherent. I think we are often a bit lazy and don’t put ourselves in the shoes of the recipients of the message.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to make the use of language bland. I’m simply arguing we can express ourselves in a way which is both clear as well as colourful.

I’d be interested in your thoughts / experiences.



Sean Trainor

I remember doing a profile of a non-executive director in an employee magazine. He was a very shrewd Scotsman and the article carried the title “Canny Scot”. An internal comms manager based in the States called me asking “who is Canny Scot” thinking our NED would be upset at getting his name wrong!
Two nations seperated by a common language?



Michele Nix

Yes, today’s business jargon is particularly difficult to translate into words with more authenticity and simplicity. For example: “We’re strategically positioned in a Business 2.0 world to leverage our top-tier product evangelists to promote market differentials as we seamlessly engage turnkey solutions, compelling equity-invested portals and progressive B2B synergy to meet paradigm shifts with go-forward benefits.” Funny comment, Sean. Thanks for the post, Scott – a great reminder to keep communication free of idioms and catchphrases!

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