Lost in translation

Femke Feenstra Femke Feenstra
06 - 10 - 2020

Are we speaking the same language?

Working at a digital development agency, I soon realized things can get lost in translation very easily. And not just because our company represents at least 10 nationalities, that’s just why we tend to stick to English. No, the major language barrier lies in the lingo!

Let’s be honest. Of course, it was to be expected that some terms and tools would be alien to me, I’m not a developer or engineer, my background is marketing psychology. I work at a digital development agency specializing in Magento web shops and custom-built solutions so, naturally, we employ a lot of developers, working with many different programming languages. Add to that UX designers, project managers, dev ops and content writers and you end up with a whole lot of technical terms and abbreviations. During my first weeks, I had to Google half of the words I read on Slack, as they were very tech heavy. And I saw the same thing happening to people around me when we were talking about UX design. That’s when I realized this is where the issues start. When it seems like you speak the same language but, in reality, you don’t.

No one likes not knowing

This is what it all comes down to: none of us like to admit that we don’t understand. That we’re not up to speed, not well informed or privy to the lingo. But we can’t all know everything (although we love to think that we do). It’s only natural that when talking to people with the same background and that you work with often, you shift to a lingo you’re comfortable with. Between co-workers confusion is usually solved by a quick question (or sneaky Google search) and, while annoying, usually doesn’t cause major harm to anything but your ego. It’s when this jargon is used towards customers that it gets tricky. As a development agency, our customers run the gamut from small businesses to multinational juggernauts. With every new contact in a company comes a new stream of communication where there’s room for misunderstanding and (even worse) making our customer feel bad for not understanding.

Be aware

Being aware of who you’re addressing and gauging if lingo is acceptable or more explanation is required is key. Using a language that the receiver of your message understands means the message is more actionable and your working relationship can feel more comfortable. It can also save a lot of valuable time. If a message full of tech lingo goes to a contact that is not familiar with the meaning, this means they cannot immediately process the message and act on it. They will either need to add a co-worker to the conversation or ask you to explain further causing delays and frustration. It’s like the game of telephone you played as a kid where you passed a message down the line and by the end of the line it had completely changed. This is what happens when we think the message was understood, but in reality, it wasn’t.

Check in

So, whether you use job-specific lingo in daily life at the office or not, my main takeaway is this: check with the person you’re talking to. Do they get it? Blank stares a are a dead giveaway but it really pays off to check if you were heard. And if all else fails, just ask! Within El Niño we’ve gotten comfortable working closely together with many disciplines. And to ensure we all keep expanding our vocabulary, we started a n00b dictionary on our internal knowledge base where we can post words we don’t know, and team members can add the meaning. Easy for new employees to catch up, for a project manager to simplify the answer to a question and for a developer to understand what all those marketing people are saying. I’m happy to report that there are quite a lot of entries already, which is highly helpful – especially for terms even Google doesn’t know the meaning of.

Femke Feenstra. Femke is the Operations Manager at El Niño and ensures our company runs smoothly and we keep pushing ourselves. Femke Feenstra. Femke is the Operations Manager at El Niño and ensures our company runs smoothly and we keep pushing ourselves.

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