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Kill the Jargon? No! Non! Nyet!

BY Mike Klein As a recent re-entrant to the Internal Communication blogging scene, one of the themes I’ve seen in the recent posts of others has been “Jargon is bad. No jargon.”

Sure, I share the horror of these writers when I see sentences like this:

“We need to MWAC the BVTC in order to maximize the HTPC and optimize the GVUIT.”

But, having worked the last seven years as a Native English communicator in non-Native English countries, there’s one simple fact that anti-jargon fundamentalists overlook: jargon, and acronyms in particular, is often easier for non-native speakers to understand than the fully-fleshed out English term or a seemingly more appealing contraction or substitute.

I learned this several years ago when I was working for a family-owned American multinational in the food, energy, trading and high-fructose-corn syrup (HFCS) space. I was involved in an IT implementation, and was visiting France at the time. What I discovered was that the local team members were using the acronyms with abandon, and that they had no idea what the acronyms meant in English. Rather than being a barrier to communication, use of the acronyms actually facilitated direct communication between the Native and non-Native English speakers.

Turning English into Jargon: The Italian Way

Another take on this approach was the appropriation by an Italian mobile telephone operator of a series of English terms to define its corporate values: “Trust, Fast, Focus, Ambition, and Make It Happen.” Rather than choosing Italian terms and inheriting their associated definitional baggage, choosing the English terms allowed the company to define these values in Italian with much more specificity.

Specificity over Simplicity

What I have found in writing for non-native English speakers is that while simplicity is important, specificity is absolutely crucial, and the use of acronyms and jargon may well make things more rather than less understandable. Putting the focus on specificity when communicating with non-Native speakers—as opposed to making the same assumptions one makes when communicating with Native speakers—changes the terms.

 
Mike Klein

Internal communications pro with a bent towards increasing impact while reducing noise and friction. Former US political consultant, London Business School MBA. Tribal loyalties include IABC, EACD, Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Wisconsin Badgers.

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