September 11th, 2013

Language Barriers

By Kyle Morich



The map above is a heat map diagram indicating the areas of the country where the English language dialect is most similar to my own. This map makes intuitive sense to meā€”even though I’ve lived in Georgia for most of my life, my parents are both from New York State and I was born in New Jersey. If you’d like to take the dialect quiz yourself, you can access it at The quiz was developed by Joshua Katz, a PhD student at North Carolina State University.

Taking this quiz is a fascinating reminder that even within the US there are many different ways to pronounce a word and understand the concept behind that word. For instance, I never use the word “supper,” but there are people out there who use it interchangeably with the word “dinner,” and some more who actually use both and have a separate definition for each.

In business, we often develop vocabularies for models, metrics, and ideas and assume that others speak the same language as we do. Ask both a media buyer and a financial analyst to define the word “impression” to appreciate how far off this assumption is. As a consultant, I work across multiple industries and one of the biggest struggles beyond having to rapidly become an expert in a new field is learning to speak the language of that industry. One of the reasons Sublime offers introductory training courses on habits and psychology is because we want our clients to understand what we mean when we use words like “context,” “cue,” and “reinforcement.”

I also work with non-native English speaking clients, and language and communication is always something that I have to focus on and remember to factor into our interactions. I find myself pausing before using idioms and colloquial expressions to consider if my meaning is actually coming through.The next time you are writing emails or giving a presentation to people outside your company, industry, or geographic area, pay attention to your language. Don’t always assume everyone knows what you are saying.


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