A thesaurus that only gives you simple words
Morten Just
12512

Communicating globally — their English isn’t your English.

Communicating in English is hard, especially when using it as a common language.

Quality has very different meanings in different parts of Asia. In the Netherlands, which has a very high rate of fluent English speakers, immersion is not a well-known word. The list goes on.

When you’re facilitating especially, between people explaining things to each other, you’re sensitive to what people are picking up. That’s when you notice — oh, that expression, pitching, doesn’t mean the same thing in Thailand than it does in Germany — and you ask someone to re-explain with different words.

We do a lot of this cross-national type of facilitation at Source, and this kind of literal misunderstanding happens constantly. They’re subtle things, but multiply quickly to muddy meanings.

There’s so much about our choice of words, and choice of expressions, that don’t come across as we expect.

When you’re in a classroom environment, lecturing, people ojust skip the part they don’t understand (often because your choice of words doesn’t make sense to them) and connect the parts they do understand. We don't even notice we do this.

Like when you have a bad connection on a phone call but still understand what's said even though you don't hear every word.

Like if you read a blog post but skip every second paragraph, you’ll still get the point.

Or with movies, you might know somebody who’s good a predicting the ending. There are usually multiple signals that indicate the plot progression, but viewers don’t pick up all of them. People who are good at predicting the ending usually are more receptive to these clues, because they already know the convention or the genre. They get it faster because they’re familiar with the context.

When we communicate, we assume the listener or the reader understands our paradigms and our conventions. And when they don't, it's not obvious to either us or them. They often misunderstand without realising, because your choice of words has a meaning to them.

When people sing the wrong lyrics, they're still lyrics that make sense.

Know this line from Jimmy Hendrix? Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Or is it kiss this guy? Both have meaning, but they have very different meanings. Both interpretations don’t cause the listener to question what they heard.

Meanings get mixed up, and nobody notices.

As we seek to learn from people around the world, it's important to keep clarity and simplicity of language in mind.

I’m all for eloquence and drawing on the vast tapestry of English wordilage [sic], but this attitude doesn’t help communicate well in most of the world. And there’s beauty in keeping it simple.

Having spent years teaching people on four continents, using simple language is a practical matter — you can decide to sound smart, or decide to be clearly understood


Nice work with Cleartext and this thesaurus. By giving us a clear filter on what word choices are broadly understandable, they help us see if we’re choosing to be inclusive.

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