Common Language

I have been thinking a lot lately about language, or more specifically about common language. The seed of thought was planted a few months ago while taking a leadership course for my old job. The term common language was used to describe terminology that is familiar to a group. Since I worked for Tim Horton’s at the time, common language included words and phrases that related to our business. Regular customers know what a double double is, yet a visitor from a foreign country would likely not understand. The course was about leadership and a portion of the course related to the importance of understanding one another, of having common language yet understanding that everyone might not speak that language.

When I began my new job in September, I was quickly reminded of the importance of sharing a common language, because I was suddenly in a position where I didn’t speak the same language as those I worked with and the customers I was serving. Although I had been a Starbucks customer for a while before working there, my knowledge of the Starbucks language was minimal and limited to what I really had to know to order my own coffee. The Starbucks vernacular was foreign to me and clashed with my 11 years of Tim Horton’s language. I felt lost and confused and I felt so out of place; this is why I have been thinking a lot about the importance of understanding and sharing language.

Language barriers don’t exist solely in a workplace.

When I first began working with my personal trainer, there was a great deal for me to learn. I learned how to move my body, and I began to learn the language of the gym environment. Although my knowledge is still far from complete, I know that not all of my friends share that knowledge.

Being a person of faith and having grown up in church environments, I am aware that I speak a language that might seem confusing to those who have no experience with the church at all.

I’ve even realized that my tattoo has the potential to be confusing. There is only one word within my tattoo: Ebenezer. While I chose Ebenezer because the word held tremendous meaning to me, the same word can mean something else entirely to another person. Some might think of Ebenezer Scrooge. A former co-worker’s mother might not have realized the full extent of the word, but she at least knew that there was religious significance to it.

A group came into my workplace last night. One of the guys presented me with his cell phone, showing me a photo of a cup with the markings of a Starbucks beverage. He apologized profusely, saying that this was what he wanted but he didn’t know how to translate the image into words. We laughed together. I warned him that I was a fairly new employee and then I looked at the picture. After a moment, I declared that I got it! The gentleman was amazed with my ease in deciphering the hieroglyphics in his picture, but I had the clarity to realize that I was feeling more confident and sure of this new language that I was learning.

It can be scary being thrust into a situation where you don’t speak the same language as everyone around you, regardless of whether you are in a foreign country, a new job, beginning a new hobby, or just have different experiences in life. It can be terrifyingly scary, overwhelming to the point of choking for breath; however, with the right amount of perseverance and time, you will discover that you have been breathing all along and you will speak a new language.


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