Language Barriers

One of the hardest things to do when writing for multimedia is sounding authentic to your intended audience. Your words and pictures have to resonate with your audience or they will not accept the message, no matter how well crafted.

It’s like cats and dogs. Cats and dogs don’t always get along because they use language differently. Take tails, for example. When a dog is laying on her side, and her tail is thumping on the floor, she is saying, “I want to play.” When a cat thumps its tail, she is saying, “You have committed a grievous sin against me, and I will tear your face off if the opportunity presents itself.”

My tail-waggin' dog.

My dog in a relatively calm moment.


My pets have this issue all the time. My dog, after having eaten the cat’s food and drained the cat’s water dish, sees the obviously irritated cat on the kitchen floor, thumping its tail in anger. The dog trots over to “play,” and the cat hisses, spits and tries to claw the dog’s face. The dog quickly backs off, clearly puzzled because to her, the cat is obviously saying “play” with its tail. (This is especially amusing to me because the dog weighs in at about 65 pounds. The cat, on the other hand, has a nine pound body, and about two hundred pounds of attitude on a good day.) Both parties speak “tail,” but don’t use the language the same way.

So how to avoid the cats and dogs example above? Spend some time reviewing your target audience. What media do they already consume? Listen to them interact with people inside and outside their group. Do they speak the same way to both groups? If they don’t, how can you sound like the “in group?” If you use the “in language” without being a member of the “group,” will “the group” take you seriously?

Yes, this process is a lot of work; however, not doing the work will undermine your ability to reach your audience, especially in the age of social marketing.


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