The importance of language

After pursuing a double major, managing a student-run public relations firm, writing a 100+ page honors thesis and, finally, graduating, I needed a break. While friends and peers jumped into the daily grind of work, I decided to do something I had never done before. I decided to travel. After working and saving for the summer, I spent two and a half months this past fall traveling through fourteen different countries (and 25 cities). I took my blog in a different direction from the usual discussion on communication in politics, using it primarily to communicate with family and friends and share my experiences traveling throughout Western Europe. As I return to blogging about communication and politics, I feel it is important to shed light on how my travels influenced and shaped my own views on communication and public relations.  

As I explored various cultures and communities, I realized that my experiences could be extrapolated into the realm of communications and even public relations. Take, for instance, language. In every country we visited, we made the effort to at least learn “I don’t speak [such and such], do you speak English?” and yes, no, please and thank you. While we butchered some (Hungarian, Czech etc) and mastered others (Italian, German), everyone with whom we spoke was kind, and gladly switched to English after our attempts. As I watched tourist after tourist (mostly Americans) meet blank stares as they rudely assumed that locals spoke English, I realized how simple, and yet important, making an effort to speak a local language can be. The same is true of public relations.

When strategically communicating with target publics, one of the biggest mistakes made by public relations professionals is the failure to speak in the language of their audience. The slight nuances of communication that can only be obtained through shared language are the key ingredients in fostering trust. Learning the language of your audience is not quite as easy as looking up words in a phrase dictionary, which I had the luxury of doing. It requires extensive research and time. And, to make things more tricky, just as dialects emerge and evolve as populations change, the language of your audience will change and evolve as various trends or demographics shift as well. Keeping a finger on the pulse of the language of your audience is key in continuing to build your relationship and will ultimately help you meet your ultimate objectives.


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