Training and personnel are prone to buzzwords and linguistic tangles. Add the pressure to be global and the potential for confusion is immense, say Elaine Essery and Katie Fell
In the US, summer comes before the fall; in the UK, 'pride comes before a fall', and summer precedes autumn. Brits put rubbish in a bin; while Americans put their garbage in the trash can… and we share the same language!
Imagine the problems a non-English speaker faces in grappling with international variances within the same language, says Elaine Essery. The same goes for HR terminology, where differences occur not only from country to country but from organisation to organisation, depending on national and corporate culture. "It's all very well to talk about national culture, but sometimes corporate cultures can outweigh national ones," comments Bob Stilliard from Ashridge Management College. So what might pass as 'manpower talent review' in one organisation is 'succession planning' in another.
Even common terms like 'blended learning' can be open to different interpretation. "Many companies describe blended learning as giving students theory online and then repeating it in a traditional lecture or by giving out books in a classroom, but that is not complementary," says Per Ingar, marketing manager of Smart Learning in Norway. "Learning isn't truly blended until technology-supported activities and instructor-led activities are blended and adapted.
Wouldn't it be helpful if things were standardised? But standardisation just is not possible. It is a lesson that many distance- and e-learning providers have learnt when called upon to localise material for different markets. Some US e-learning provision has failed even to cross the pond successfully because American terminology could not be accepted. "US management styles don't work in Scandinavian countries, which are more collectivistic and more democratic," says Ingar.
Simply translating a term from one language to another won't solve things either because people will interpret words differently within the constructs of their own culture. "Language is very often an inadequate descriptor of experience. You need other things - like the context in terms of non-verbal behaviour - to make sense of it and understand what the person may mean by that word," says Tony Dunk, principal of CDA Performance Programmes.