A blog exploring pharmaceutical relationship marketing, emarketing and innovation with a focus on rare disorders.
The convergence of rare disease, digital communications, and pharmaceutical marketing communications

Do You Speak My Language?

Posted by | 3:49pm on Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Using the wrong words can cause problems 

We’ve all had the experience of trying to communicate with someone who speaks a different language – and we all know how easy it is for misunderstanding, frustration and hurt feelings to occur.

As an exchange student in high school, I learned these lessons first-hand. Attempting to complement my host sister on a new dress, I told her I hated it – only a vowel difference in the words, but an important vowel! On another occasion, I bought a bouquet of flowers for my host mother – which she promptly threw in the trash. I had unwittingly brought a funeral bouquet into the house, an unfortunate omen.

Misunderstandings such as those I inadvertently caused arise from two primary causes.  One is from inaccurate use of words. If you don’t know a language well, you’re more likely to misuse words. The other is from misunderstanding cultural context and connotations. Using the wrong words can cause problems, but using the right words in the wrong situations or contexts can also be problematic.

What does this all mean for the people speaking to a rare disease community? It is imperative to recognize that each rare disease community has its own language and culture. If you want to communicate effectively with a community, you need to become fluent in the language and to understand the culture.

So the first step is to learn the correct language – scientific and colloquial – for the core medical concepts of the disease. People with the disease quickly become fluent in the language of their disease and expect that others who wish to address them will also be fluent.

Second, understand the culture of the rare disease community and how that culture is reflected in the language. Each community develops slang, code words and nicknames, which may or may not be acceptable for outsiders to use. The more you know about this type of language, the more you will be able to engage the community effectively and appropriately.

Does speaking the language of audiences in the rare disease community hold special challenges?  Tell us what you think.

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(Image courtesy of SuperFantastic via Flickr)

About Linda Martens

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