Lost in translation (1): key ideas or main stream phrases that won't translate to employees or clients from outside of America

How can you tell which phrases to change in your marketing materials? However, the best way to ensure you communicate well with your client is to ask! Use this list to spark a conversation.

While American English doesn’t have dialects like Italian or other languages, there are nuances to phrases and slang (sometimes called idioms) that many of your foreign-born clients (or your client’s foreign-born employees) may miss. Does it make them miss the boat? Not catch what you are saying? Or in the words of Montanans, not smell what you are stepping in? You may have the most informative newsletters on the block, but still be leaving readers out in the cold. Think your dashboard instructional pieces are comprehensive? They could be chock full of information but not transmit the meaning you intend.

Sure, all of those examples are the more obvious of the slang and phrases that many American English speakers know but might be less clear to those newer to the country, but, many common phrases, like “hits you in the wallet” may be confusing to your clients.  And American English isn’t the same as our friends “from across the pond.” Many of our British colleagues are left out of slang just as much as those from non-English speaking countries. For example, most Americans wouldn’t know that chuffed means happy, or that telling an advisor he really knows his onions is a high compliment.

How can you tell which phrases to change in your marketing materials? We prepared a list of the most frequent confused phrases that might be used to discuss markets or financial matters. However, the best way to ensure you communicate well with your client is to ask! You can always use the list below to spark a conversation about phrases unique to American English that are confusing to your client.

The torture chamber of American speechincudes “twist my arm”, “lost my touch”, and “sit tight.”  

·     Twist my arm: American English speakers, let’s call that “us” or “we”, mean it as “convince me of something” but it reads like physical torture to get someone to comply.

·     Lost my touch: We mean it as having lost an element of skill or nuance to performing a task, but to others it could mean losing sensory capacity in your fingers.

·     Sit tight: We mean it to ask someone to wait patiently, but to others it may read as asking people to remain rigidly upright.

Other odd American English idioms make it sound as though we yanks throw ourselves around, Hokey-Pokey style, including “face the music” and someone giving you a “run for your money.”

·      Face the music: We mean it to indicate that someone needs to accept reality or come clean about something they’ve been denying to themselves, not to literally turn towards the speakers.

·      Run for the money: We mean this phrase to indicate that someone had to compete hard for something and win or work hard for something, not to sprint towards a pot of cash.

·      Bury your head in the sand: We mean this to indicate when you can’t see a situation fully because you are too focused on details or on aspects of a problem that could be favorable, not to describe someone taking a deep dive into a sand pit.

If idioms concerning moving around aren’t enough, many of our untranslatable phrases also involve body parts. These include “rule of thumb,” “keep your chin up,” and “find your feet,”

·     Rule of thumb: We mean this phrase to describe a general unwritten rule or custom, not to indicate that thumbs having special powers or that thumbs can measure some law or policy.  Confusingly, being under someone’s thumb may sound remarkably similar and has a totally different meaning of being oppressed or restrained by someone.

·     Keep your chin up: When we use this phrase we mean to encourage friends or colleagues to stay strong and keep moving through a tough situation, though it sure sounds like we are telling our friends to change their posture.

·     Find your feet/find your footing: While it’s a definite developmental stage in an infant’s life to be able to hold on to its own feet, we use the term we mean to discuss to adjusting to a new situation.

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