Lost in translation: navigating the language of social care

You are sitting in a cafe, in Paris maybe, you look at the menu and try to decipher it. What do you want for lunch? And what might that be in French? Sometimes I feel like a tourist in my everyday life, not looking at a French menu but trying to navigate the language of social care.

A waiter in a cafe might speak louder and slower for a tourist, much the same as my experience in social care. This doesn’t work, we need to re-think the approach to the language used and develop the art of listening.

There is a lot of jargon, acronyms, legal talk, and system language used in the area of social care. Those of us who draw on care and support have to step into those really uncomfortable spaces of using language in a particular way to get ourselves heard. If I speak about the everyday, my message isn't heard. 

In my experience, people working within these systems are much more comfortable with particular sets of words and language. You have to weigh up the pros and cons of how you describe things and enter into conversations in such settings.

To overcome these barriers I speak the language of the system. I need to use all of that jargon but I also need to stay true to my values - those of people living really good lives, as in the statements of the Making it Real framework.

Understanding the jargon and when to use it is useful, but it is also really important to feel comfortable saying if you don’t understand something, or asking people not to use jargon.

So you’re back in the cafe in Paris, still thinking about lunch. The waiter brings out the head waiter and then the chef, but they are all still just speaking louder and louder until they decide to bring you a tomato soup, which is neither what you needed, nor what you would like - in fact you hate tomatoes!

Unfortunately this is all too often the case in social care, the system talks louder and then ultimately you just get so tired that you say yes or no to something and in the end you get totally the wrong thing.

It can feel very much like that from the perspective of someone drawing on care and support. Maybe what you really needed was a perching stool, but you ended up with 10 hours worth of personal assistant (PA) support.

Sometimes in these situations you get flustered, it has happened to me. I remember one conversation, I thought I had been heard, but rather than the toilet raiser I needed, I ended up with a sofa raiser - a completely different thing.

When you go on holiday, you get a little phrasebook out. But there isn’t really a guidebook on how to navigate these interactions. So I was pleased to hear that TLAP are working with Bryony Shannon to develop resources that redefine the language used in social care. Including expanding on the Care and Support Jargon Buster by highlighting words and phrases that don't belong in a personalised approach to care.

While jargon plays a big role here, the art of listening is also really important. We need to learn to listen. Just listen - I think people often talk rather than listen.

An example of a really good communicator is my doctor, he is amazing. He takes his time to explain, and doesn’t use jargon.  He gives you time to process, to think about things. Through a series of conversations he checks that people have understood. He is a great active listener.

I think the key is recognising the power that language has and how it can be used well. We can use it to build empathy, reduce misunderstandings, encourage relationships and solve problems.


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