I am an English speaker, but I am not English (or Scottish!). When I first moved to Scotland from Australia (20 years ago yesterday) I thought my transition would be easy because I spoke the same language and came from the Commonwealth. It wasn’t! I had a headache for the first six months just from trying to get my ear into the Scottish accent.
But it wasn’t just the accent. It was also the different words and their meanings.
Let’s start for instance, with that famous song by The Proclaimers’. I had never heard the word ‘haver’ and in the context of the line before about drinking I thought they had said ‘heave up’ – I am Australian after all. I once called a local office and asked to speak to Bruce Hill, only to discover it was located in Brucehill. I also tried to buy a black skivvy because in Australia that is what we call a polo neck. I had absolutely no idea how offensive I was being.
What is the point of this slightly odd outing of myself?
Well, it is about the fact that the words we use mean different things to different people and they have a huge effect on how you are perceived and can have a negative effect on those who receive them. I will never live down the fact that I thought Brucehill was a person, and I was deeply at risk as being seen as a racist due to my sartorial choice. Whether I intended it or not, I caused offense and I needed to change the word. Language and the words we use have a huge impact.
It is in recognition of this – and in our determination to #keepthepromise – that includem embarked on reviewing the language we use as part of our daily work. As much as it was confronting to me to recognise I was working counter-culturally, it was confronting to us, as an organisation, to acknowledge how much our language reflected and shaped our culture.
Today we are publishing our language guide. For us, this is the beginning of our journey, not the end. We are recognising that in changing our language our culture will also change. We are acknowledging that the words we use every day, will mean something very different to those we support and they need to change. In order to bring our whole selves to work and use language which normalises care and support, as we are challenged to do by The Promise, we need to embrace a new way of talking and writing about our work.
Our guide has been developed with and for the children and young people we support.
We invite you to check it out and we hope it makes you think too about the way in which our choice of words shapes the world in which we exist.