Many linguists insist that our brains are best equipped to learn a second language during our childhood years. Though there is some disagreement over both the extent of this “critical” period and the exact age range it encompasses, there is one thing that cannot be denied: learning a new language—while undeniably challenging in our adult years—is a deeply rewarding and fruit-bearing achievement.
Quite often, this is never truer than when we embark on a new work setting, where one language component in particular can seem so complex that it might almost be considered an entire language by itself. I am talking about acronyms. Try, if you will, to extract meaning from the following acronym: LGTLAIANWS.
It’s easy, right? It stands for “Laurence’s Guide to Learning Acronyms in a New Work Setting.” I knew this, of course, because I coined the acronym (and may or may not have copyrighted it). But for everyone else, it probably resembled little more than an utterly unpronounceable word, or, at best, something my Welsh compatriots in the United Kingdom might write.
The nature of the work we do at Briljent—especially as it pertains to health care contracts—means that acronyms are plentifully used in key discussions. For the uninitiated, hearing such acronyms can, at first, seem as puzzling as my example above—reason enough, methinks, to view your own acquisition as an exciting challenge rather than an insurmountable obstacle.
While learning acronyms might not present quite the same level of glamour as the acquisition of, say, French or Spanish, the rules for learning them might not be so dissimilar. To simplify matters, I have broken down Acronym Language Acquisition (or should that be ALA?) into three manageable steps:
- Create a list of all acronyms you encounter
As with many other facets of a new work setting, it is a very good idea—possibly even from day one—to start keeping a log of every acronym you hear or read. Personally, I have found it helpful to compile my list in spreadsheet format, with additional columns explaining what an acronym stands for and how it can be used contextually. Creating a foundation for your acquisition is incredibly useful because it allows you to organize the acronyms into a manageable list that works for you. Tip: for your own list, try only adding new acronyms as you encounter them. This way, you are not overloading your brain, and you will hopefully find them more digestible as you go along.
- Listen to others using acronyms in context
As part of my job as a Technical Writer, I have had the good fortune to work with many state and federal clients on crafting documents. Admittedly, during the very first conversations I’d had on the creation of said documents, it felt more like I was attending a class in foreign languages; every other word seemed to be an unfamiliar acronym, uttered by experienced members of staff as if they had spoken them their entire lives. But I found there was enormous value to jumping in at the deep end and hearing unfamiliar terms used in context, even if that context wasn’t itself entirely familiar yet. The more I continued to listen to conversations of this nature, the more I came to embrace step number 3.
- Practice using them yourself.
I am going to admit something quite ridiculous now: sometimes—even to this day—I will sit quietly in my cubicle whispering acronyms to myself. Not only do I do this, but I make sure to incorporate particular acronyms into the types of sentences to which they belong. This activity, while mesmerizingly silly, serves two purposes: 1) It strengthens my acquisition of the acronyms, and; 2) it enhances my confidence in speaking them. As with step 1, I recommend doing this only when you encounter a new acronym, and that you keep your practice sentences to a mere whisper, lest you become the source of bewilderment among your colleagues! That said, it is—in conjunction with steps 1 and 2—a vital component in the quest to becoming a native speaker of acronyms.