This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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25 November 2011

How long does it take to learn a new word?

When a new ‘must-have’ device is launched, the early adopters go shopping. They know its language already. They’ve been reading the magazines.

The rest of us have to do our homework and learn new words before we buy a tablet or a smartphone. To help with your shopping, try the jargon-busting

But a definition is not enough to understand cloud, slider, flash storage, Android, Bluetooth, dual-core, and apps. We need to hear a word, see it in different contexts, read the advertisements, and try the products to understand how a slider or Android can change our lives. Like a child learning a new word, we test our understanding of the word with questions and use in it conversations.

I rely on the writing skill of technical writers to help me understand new words. They must write clearly and never assume that I already know their language. Here’s a great link for technical writers—are specs and techy words the best way to review gadgets?

And the answer to the how-long-does-it-take question—we need to use a word maybe 18-20 times to know it well.

For fun, expand your store of great words on this site from the New York Times