10 Ways to Become Fluent in Technology

Technology is a conversation! (in my book anyway) ….

… and technology has a language.   But rightly or wrongly the language of technology seems to present a barrier to a large percentage of the population.

Technology is not just a conversation in itself but it is also creating conversations – person-to-person, person-to-business and business-to-business.

“A key driver of worldwide adoption of technology for the past two
decades has been the human desire to connect with other human beings.
The most rapidly scaling services — email, instant messaging, cell
phone adoption, and text messaging on cell phones have all been about
people connecting with people.”   People-Centred Research at Intel

Even with the proliferation of these “communication” technologies many of the small business owners that I have conversations with often express a frustration with 1) understanding techno-speak and/or 2) knowing how/what they need to do to take advantage of new technology.

They feel that they MUST/HAVE TO engage with technology (after all, it is the cornerstone of most business and economy today) but at the same time feel like technology is a foreign language they don’t understand.

If you feel like a tourist in tech-land there are 2 basic options available to you :

  1. Decide you can live without the language of technology and continue to forge on with plain-speak, or
  2. Learn some level of fluency in the technology language.

Just like learning a new language when you move to a different country, the benefits of learning technology result in a smoother, more productive and more enjoyable journey.

When it comes to becoming fluent in technology you can take a few tips from those that have learnt a foreign language.

  1. Set realistic expectations of the level of language that you will acquire and the speed that you will acquire it.
    • Don’t
      beat yourself up because you don’t just “get” technology.   Just like
      you wouldn’t expect to know Russian “just because others do”, don’t
      expect that you will be fluent in technology without some experience.
      And if you have some level of technology knowledge don’t expect to be
      as fluent as your friends and colleagues that are surrounded by it all
  2. Develop a desire to master the language to the level that you need it
    • If
      you are looking at being fluent in small business technology you don’t
      need to go to the level of learning programming code (just like you
      don’t need to understand the grammatical constructs of language when
      you are just visiting the country as a tourist).   Pick the most
      appropriate level of fluency for your need and challenge yourself to
      become masterful at that level.
  3. Approach it as a fun challenge
    • Have you ever watched a child learn a language or use
      technology?   They learn best when they are having fun.   Those computer
      games may just seem like play (or even a waste of time) to you but they
      are in fact learning the basics of technology – navigation, jargon, and
      operation while developing a comfort with the medium.
  4. The best strategy for learning a language is to immerse yourself in an environment where that language is spoken.
    • If
      you are not comfortable with technology then the last place you would
      want to place yourself is in a technology rich environment BUT just
      like the difference between living in Paris and learning French in
      Sydney you will see a noticeable change in your ability to understand
      and use technology if you are in a technology-rich environment.   Find
      an opportunity to immerse yourself (even if it is only a quick dip
  5. Do not under-estimate the power of reading.   Read in the language as much as you can.
    • There
      are now so many outlets that write and publish about technology that
      you can have your choice of how you want to read about technology.
      Technology user manuals may be a little too overwhelming and dry
      (they’re even that way for those of us who understand) so why not start
      out with the technology pages in your local weekend paper (generally a
      lot lighter and more entertainment value).
  6. Read for meaning
    • When you are reading don’t just read
      the words – ask yourself “so what does this mean for me?”   Just like
      Japanese words can have more meaning when they are in context, so does
      technology.   The articles will have more meaning, and you will have
      more recall of the content, if you can apply the technology to the
      situation in your business or at home.
  7. Talk with a “native” speaker as often as possible
    • You
      can pick up tips and shortcuts in Spanish from a native of Barcelona
      quicker than you can by learning them the long way yourself.   And the
      same goes for technology – schedule a coffee-catchup with your
      favourite geek guy or girl every few weeks and get them to bring you up
      to speed on the latest in technology or a new how-to.   Some of us can
      even speak English <wink>
  8. Practice, practice, practice – plan to master one new skill each week
    • Learning
      technology is just like any skill – you need to put the theory into
      practice on a regular basis to develop your fluency.
  9. Join or form a study group
    • A conversation about Thai
      or technology always works better in a group.   Kids know this – you
      only have to look at a classroom.   The older generation also know this
      – when it comes to technology seniors technology clubs are one of the
      fastest growing social activities for retirees.   So what makes
      it reasonable to think you can do it on your own?   Either join or start a
      technology study group that will teach you some of the skills you are
      looking to develop.
  10. Keep a notebook to help with translations.
    • One of the
      best suggestions that my ex-mother-in-law (she spoke 5 languages)
      shared with me when she was trying to teach me French was to keep a
      notebook. When I came across a French word or phrase that I didn’t know
      I wrote it in the left hand column in the notebook and then, after some research, I wrote the
      English translation in the right column.   This also works for
      techno-speak – when you come across some tech jargon that you don’t
      know make a note of it and then find out what it means to you in plain
      English.   In no time at all you will have your own tech-to-plain speak
      translation dictionary.

The way you choose to learn about technology is up to you.   But I
encourage (and even implore) you to find a way that works for you.
There really are no excuses to not learn the new language of
technology.   As technology and life become more intertwined you will
loose opportunities and miss chances for connection – all for the sake
of saying I just don’t understand.

“Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.” – Marshall McLuhan

Other relevant articles :

Online Success – Is it really about the technology?

100 Keys to Solo Success – #22 Ask Questions

The Web is #1 Media – Is That Important to You?

Leah Maclean has been having conversations about technology for over 20 years.   These days she is the owner and principal consultant at Working Solo,
a boutique technology service firm that is on a mission to demystify
technology for small business women.   She participates in online
conversations by sharing information and experience about technology
and life as an entrepreneur at www.workingsolo.com.au


  1. says

    Leah, this is a good listing for those who need to and should keep up with tech speak. The one piece I would add to this listing is to recognize when to use the lingo. It is one thing to become comfortable with the lingo amongst others who are in the know. It is quite another thing trying to communicate to those who don’t know and are baffled by the lingo. In this case, we need to use analogies and other more common terms to make the connection with them and bring them into the know.

  2. says

    I completely agree Steve – using the language analogy it is just like trying to speak French to everyone you meet just because you have learnt French yourself.
    As you say, it is not just important to understand technology but you also need to understand the people you are communicating with, and communicate at a level they will understand. As a result I believe that we all need to take more responsibility for the understanding of the other party each time we communicate, particularly about technology.

  3. says

    Leah, I think you have raised great points about learning and about the need to educate ourselves in any subject, especially technology. This is a great “How to” for those who are currently just waiting for someone to teach them any subject. If they can start with your plan on their own, then the teachers will find them.
    Mahalo for sharing your secrets in learning and technology.

  4. says

    Toni – thank you for the insight you have offered about this being a template for learning in any new subject. I hadn’t thought of that before but now looking at the 10 steps again through your insight I see that it could be applied to any topic where we want to become more fluent. I now realise I use a similar approach in other areas as well. Thank you!

  5. says

    What terrific coaching you’ve laid out for us Leah, this is outstanding! And I do agree with Toni that you’ve created a multi-applicable template here. You’ve got me wondering how I can be applying this to the language of intention of values”
    I like how you started off with the premise that technology is a conversation, for quite honestly, that’s not how most of us first learned it: We learned it as processing data inputs (keyboarding, and faster-than-human computation) and then it got all techno-weird and intimidating with programming, code, and design. On the other hand, thinking of it as conversation gets the newfound geek in us to rejoin the human race in why we might have set out to learn it in the first place!