Most of us speak many different languages. I speak 10-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy, though often not very well. I speak marketing and communication, sometimes with an industry- or project-specific accent. I speak disinterested potential customer and haughty consumer. I speak sports fan and running enthusiast. I speak intimate friend and pleasant acquaintance. At least, I try.

Every day we have to assume the language and accent of our audience, whether it’s an audience of one or of many. In order to be understood, we have to communicate in words that the people listening understand, and it’s not always easy. Regardless of the level of fluency we might have achieved, these are not our first languages. They are not the language of me.

Metaphorically, that means I’m always hanging art in someone else’s museum. Art appreciation is intensely personal, so there is always a chance, no matter how well I know his tastes, that the piece I choose may not resonate with the museum owner. And because it is so personal, no amount of repositioning will convince him that he likes it. The only option is to ditch it and find something else that works for him.

These days, I’m struggling with my fluency in 13-year-old boy. I’m just not completely comfortable in that language, his language. I find myself speaking louder (yes, literally) instead of searching for the right words. Perhaps I need to listen more in order to understand the nuance of his language, to be able to mimic his accent. Language is an art, and he just doesn’t see what I’m painting. It must be time to grab a fresh canvas.

The lessons I teach are the hardest ones to learn myself.