The divide between the Digital Second Language (DSL) and the Digital First Language (DFL) and how we can communicate, collaborate and work together.

Who we work with influences how we work with them.

Sounds simple, and perhaps even trite, yet the workspace in 2018 hardly resembles that of a generation ago. Massive changes in technology, the kind of work accomplished, and the actual composition of the workforce has had a profound effect on productivity and workplace harmony.

(Way) back in 2001, Marc Prensky coined the phrases “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrant”. A digital native is one who has grown up immersed in technology. One who has never known a world without the internet, a smartphone or tablet. A digital immigrant (this author, for example) is one who has adopted technology and integrated it into one’s life. While technology is an add-on for digital immigrants, it is not necessarily the go-to tool for work and life.

When digital natives and digital immigrants come together in the workplace, they often speak different languages. Jukes (2018) suggests digital natives speak a “Digital First” language that makes perfect sense to other native speakers, but for the immigrant it sounds tech-y, jargon heavy and filled with buzzwords that can be confusing (and even annoying). Conversely, digital immigrants speak a “Digital Second” language that, again, makes sense to other immigrants but sounds laborious, outdated and even out of touch to the digital native.

That said, both groups are often communicating about the same concept or idea; they just don’t know it. The secret is to find common ground and common tenets that create a collaborative work environment.

How do we do that? We begin with respect.

Everyone wants respect at work and wants to feel his or her ideas are valued and appreciated by their colleagues and superiors. How we speak with someone often matters more than what we say to him or her. Tone, inflection and body language have a massive impact on communication and what is heard. Demonstrating respect helps lay the foundation of trust.

Second: trust matters.

People trust (or want to) those they work directly with, more often than the larger organization. Thus, a working relationship built on respect and trust fosters better collaboration. When one trusts that his or her ideas, thoughts and opinions matter they are much more apt to share.

Finally, embrace change.

The widely held view is that the older generation (e.g. Digital Immigrants) loathe change and that the younger generation (e.g. Digital Natives) love it. Yet, research has historically demonstrated that most people are uncomfortable with change. Change is a pattern interrupt that can scare people and shake up how and what is accomplished at work. Yet, change is the one constant in life. Having systems in place as well as a culture that fosters and embraces change should be both exciting and profitable.

If we pull back and peel away the labels, we can recognize that people at work are just that: people. Using labels and phrases may help frame a situation and those we work with, yet it can create confusion, stereotypes, and even bias. What matters more is working towards common goals and outcomes. We do this by looking for those characteristics we share and communicate in a manner of respect, trust, and ultimately true collaboration. Then, and only then, we are speaking the same language.

Prensky, M. (2001). On the horizon. MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001.

Jukes, I. (2018). Understanding the Digital Generation. Retrieved 25 October, 2018, from