Semantic Barriers to Effective Communication

Written by kate bradley
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share
  • Pin
  • Email
Semantic Barriers to Effective Communication
Don't let semantic barriers keep you from effective communication. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Among friends, co-workers or family members, effective communication is key to maintaining good relationships. When communication fails, it is often due to semantic barriers that prevent a clear exchange of ideas. Be aware of these barriers to help increase your chances of clear and effective communication.


Looking up a word in the dictionary may give you its definition, but it can't tell you what it means to everyone. People form an idea of a word's definition -- an implied meaning called a connotation -- based on personal experience. When they don't share a word's connotation, miscommunication can occur. For example, the word "cheap" can connote various things. A cheap vacation indicates you spent less than anticipated, while a cheap joke is often a tasteless mockery at an innocent person's expense.


Communicating with someone whose native language is not the same as yours may present barriers in the form of inappropriate or incorrect word choice. In Russian, for example, sentences frequently start with the English equivalent of "Is it possible ... ?" A Ukrainian student may ask a teacher, literally, if a question is possible, and the teacher will reply affirmatively, not understanding that the student is asking permission to ask a question. If you encounter difficulty speaking with a non-native English speaker, ask for clarification before proceeding to ensure effective communication.

Jargon or Slang

Professionals often use industry jargon to communicate, and that jargon is all but foreign to those outside the industry. A web designer, for instance, may ask his non-Internet-savvy client for a list of meta tags. The client can become confused and resentful, damaging efforts at communication. Slang is also a frequent communication barrier. It regularly either invents new meanings for common words or just new words. A young person may ask for a "fresh pair of kicks" for a birthday gift, but someone who does not use slang will have no idea that he actually wants new shoes.

High- or Low-Level Vocabulary

Even when people share a native language, vocabulary differences can be vast. Someone with a large vocabulary may choose to say, "He is certainly loquacious" rather than "He talks a lot." People who don't know the word's meaning may feel left out or ignorant and cease communication altogether. Similarly, a person with a low-level vocabulary may use words, such as "ain't," that inadvertently communicate ignorance. Listeners may hear what the speaker is saying, but they may also inwardly dismiss her as uneducated and lazy.

Don't Miss

  • All types
  • Articles
  • Slideshows
  • Videos
  • Most relevant
  • Most popular
  • Most recent

No articles available

No slideshows available

No videos available

By using the site, you consent to the use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie policy.