Plain English

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in News, Uncategorized | No Comments

The term “plain English” began to be bandied round in the 1970s and as a child I remember hearing Margaret Thatcher on the TV talking about doing away with unnecessary bureaucracy and jargon. The following is a quote from the former Prime Minister (courtesy of the Plain English Campaign):

‘Human relationships depend on communication. Bad writing is a barrier to communication. When a large organisation such as the Government tries to communicate with the man and woman in the street the scope for misunderstanding is enormous. Too often clarity and simplicity are overwhelmed by pompous words, long sentences and endless paragraphs.

If we all wrote in plain English, how much easier – and efficient – life would be. It is no exaggeration to describe plain English as a fundamental tool of good Government.’

Over the years, plain English has become part of British life; government communications these days are designed to be easy for ordinary people to understand. In recent years, we have therefore come to take it for granted that most of the documents we read are in good, clear English.

This is why it is such a culture shock to come to somewhere like Chile, where simple, concise writing is regarded as somehow impoverished and lacking in style. Here, if you can find a long-winded and flowery way of saying something, preferably using long words, so much the better.

This presents professional translators with a challenge because if the report / book / press release or website they have been asked to translate is intended to persuade an English-speaking audience to buy a product or service or to opt for a particular course of action, then the document needs to be written in clear, concise and straightforward English, even if it started out in verbose and flowery Spanish.

That means a non-literal translation, which takes time and skill to achieve. Good communication and trust between the translator and the customer are very important. The translator needs to make sure that he/she understands the meaning and purpose of the document to be translated. The customer needs to trust the translator to express the meaning in good, engaging English, even if this involves a certain amount of change to the original structure or a reduction in the length of the document. In fact, it is not unusual for an English translation to be up to 20% shorter than the Spanish original.

For some good guidelines on how to write in plain English, visit this British government website.

If you have an important document to translate, trust Shamrock to get it right.