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Are the concepts behind 'Plain English' accepted in your source language?
Thread poster: John Rawlins

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Apr 3, 2009

When translating from Spanish to English, I usually apply the principles of 'Plain English' to the translated text. That is to say, I try to write in a simple and concise style.

Over the years, many of my Spanish clients have asked me to explain my approach. I find that the concept of consciously using 'plain language' is practically unknown in Spain. I wonder if any other Proz members have similar experiences in their source or target languages.

For more information on Plain English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plain_English


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Taija Hyvönen
Finland
Local time: 23:45
Member (2008)
English to Finnish
+ ...
Yes Apr 3, 2009

The authority I tend to rely on is the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland: a national research centre and expert institution for linguistic studies, whose main tasks include language planning, compilation of dictionaries and various research projects, and who have an extensive library and comprehensive linguistic archives.

They have a hotline you can call and ask The Official Right Answer about grammar

They definitely advocate plain, clear and understandable language. Chop up the long sentences, substitute a pile of nouns with verbs, use Finnish words instead of silly loan words, dig up the real subject of the sentence and express it clearly, drop the unnecessary and ambiguous verb combinations, make it clear which word refers to which and so on.

The problem, however, in translating is that to express something this way, you actually really have to understand each word and their relations to each other - something I feel the writers of many source texts don't spend a lot of time on, leaving us to figure out what the... this is supposed to mean.


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:45
English to Arabic
+ ...
Definition Apr 3, 2009

If according to the first definition on the link you provide, Plain English is "a generic term for communication styles that emphasise clarity, brevity and the avoidance of technical language", then surely whether or not you use it in your translation depends on text type, purpose, register and target readership. Sometimes texts need to be technical, elaborate, etc. THis is how I understand the term and that is why I think it should be avoided sometimes.

However, the article goes on to say "Plain English is English written to be understood. It is written in a manner appropriate to the range of reading skill and knowledge of its audience. It is writing where there is no confusion about meaning, is free of cliché and unnecessary jargon and is presented in a way that builds understanding" and I think nobody can argue with that - that's common sense!

But then: "Good Plain English writing has the characteristic that it communicates to an audience that is unfamiliar with the in-house language and knowledge of the writer." And again, that's in line with the first sentence above. I believe it should be reserved for that particular purpose (communicating to an audience that is unfamiliar with the in-house language). That would also apply to translating into any other language, I think.


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Plan source - Plain target Apr 3, 2009

I can only say that! My aim is not to alter the tone or register of the source text and simply use the same tone and register: if the source text is in "plan English", the Spanish text will be "plain" too. In my work as a technical translator, accuracy in terminology and expressions is a must, so I can't really alter the expression much.

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Andreas Nieckele  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 18:45
English to Portuguese
Tone Apr 3, 2009

Exactly. I try to reproduce as much as possible the tone of the source document. If it's really tight and concise, this is how my translation is going to be (technical manuals, for example). If I'm translating something really "fancy", like promotional/marketing material, the translation will maintain this same tone.

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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:45
German to English
Plain German? Apr 3, 2009

You gotta be joking....

But apart from anything else, "Plain English" means different things to different people. The SEC's Plain English requirements, for example, are of little relevance whatsoever for translations of European financial reports, because the point of the SEC standards is to make regulatory filings in the United States more understandable to people with an average general education. European financial reports, OTOH, tend to be pitched at "educated investors", so there is often an abundance of technical financial terminology that you wouldn't necessarily find in US filings. Additionally, US regulatory filings often say that revenues and earnings "went up" and "went down", which I think we would normally regard as slopppy English, but actually meets the "Plain English" standards. I think this is what we'd call "dumbing down".

John Rawlins wrote: When translating from Spanish to English, I usually apply the principles of 'Plain English' to the translated text. That is to say, I try to write in a simple and concise style.

Over the years, many of my Spanish clients have asked me to explain my approach.


That's hardly surprising. Have you communicated to your clients why you have taken this approach, and what it is intended to achieve? Or are you just doing it out of some sort of personal principle? Are you able to back up your approach with supporting evidence, e.g. in the form of comparable original texts written in "Plain English" (not translations) that are equivalent to your source text in terms of content, message and target readership?

In short, what's your sales pitch for "Plain English" to your clients?


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Plain English as an added value Apr 3, 2009

RobinB wrote:

John Rawlins wrote: When translating from Spanish to English, I usually apply the principles of 'Plain English' to the translated text. That is to say, I try to write in a simple and concise style.

Over the years, many of my Spanish clients have asked me to explain my approach.


That's hardly surprising. Have you communicated to your clients why you have taken this approach, and what it is intended to achieve? Or are you just doing it out of some sort of personal principle? Are you able to back up your approach with supporting evidence, e.g. in the form of comparable original texts written in "Plain English" (not translations) that are equivalent to your source text in terms of content, message and target readership?

In short, what's your sales pitch for "Plain English" to your clients?


I am always pleased when clients ask me to explain why I am using plain English. Almost all of my clients have been very satisfied with my explanation - especially when supported with examples of similar texts written in English from the same industry or sector.

This approach has enabled me to build a very loyal client base - and helps me differentiate my translation services from other translators.

I see this approach as adding value for the client.


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N.M. Eklund  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:45
Member (2005)
French to English
+ ...
Plain English as an option Apr 3, 2009

I've had this before, but it's an option that's discussed when I'm contacted to translate financial / legal / tax docs.

The English translation is for information only, so sometimes the client just wants to know what the doc says, sometimes they want something more 'spiffy' for their archives or to present to the CEO, for example.

In my experience, the financial docs stay complicated, legal is 50/50 and tax docs are almost always translated into a 'non-insiders' English.


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:45
Italian to English
+ ...
What Nesrin says Apr 3, 2009

It really does depend on the purpose of the text, as Nesrin points out. I do tend to cut out the waffle (there's usually a lot of it in Italian texts) whatever the translation, but obviously if I'm translating an article for a specialist medical journal then cutting out "technical jargon" would be totally inappropriate.

So I hold with the "plain English" concepts as far as they concern the structure and clarity of the text, but I certainly wouldn't translate specialist articles for specialist readers so they could be understood by "an audience that is unfamiliar with the in-house language and knowledge of the writer" - that's not what I'm being paid for.

Anyway, to my knowledge there is no such thing as a "plain Italian" campaign - in fact to judge from the texts I receive, far too many professors and researchers out there still seem to think that long-windedness, use of unfamiliar words (not jargon) and dense, obscure sentences serve to highlight their intellect and superiority.


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
This is also true with many Spanish texts Apr 3, 2009

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:

Anyway, to my knowledge there is no such thing as a "plain Italian" campaign - in fact to judge from the texts I receive, far too many professors and researchers out there still seem to think that long-windedness, use of unfamiliar words (not jargon) and dense, obscure sentences serve to highlight their intellect and superiority.


Yes, Marie-Hélène, I agree entirely. This also applies to many Spanish texts.


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Taija Hyvönen
Finland
Local time: 23:45
Member (2008)
English to Finnish
+ ...
There is a campaign for "Plain Spanish" in Mexico Apr 3, 2009

I have an article about that right here (thanks again to the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland). An organization called Clarity is expanding from English-speaking countries to the Latin America, where the issue is related to fighting corruption, involving people in the development of the civil society and the fact that for a large part of the population Spanish is not a native language. They have developed what is called Lenguaje Ciudadano and it is the responsibility of Secretaría de la Funcíon Pública (Ministry of...?). The new government, in office since 2007, is not as enthusiastic about it as its predecessor, and to make sure this campaign has a future, a big international conference on the issue was held in Mexico last November.

Anyway, I don't see how writing good language somehow excludes correct terminology (but yes, I am familiar with the principles of such language regarding Finnish, not English). There's definitely a difference between an obscure mess of paragraph-long sentences with correct terminology and clear, understandable text that includes correct terminology and is a pleasure to read - obviously John's clients go back to him to get the latter.


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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:45
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
KISS Apr 3, 2009

I'm not sure about other countries, but in India most business communication is supposed to follow the KISS principle i.e. Keep It Short and Simple.

Of course, every organisation has its own policy and writing style also depends on the subject-matter, among other things.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 22:45
Member (2009)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Style, standard and complexity Apr 3, 2009

Here are my thoughts on this :

1. You cannot illustrate complex ideas or concepts with " plain English". O.K., perhaps only Ernest Hemingway managed to do that.

2. There are standards of language usage, such as latinisms in Medicine. In such cases, you can't really take that approach and start using " plain English"

3. It is quite an ethical question whether we need to be help responsible for the poor vocabulary and undeveloped syntax of the target readership

4. " plain English", or any other plain language is commonly used with kids and teens or people with the lowest educational level. Other population groups have no excuse for demanding the plain language, never mind it's not their mother tongue

5. I make sure the language in my translation is in accordance with the subject-matter, source-text style and structure and the standards of the language usage for the given content, i.e. subject


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
"A large part???" Apr 3, 2009

Taija Salo wrote:
An organization called Clarity is expanding from English-speaking countries to the Latin America, where the issue is related to fighting corruption, involving people in the development of the civil society and the fact that for a large part of the population Spanish is not a native language.


(Sorry folks, I don't want to change the very interesting topic, but I cannot keep my big mouth shut about this).

Some people are just going bananas or intentionally alter figures for the benefit of their project: Spanish is the native language of 90%, or even more, of Mexicans! Maybe our colleagues in Mexico can correct me, but as far as I know, only up to 10 million people (less than 10% of the population) speak a language other than Spanish in their homes.

I honestly can't see how altering the language can help fight corruption!


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