How many times you've read a piece of information online or in a brochure that was vital for your live, job or school but did not know what exactly it meant? If the formal, rigid and too complex sentences are tough for native speakers, think what kind of an obstacle this presents to speakers with limited proficiency, as for example newcomers?
The Canadian NGO É ducaloi is one example of initiatives that want to change this by “translating” complicated legal documents into easy to understand English. They are in a good company - others who prefer the simple form of languages are the Swedish government (see the Law on Simple Swedish), GB governmental information portal gov.UK and also Wikipedia with its version Simple Wikipedia.
A few days ago, we had a virtual meeting with the Éducolai representatives who were kind enough to share some of their hard gained knowledge and experiences with us. They told us that the Canadian federal and regional government recognizes the need of people to understand legal and other documents in order to become engaged citizens. Some of the key principles in their opinion are:
- Know what your users are interested in.
- First step to simple language is the realization that the existing structures are too complicated for people to understand, then follows theory and then practice, but the first step is crucial.
- Begin explaining from specific to general and not the other way around.
For all interested in plain English, or any other plain language, DRIM is organizing a virtual workshop with Éducolai to learn some basic. In the meantime, please see their interesting website: