Plain Language is the new black

Legal translation and Plain Language

Have you ever wondered what legal translation and plain language have in common? Keep on reading if you want to know more about this synergy.

What’s TED?

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. The format is simple: speakers with compelling messages are invited to speak for about 18 minutes to a live audience. The talks are video recorded and then posted online. Some of them are even among the most popular educational materials on the Internet! 

What’s Plain Language?

According to the International Plain Language Federation:

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can:

  • Easily find what they need

  • Understand what they find

  • Use that information 

Now, let’s put TED and plain language together

I’m an advocate of plain language (PL), but let’s face it: there are plenty of detractors as well. So I thought it’d be a good idea to inaugurate my blog with these presentations. I think they’re a friendly way towards plain language. And I’m sure it’s a useful resource for legal and language professionals because they describe how using PL in legal or administrative contexts can prove beneficial for us all.

Let’s simplify legal jargon

Alan Siegel defines simplicity as a means to achieving empathy. He wants to put plain English into legal documents for government and business and he gives examples of forms and agreements that have been successfully simplified. He even suggests that we should make clarity, transparency and simplicity a national priority.

The right to understand

This is a very interesting point of view, if you ask me. If we can think of understanding as a right then it will be easier to grasp the importance of using plain language. Sandra Fisher-Martins wants to fight “information apartheid”, that is, the barrier created by overly complex language. 

Four ways to fix a broken legal system

This is not about plain language, but the speaker makes a good point about the simplification of legal language: “Law has to be simple enough so that people can internalize it in their daily choices. If they can’t internalize it, they won’t trust it.” 

What’s the role of legal translators in the plain language movement?

Translation is an art, but it’s also a complex task, especially when it comes to texts that produce legal consequences. More often than not, legal translators have to follow the drafter’s orders not to use plain language, which results in an obscure and incomprehensible text (just as the original).

Now, what if (instead of following orders) legal translators worked in tandem with lawyers and other legal professionals to erase the asymmetry between experts and laymen? What if we worked as equals and tried to produce texts that are clear and comprehensible?

Plain language is here to stay

Legal language is technical language. That’s a fact. Words matter so the drafter’s knowledge is key. However, legal translators know how to “manipulate” language to make it clearer and more transparent. That’s why working together would result in a perfect synergy of law and (plain) language.

2 thoughts on “Plain Language is the new black”

  1. It is an undeniable fact that legal language is technical language. The key is it is LANGUAGE. This apparently basic fact should remain a cornerstone for universities: the same efforts and time students invest in learning “legalese” they can learn ‘plain legal’.
    We, translators, need to be able to master both until plain overrides legalese.

    And the synergy of working together (with the clients) is not as common yet… It is both a very enriching experience and another opportunity we should seize (clients may profit by unsertanding what we do and feel part of the process as well). I think you’ve got a good point in telling your prospective clients that “If you want, you can also review the project before final delivery.”
    “If you want” has the magical effect of an invitation.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Silvina.

    I couldn’t agree more: plain language should be part of the university syllabus or at least a topic for discussion in the classroom. Unfortunately, when I was studying at university, this was strongly “discouraged” by teachers.

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