The need for plain language exists in ALL languages.
No one knows this truth better than Sonia Sánchez Moreno, Director of Community Translations for Sylaba Translations and two-time judge for the annual Spanish ClearMark awards. Sonia’s advocacy for plain language in translations is inspiring and her hard work as a judge helps the Center ensure that we have a robust and successful Spanish category. We sat down with Sonia – virtually, since she lives in Melbourne, Australia – to talk about plain language and the special considerations of translations.
Why is plain language so important to you?
I am a migrant. I am terrified of health professionals because of the way they made me feel in the past. I can say the same of foreign bureaucracies. I have been treated like “I don’t get it” too many times, and being so far away from home, it affected my self-esteem and my confidence to go and ask for help.
Discovering plain language shifted my thinking. Now, I feel entitled to say “I don’t understand,” and I know it’s not my fault. I am a lot more confident now, and I can speak up for myself in a way that I wasn’t able to. As plain language advocates, we all need to make an effort to empower individuals to speak up for themselves.
What would you like readers to know about the connection of plain language and translation?
I have a strong interest in the relationship between plain language and translation. The ClearMarks give me the opportunity to examine English resources and explore how different translation processes affect the quality of the Spanish resources. Judging the ClearMark entries taught me that just because the English version is written in plain language, it doesn’t mean the translation will automatically be too. Some languages like Spanish or French naturally use complex grammatical structures that are quite hard to break into simple, clear text. If the translation team is not familiar with plain language, it’s very likely they won’t have a process in place to guarantee that plain language principles are carried across.
What is the biggest challenge in terms of Spanish translation and plain language?
In Australia, people speak Spanish from many different countries (Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Spain…). Coming up with content that is clear and easily understandable means we often need to use expressions that, although easy to understand, are not very idiomatic for a lot of people. Unfortunately a lot of translators and community workers don’t practice this approach [yet].
What would you want to tell industry about plain language?
From a business point of view, plain language empowers people to become active in society. It builds trust and it leads to engagement. Why wouldn’t organizations want to be trusted and have more engaged customers? But there are also ethical reasons why organizations – especially government, insurance companies and financial institutions – have to do things differently: everyone deserves to have equal access to services, to know what they are paying for, and what they are entitled to.