Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Plain speaking...

I received a form from Tewksbury Borough Council earlier today regarding my Council Tax and I was intrigued by the marking and logo at the top right hand corner of the form, a Crystal Mark with the words Clarity approved by Plain English Campaign

Never having heard of this organisation I decided to have a look around and see what they are up to and I am stunned to find out that they are campaigning for plain English to be used in public forms.

They say; Plain English Campaign is an independent pressure group fighting for public information to be written in plain English. We have more than 10,000 registered supporters in 80 countries. 'Public information' means anything people have to read to get by in their daily lives. 'Plain English' is language that the intended audience can understand and act upon from a single reading.”

Well I have never heard anything as stupid as that…has this country resorted to having to explain what they mean by a pressure group telling us what we should say?
I speak some five languages and will understand two more and I learnt at an early stage, when I came to the UK, that my Swedish would not take me very far in London, apart from directing lost Swedish tourists to Debenhams Department store, and since that did not pay very much I had to speed up on my English.

I also understood when I asked for something or told someone something and got a response such as “I beg your pardon?” or “Could you repeat that?”, that I had to learn. So all in all, I hade to learn how to speak English to make myself understood and not sound as a lost tourist. I suspected that common sense would tell English speaking natives that if they were not understood they would have to change their language and follow the rest…how wrong I was…

The Plain English Campaign states that “by not understanding what the writer said makes us feel hoodwinked, inferior, definitely frustrated and angry, and it causes a divide between us and the writer.”

This is the part I don’t understand, because if I ever had a problem understanding I just said “excuse me I don’t understand what you mean, could you explain” and not once was I embarrassed to ask this, and not once did I feel inferior or angry. I have always known that you will need to adjust you language and vocabulary to the person you speak to and not the other way around.
People who do not adjust their language are the ones with the problem. If someone would continue to speak to me using words which I did not understand, I would simply start speaking to them in Swedish and this would embarrass them into taking notice.

So do we really need a pressure group making our language easier to understand? Or is this just another way of “dumbing” things down, will we in the future replace words such as “for” with “4” “See you later” with “C U L8R”…?

English people in general do not learn a second language because where ever they go in the world people speak English and people will speak in English to them. Something which I have noticed when I am abroad explaining to people I come from the UK. It is a different matter with the Swedish language, as “only” 9 million people speak the language and once you are bored with those 9 million who are you going to speak to?

But I also think that there is a lack of educating the students of today in English, companies are harping on about the lack of English ability among young people so educate the little blighters and ensure that whilst they are in the education system English is compulsory and set some standards, how hard is that?

Back to the plain speak lot…here are some examples of plain speaking from their website;

Before
High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.
After
Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Before
If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.
After
If you have any questions, please ring.

Before
It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.
After
Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.

Before
Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.
After
Thank you for your letter asking permission to put up posters in the entrance area of the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won't offend anyone.

So there we are…instead of using common sense we need a pressure group to tell us how to speak plainly, or shall we take note of the guy who was fed up with people who did not understand what “Private Car Park” means…bless…


(note: as I do not claim to have full control over the English language, please do not comment on my spelling or the use of wrong words…thank you)

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