Writing for people whose main language isn't English

Communication and Health Literacy

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Main points

If your target audience includes people whose main language is not English, there are four main options:

  1. Use Easy English
  2. Find a similar document already translated by another organisation
  3. Get your document translated by a professional translator
  4. Engage the local multi-cultural community in developing a version in their language/s

Easy English uses simpler language than plain English, with images to support text, larger font sizes and plenty of white space. Use images to convey your messages whenever you can. Easy English is also useful for interpreters and staff, who may use the documents to support their communication.

Work with the multicultural community to translate your document

Working with the local multi-cultural community is a good option if you are producing general health information.

Find out if a similar document has already been translated

For many health topics, existing translations (for example, from interstate) may be suitable for use in Tasmania, with minor adaptions. Check Health Translations and Multicultural Health Communication Service websites before getting a document translated.

Get your document translated professionally

  1. Decide what you need translated. It may be a section of an existing document, or it may be most effective to produce a shorter version for translation.
  2. Find a professional translator through the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
  3. Being bi-lingual does not guarantee written fluency or skill in translation. Professional translators are writers, producing texts that read well in the target language.
  4. Check you have the right translator for your project. Translators usually translate into their native language, and are fluent in the source language as well.

When producing health documents, look for a translator who specialises in health communication. They need to be comfortable with the subject they are translating.

Tell the translator their name will appear alongside photo, design and other credits on the document they produce. This costs nothing and will encourage your translator to deliver top-quality work.

  1. Work with your translator.
  2. Finalise your text before starting the translation.
  3. Brief your translator at the beginning.
    • Tell them the purpose of your translation: What it's for, what type of document it is and your target group, so they can prepare text with maximum impact for that purpose.
    • Specify whether you want a literal word-for-word translation or an adaptation so the words flow smoothly and your messages remain intact.
  4. Welcome questions! Good translators ask questions along the way. No-one reads your text more carefully than your translator. They are likely to identify phrases or sections that need clarification. This is good; it will help you improve your original text.
  5. Test the draft version with the target audience and/or a second translator.They can help identify text that is not clear. It is also useful to ask your target audience what they think is the main message you are trying to communicate.
  6. Have the final copy proofread by your translator, and allow them to sign off, to protect their reputations from last-minute fiddling at your end.

Think twice about a large print-run

Your service may not need many copies of your translated document printed. It may be more efficient to have the document uploaded to your Internet site to be downloaded and printed as needed.

January 2019