Plain English: what is it and why is it important?
Plain (or standard) English is language which is free of jargon. The Plain English Campaign (PEC) started in the UK as early as 1948 when the Treasury department produced a document called ‘Plain English: a guide to the use of English’. PEC is an independent organisation which has been active in the UK, Ireland and the US since 1979 and they work in partnership with government and other official agencies. Indeed, Tony Blair once said, “The Plain English Campaign has played a major role in improving the way public bodies communicate with citizens.” But why is it important and for what reason should it be of interest to non-native speakers?
Clear and concise information is more accessible
The Plain English Campaign believes that public information should be clear and concise and this makes it accessible to everyone. We are all familiar with complex and lengthy insurance or legal documents and these are a barrier to fully understanding the policies and contracts (and they leave us feeling frustrated!). Medical advice in particular needs to be understood by the patient. There are other safety issues too: there have been a small number of aviation incidents connected to use of overly-complicated language. In recent years, the guidelines for English instruction and training have changed to make sure that all pilots and control tower personnel are literally speaking the same language.
Globalisation and use of English
Did you know that worldwide, English is now spoken by more non-native speakers than by native speakers? Understanding this, we see the importance of using clear language so that we can all understand each other. It can difficult enough understanding all the details of a work issue without complicating the matter with our language use. So, how do we do this? For example, by avoiding long sentences and by prioritising active rather than passive sentences (with a structure of subject-verb-object). These are points we often work on with students on our intensive courses so that they can have a clear way to build their sentences in English and be more easily understood.
A full – simple – list is available as a pdf on the Plain English Campaign website: http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/free-guides.html . They also have documents on writing emails and C.Vs.
How do you feel about using plain English? Do you feel it is not expressive enough – that it takes away some of the expressiveness and joy of learning? Let us know below.