I'm passionate about English, and other languages. I've studied Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Finnish, and I'm fluent in French. My knowledge of foreign languages, and my years of working with colleagues whose first language is not English, has given me a deep appreciation of the problems of writing for multinational audiences. Translation of technical documentation into multiple languages is often not practicable, but even where it is, the original English must be very carefully written.

Simplified Technical English

During my time in the aerospace industry I worked with a system called Simplified Technical English (STE). STE has a small vocabulary, used in compliance with strict grammatical rules. Developed by the Airbus Consortium in the 80s, STE is now used throughout the industry for operation-and-maintenance documentation, whether or not the text is destined for translation. (STE is not only easier for foreign readers to understand, it can be translated quickly without risk of ambiguity.) The success of STE in aerospace has caused other industries to adopt the system and create their own STE dictionaries, these include pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, oil and gas, and process control.

Setting up and managing a STE system does of course involve costs. But even in situations where it is not practicable to implement STE in full, there are certain principles that can be followed in all multilingual environments.

Click on this link to see examples of STE in use: STE Examples

Efficient Business English

Those of us who have worked closely with colleagues whose first language is not English have come across many 'lost-in-translation' problems, including some that have caused safety issues. As English becomes inexorably adopted as the official language of business across the globe, some enterprises have recognised the need for some sort of policy and control in the way the language is used in business - particularly by native English speakers !

I recently had the opportunity to write a report on this subject for a Belgian company (in English and in French versions), a part of which I can make available on request.

This is a pioneering field of activity for communicators, and one in which I'd very much like to continue to be involved.