Simplified English

Simplified English (SE), now known as Simplified technical English (STE) in the aerospace industry, offers significant advantages for international projects because it improves the quality and clarity of documentation (especially for non-native English speakers) reduces costs and, most importantly, reduces the possibility of misunderstandings.

What is Simplified English?

Simplified English is a restricted version of the English language which uses a limited and defined word palette. In SE, every word has a precise definition; no word has more than one definition. Every word has a part of speech, and no word can be used for more than one part of speech.

The lexicon is limited to the least number of words necessary to communicate with the target audience. But it’s not just about the limited vocabulary, as SE expert Karen Toast Conger wrote in a memorable email –

What you want to do with simplified English is to first write a paragraph. Then look at the paragraph and say to yourself, What am I really try to get across here? What do they really need to know? Does my reader care? Will she understand? Does he know where I’m pointing to? It’s not just about the limited language, my friend. It’s about the precision of the language. It’s about not writing a SINGLE WORD that doesn’t have a direct functional utility to the reader.

Originally developed for the aerospace industry, all the manuals for the international space station, commercial airplanes, and helicopters are written in STE (The ASD Simplified Technical English Specification ASD-STE100).

Advantages of simplified English

By imposing strict rules on word usage and grammar, SE improves the quality and clarity of technical writing, is easier to read by non-native English speakers, and reduces costs – whilst improving quality – if translation is required.

Improves quality

SE  virtually eliminates copy editing, since that is incorporated into the writing, and also forces greater accuracy than normal writing methods.

Improves clarity

Restricted to a small lexicon, writers write shorter sentences with less descriptive text; this improves clarity and reduces the scope for ambiguity – say just what you mean.

Improves consistency

SE almost eliminates unique ‘voice’ across a team of writers – which makes for greater consistency from the audience perspective.

Both Simplified English and controlled authoring can be viewed as part of the internationalization of a product since they precede localization or translation.

A short glossary of terms

Internationalization – The process of preparing a product or service for delivery and support in multiple countries.

Localization – The process of preparing a product or service for delivery in a specific country other than the country of origin.

Some common acronyms

SE – Simplified English. Not to be confused with Standard English (SE) or Search Engine(SE)!
FIGS – Most common European translation requirement: French, Italian, German and Spanish
I18N – Internationalization
L10N – Localization
ILT – Internationalization, localization and translation
MT, TM – Machine translation, translation memory
ESL – English as a Second Language
Why I18N and L10N? – it’s the number of letters you save. (Sad, but true)

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