Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Community Accessibility of Health Information and the Consequent Impact for Translation into Community Languages

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Community Accessibility of Health Information and the Consequent Impact for Translation into Community Languages

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In a multilingual and multicultural society such as Australia, effective community-wide communication among diverse groups of language speakers with different cultural backgrounds is a constantly challenging issue. One of the areas where it is of significance is in the health and medical fields. In New South Wales, the Multicultural Health Communication Service (MHCS) takes a leading role on meeting the health information needs of Australians from a wide range of language backgrounds. It provides advice and services to state-based health professionals aiming to communicate with non-English-background speakers. A central question for this organisation is the quality of the information that is written in English for subsequent translation into different community languages. Despite the organisation's advocacy of the use of Plain English (personal communication, April 2007), a major concern is the written quality and readership accessibility of health-related texts written in English, which are used as the basis for translations into a number of different languages used in the community. In particular, there is a view that the role of Plain English in the preparation of translated materials appears to be misunderstood and underestimated.

This paper describes a collaborative project undertaken by the authors with professionals from the MHCS and from the translation and interpreting field. The project was designed, first, to analyse and investigate the comprehensibility to the community of health information written in English; second, to examine the impact on translation into other languages and third, to survey the usefulness of health information perceived by the general public who have different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. This paper will address the first issue on the basis of a linguistic analysis with two English texts and the second and third ones discussing quantitative results of a survey conducted with the general public who speak English, Chinese, or Korean as their mother tongue. Very little research has been undertaken to investigate issues of community accessibility of health information and the consequent impact for translation into community languages. Thus, the study was conceived as a pilot project to begin investigation of the issues mentioned above.

2. Research design

This pilot phase was carried out through four steps. First, following extensive linguistic analysis of 30 health related texts currently used within the community, we selected two texts that were agreed by the whole project team to be less accessible English texts. The two texts were Men who Smoke (T1) and Do you Have a Breast Change? (T2) (see Appendix 2). These texts were also selected because they deal with high profile health issues within the community. Second, the two texts were revised for greater accessibility using the considerations of multiple domains of meaning drawing on systemic functional linguistics (see Section 3). Third, the two original texts (V1s) as well as their revised versions (V2s) were translated into Chinese and Korean by two professional translators (see Appendices 3 and 4). The translations were then each checked by another professional translator. Finally, a survey was conducted of approximately l00 readers from English, Chinese and Korean-speaking communities respectively. In the survey, the original and revised versions of the texts were presented to investigate their reactions to the different versions, and specifically, the extent of the accessibility of the information.

3. Text revision

Plain English is often defined by its proponents as the antithesis of "gobbledegook" or "jargon". Eagleson (1990, p. 4) provides the following description:

      In short it is the opposite of gobbledegook and of confusing
   and incomprehensible language. Plain English is clear,
   straightforward expression, using only as many words as are
   necessary. … 
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