Simple English Toolbox
One of our goals at Clear and Simple Media is to recruit and develop writers who can write with clarity on a biblical or theological topic while using simple English to do so.
This is a skill that takes discipline and practice.
Here are a few places to find help to develop the art and craft of writing in simplified English.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.
Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph W. Williams
This list could be much longer, but these two books will help remind you of what it means to write with clarity and simplicity. I do not think that I have ever been in a used bookstore where there were not multiple copies of Strunk and White available – usually for mere pennies. If you don’t have one, buy one.
In the past 30 years, there have been multiple efforts to encourage organizations to write with clarity and simplicity to make their work more accessible to customers, clients, or constituents. Such sites offer instruction manuals and examples of what the use of plain English attempts to accomplish.
Here are two of them.
The Plain English Foundation www.plainenglish.co.uk
Plain Language www.plainlanguage.gov
The internet is filled with tools to help all sorts of writers. Below are several tools for writing in simplified English that are particularly useful.
These sites will analyze your writing and apply several readability algorithms and give you a score(s). We try to make all of our writing reach a Flesch-Kincaid score of 85 or more for each paragraph we write.
www.online-utility.org Use the English Language drop-down menu to find Readability Test and Improve.
The first site will assist you in writing well. The second gives specific help with writing simplified English. If you are a writer and do not have the Grammarly app, correct that oversight soon. You will be happy that you did.
www.grammarly.com Grammarly makes sure everything you type is easy to read, effective, and mistake-free.
www.simplish.org This site is a little quirky and takes some time to get used to. It uses a very limited word list, but the SUMMARY and SIMPLIFY functions can be quite helpful.
When writing using any Controlled Language, vocabulary is critical. Here are places to find vocabulary lists designed with the limited English reader in mind. The lists share a core vocabulary but differ in specialized terminology.
The Voice of America was one of the early adaptors in using simple English. They have been broadcasting the news in simple English for decades. They developed one of the first word lists that were later adopted for use by broadcasters like TransWorld Radio and Far East Broadcasting.
Look on the landing page for Ogden’s Basic Combined Word Lists. Charles K. Ogden was one of the first people to develop a Bible with a limited English vocabulary. The Bible was released in 1930 with the book: Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar. He founded the Orthological Institute to develop the tools for teaching Basic English. Everyone who tries to do what he tried to do owes Ogden a debt of gratitude. However, Ogden’s Bible in Basic English has some stylistic limitations.
EasyEnglish is one of the best sites for Christian writers of simplified English. The Glossary compiled by Mike Baker and Carol Betts is exceptionally helpful.
Use the English Language drop-down menu to find In Simple English. It is a bit awkward, but it can help get someone “unstuck” if you are struggling with vocabulary choices.
EXAMPLES OF SIMPLE ENGLISH IN USE
Several ministry sites target new English readers. The site with the most helpful material in simple English is www.easyenglish.info . This site includes simple English translations, articles, and commentaries – some utilizing a vocabulary of under 1200 words. The site is a bit uneven in quality, but this work is some of the best ESL Bible material available.
The people at SOON target new English readers with articles that are good examples of “pre-evangelism.”
Spotlight produces simple English broadcasts that are used online and on radio stations throughout the world. The site gives good examples of effective script-writing using a limited English vocabulary and grammar set.
The Times in Plain English is an online newspaper with hundreds of articles on contemporary news items. The writers use a limited vocabulary and grammar to communicate with an international English audience.
Bible translation is a section I approach with some measure of fear and trembling. The stakes are quite high when dealing with God’s own word. I understand the limitations of any Bible translation. So, before I make these recommendations, note that I prefer the precision of versions like the NASB and ESV for the native English speaker or the person with a more highly developed English capacity. But, when writing to the new English reader, one is limited in grammatical structure and vocabulary range. These translations that target these readers of necessity lean to the more “dynamic-equivalence” side of the translation scale.
Here are several translations that you may find helpful when writing to the new English reader:
New Life Version (NLV) www.biblegateway.com
Go to the translation window and select New Life Version (NLV). The NLV was first developed by Gleason Ledyard. The translation was born out of Ledyard’s work among the First Nations peoples of the Canadian Arctic. He used an 850-word vocabulary (not including proper names). Stylistically, it is quite remarkable in many places.
New International Readers Version (NIrV) www.biblegateway.com
Go to the translation window and select New International Readers Version (NIrV). The NIrV has the lowest readability scores of any modern, readily available translation.
Easy-to-Read Version (ERV) www.biblegateway.com
Go to the translation window and select Easy-to-Read Version (ERV). The ERV is based on an earlier translation published for deaf readers.
EasyEnglish Bible www.easyenglish.info/bible
This Bible translation uses a vocabulary of only 1200 English words. There are translation decisions in some places that you may question. But the translation is a stylistic improvement over Ogden’s earlier attempt with his 850-word vocabulary.
Bible in Basic English http://ogden.basic-english.org
Look on the landing page for Bible in Basic English under Books. The BBE uses a basic vocabulary of only 850 English words with a small supplement of religious terms.
Although there are other controlled English translations in circulation (i.e. Worldwide English New Testament, The Simplified English Bible), in my view, the NLV, the NIrV, and the ERV are the best tools available for the writer targeting new English readers. Select one and begin reading. It will not take long to get a sense of the cadence and style necessary to write effectively in simple English.
We will be writing more about writing for new English readers in future blogs. This post will serve to whet your appetite.