314-725-3711 | Since 1998

We received an interesting email from another translation firm the other day seeking to add vendors who could assist them with readability adjustment. Many clients of this translation and interpretation firm have been requesting this service more and more. First of all, we’d like to clarify for the reader that “readability adjustment” as it was called, is referred to as Plain Language Writing and is a strategy to rewrite the source English text and lower the reading level of the text to make it more comprehensible, more understandable – easier to understand!

What is Readability Adjustment

Readabiity Adjustment or Plain Language Writing is not about “dumbing it down” which many people might think.  Research focusing on literacy rates shows that the reading level of the average person is 4 years below the last grade level of education that person completed.

Those with limited literacy can be impacted more so when they face health literacy challenges. Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.  People challenged in health literacy might include the following:

  • They are not familiar with medical terms or how their bodies work.
  • They have to interpret numbers or risks to make a health care decision.
  • They are diagnosed with a serious illness and are scared or confused.
  • They have complex conditions that require complicated self-care.

    Our specialization in Healthcare Translations

Health Literacy Training and Awareness servicesWe are one of the few translation firms, if not the only one, that also specializes in Health Literacy and Plain Language Writing.  Because we specialize in healthcare translations for clients such as health plans, PBMs, Open Enrollment consultants, etc., we found it necessary about 12 years ago to also specialize in dealing with strategies in the English content that our clients were first working in. It is in the English source text where you first address the readability….not in the translated text!

There are regulatory bodies such Healthcare Translations and the clients we serveas Medicaid and Medicare that require that all English content produced is at a certain reading level (usually at or below 6th grade). Our clients were coming to us at that time with demand for a need that was unmet with resources that they had internally.  They were unable to devote the time to rewrite their material, test, rewrite again and then test it for reading level again and then test it with their members.

Our clients needed to outsource this service so we were able to see this as a developing need and begin training on it. Twelve years later, we now do Awareness training on health literacy to educate clients about the challenges faced by those with limited literacy and health literacy challenges and the importance of understandable communications to address that.

So back to the call from the other translation company that wanted to implement this….  I am more than happy to speak with other companies in our industry and assist them with services or with information, however, adding this service to your core competencies requires more than just adding on vendors because you’re dealing with the English source content and not just the translations. You have to have the background education and skills to deal with the issues of health literacy and readability in the source content.  That is a learned skill.

When the client calls with questions…

When you work in Plain Language Writing, there are certain strategies and educational theories applied in the writing which means there are specific reasons why you may restructure a block of content the way you do, choose particular terminology, eliminate information or rephrase a direction or block of information and because it’s in English, your clients will call you and want to discuss some of those choices.  If you’re a project manager who has no background in this, how will you handle that client and educate them?

Clients have a difficult time overcoming attachments and you will need to help them to understand choices your writer may have made and to answer the myriad of questions they will have.  You must have a basic background in this specialization and not just go back and forth to your writers on these questions or you will never gain your client’s trust.

What to do if you’re a Translation Company and your client wants Readability Adjustment Services…

So if you are a translation company that also specializes in healthcare translations and your clients are also requesting “readability adjustment” services, what should you know. First, know that it is never done in the target language or the language of translation. For one thing, there are not Readability tests that are reliable for other languages (other than one for Spanish).  You must educate the client first that the readability adjustment service they are requesting is called Plain Language writing and it is done in the English source content first and they should seek to partner with a company that specializes in this and then come to you for translation.

Readability Adjustment with healthcare translations capabilitiesIf you are a person in a company reading this and know that your company does not have the internal resources to tackle the issue of readability adjustment, we can certainly talk to you about those challenges and work with you on the whole product lifecycle – from the English content into foreign language translation.

In fact, when we have worked on the English content and introduced particular strategies into the Plain Language Writing for the English content, we then provide a briefing to our translation teams on which strategies we relied upon and which educational theories we used (such as locus of control) and why we used it so that our translators can have that valuable background knowledge, interpret it in their culture and language and translate it effectively.

Our overall aim – move the patient to the desired behavior for better outcomes. Truly, a specialization in healthcare translations.  Give us a call for your readability adjustment needs.