This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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22 January 2013

Frustration fuels plain language in Portugal

We’re delighted to have hosted Sandra Fisher-Martins, a leading light in the world movement for plain language. Sandra has a business in Lisbon, and also runs an advocacy campaign and offers a ‘plain language seal of quality’.

We’ve met Sandra at Clarity conferences in 2010 (when it was held in Lisbon) and 2011. She’s in New Zealand to visit family, and made a side trip to talk plain language with us.

Frustration and fairness
Frustration drove Sandra to establish Portugal’s first plain language consultancy, Português Claro, in 2007. Sandra says she is ‘passionate and stubborn’. ‘I’m moved by a sense of fairness.’

Her own experience got her thinking. When she returned from London to Portugal, she did all the things you have to do when you move — get somewhere to live, sort out the utilities, get insurance… She found the forms really difficult to understand. ‘I thought to myself, I’m struggling with this and I’m intelligent. I’ve got a good education. Why does it have to be like this? I have to do something!’

Low literacy disadvantages many
Portugal’s low literacy levels make plain language even more important. Eighty percent of Portuguese people lack the literacy to understand the written information they need in their daily lives.

Sandra has a newspaper ad in a frame on her office wall. ‘It says that you can pay less social security if your earnings are low. That’s great. But the language it uses is complicated and legalistic. Very few of the people who could benefit would be able to read the ad!’

Sandra speaks about the social impact of language in her TEDtalk 'The Right to Understand'.

A Portuguese WriteMark
She and her husband James have also established an advocacy organisation, Claro. Claro has its own version of the New Zealand WriteMark — a quality mark for plain language writing. It’s called the Selo Claro, and it’s been awarded to Portugal’s state roading agency ANSR, and television company ZON.

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