SENSE letterhead 2020

6 June 2020

SENSE Online Conference Day 3 was a whirlwind of sessions and a panel discussion on maintaining productivity as your family grows.

Joy Borrough-Boenisch: Language interference: Forewarned is forearmed
This session was an absolute must for those of us working as translators or as editors of texts written by non-native speakers of English. Using a wide array of examples, Joy showed us how the native tongue of an author interferes with their written English. Native speakers of English who have lived in another country for a long time may be similarly affected.

After discussing the different kinds of positive and negative interference (also called language transfer), Joy offered a range of fascinating examples and comparisons that showed us just how short Dutch sentences are on average and how much translations from Dutch to English are influenced by this.

Language professionals should educate themselves so they can recognize this interference when translating, editing texts written by non-native speakers of English or when they’re based in a non-English-speaking country themselves.

David Barick: Writing effective comparisons in scientific articles
Next up was David Barick, who treated us to a fascinating session on how to write good comparisons in academic articles. Through his work as a language editor, he often encounters clumsy comparisons that are difficult to grasp or simply ineffective.

David took us on a tour of different examples of ineffective comparisons, showed us that double comparisons can easily be fixed by using “than” and reminded us of grammatical parallelism: only items of a similar nature and category should be compared.

To round off his talk, David let us attempt to decode a few examples of badly phrased comparisons, which was great fun and very instructive.

Ashley Cowles et al.: Panel discussion: Maintaining productivity as your family grows
Becoming a parent can greatly change the way you run your business, and each stage of your child’s development comes with its own challenges. Today’s panellists touched upon a number of these challenges, and dealt with some of their own: due to personal circumstances, several of the originally scheduled panelists were unable to attend at the last minute!

Lloyd Bingham, Ashley Cowles and Cathy Scott shared their own experiences with the audience and answered any questions raised by attendees. The discussion was divided into four subjects: coping with work, balancing the mental load, raising children bilingually and navigating Dutch society as a parent.

Other issues that were raised involved how to deal with lockdown and how to make sure you maintained a healthy relationship with yourself and your significant other. All in all, a lot of interesting viewpoints were shared. The conclusion? There is no one-size-fits-all solution to parenting, but we’re all in this together. For more support from your peers, consider joining the Parents Who Are Freelance Translators group! (

John Linnegar: The plain truth: Applying Plain English principles to improving texts
The final session of Day 3 and of the SENSE 2020 Conference was an extensive introduction to plain-language principles: putting the audience’s needs first. That means avoiding unnecessary words: short sentences without jargon, technical terms or ambiguous phrasing. The idea is not to ‘dumb things down’ but to do away with fancy language, letting the reader understand the message at first reading.

Partly basing himself on the wisdom of George Orwell, John provided an extensive overview of the different principles of plain English and the problems of ‘unplain’ English. As a rule, if you can cut a word out, do so.

John reminded us to avoid sentence complexity; ideally, they should not exceed 20 words. Overly complex sentences can often be cut in two. For clarity’s sake, writers should avoid using noun strings or too many subordinate clauses. The same applies to writing in the passive voice and using negative statements.

To round things off, John advised us to develop a sense for ‘unplain’ English by asking:

  • What is making this text unreadable?
  • What is making it less accessible?
  • And why would the writer write in this way?

Queries can go a long way in making authors understand the reader’s perspective.