Many of you will know me as a project manager or German translator at The Translation Service. If you’ve noticed my absence in the last few months, it’s because at the end of last year I was given a secondment opportunity with another team at DIA, working on a unique project, redeveloping the current website. The aim of this project is to transform the way government in New Zealand delivers information and services online. Specifically – to make it easier for everyone.

One of the key ways in which we’re doing this is by using plain English, or in other words, by writing like people talk. With my background in translation, it was very easy for me to relate to the value of this approach, knowing how many foreigners live here. Many government websites are hard enough for native English speakers to navigate, let alone those who’re still learning the language!

Aside from a half-year course in content writing, I was pretty new to this type of work when I started here. But I was amazed how many parallels I found between translation and this particular kind of content writing. As you all know, a good translator doesn’t translate word for word, one word at a time. A good translator reads and comprehends a source text and re-writes it in a way it would naturally have been written in the target language, making sure that the same information is given, the same messages and concepts conveyed.

What I do here is surprisingly similar. I read… and eventually comprehend… texts written in one language (business English), and re-write these in another language (plain English), making sure that the same information and concepts are conveyed – in a way that’s appropriate for the target audience, the general public of New Zealand.

The site is currently in a ‘beta phase’, meaning it’s already in use, but hasn’t yet replaced the old website. This is due to happen on the 31st of July. At the moment it’s still more of an information tool – guiding you to the government department that’s appropriate for what you want to do, and summarising what you’ll need to do when you get there, but this may change in the future. The site is still fairly small – new content and design features will be added on a regular basis.

As linguists, and also because of your diverse backgrounds, it would be very interesting to hear some of your opinions on what we’ve been doing. At the bottom of the home page under ‘About this site’ you’ll find a link that takes you to a feedback form. Have a look at the site and tell us what you think!