The Core Humanitarian Standard Commitments are now available in plain English

The Core Humanitarian Standard Commitments are now available in plain English

Written by Kate Murphy, Plain-language editor for Translators without Borders, and Ellie Kemp, Head of Crisis Response for Translators without Borders.

Translators without Borders (TWB) helps its humanitarian partners apply plain language principles to written content. We worked together with the CHS Alliance to develop a plain-language version of the Core Humanitarian Standard’s Nine Commitments.

As humanitarians, we use tools like the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) to hold ourselves accountable to the people we assist. We know that the best responses are those shaped by those directly affected. The CHS provides a great opportunity to institutionalise Accountability to Affected Populations in a way that effectively translates at field level for our work.

But ironically, many of the people we assist themselves aren’t yet aware of our commitments to them. Many don’t have the literacy skills to read, understand, or react to them. Others simply won’t have the time, motivation, or emotional energy to read through the full Nine Commitments of the CHS.

Teacher writing sentences in Rohingya Zuban (Hanifi Script). Kutupalong Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Eric DeLuca / Translators without Borders

The question for CHS Alliance was how to make information on quality and accountability accessible to the affected population. Could plain language help everyone to hold aid organisations to account, in line with CHS Commitment 4? TWB jumped at the chance to help with this. For us, it was another opportunity to highlight the importance of communicating with people in an appropriate and usable language and format.

Everyone appreciates plain language

Plain language makes text easier to understand, easier to put into practice, and easier to recall later. For English materials, such as the new CHS onepager, this means using plain-English. Non-native English speakers appreciate it, especially those with limited education and limited English language skills. But highly literate speakers also benefit, especially those operating in high-pressure environments. And of course, it makes translation easier too.

That’s the thing about plain language: everyone who appreciates clear, concise information benefits from it.

Plain language reduces that reading effort for everyone.

To make the CHS Commitments easier to read, we helped the CHS Alliance apply three established plain-language principles:

  1. Use personal pronouns, including “you” and “we.” That engages readers and adds certainty about who is responsible for different actions.
  2. Rewrite sentences so they contain fewer than 20 words. Shorter sentences are easier to comprehend.
  3. Replace uncommon or technical terms with alternatives that are familiar to all readers.

Photo credit TWB.

We used word-frequency data to identify words in the CHS Commitments that occur less commonly in English print and audiovisual media. The more frequently a term occurs in different media, the more likely it is to be familiar to readers. So, we replaced less frequent words with more common alternatives. For instance, we replaced ‘assistance’ with ‘support’.

Some words like “resilient,” “entitlements,” “competent,” and “efficiency,” are included in the original CHS Commitments, and experienced humanitarians are likely to comprehend them easily. However, word-frequency data suggests that they may reduce reading speed and therefore reader engagement for people who are less familiar with them. Because we wanted to reduce general reading effort, we replaced them.

Spread the word

CHS Alliance members and partner organisations can access the plain language English version of the CHS commitments. Over the coming months, the CHS Alliance expects to provide translated versions in an increasing number of languages and will keep you updated on progress.

In the meantime, CHS Alliance members who are part of the new AAP Community of Practice have suggested various ways we could use the plain-English version to communicate our commitments more effectively to affected people:

  • Provide an audio version of the plain-English commitments for less literate audiences.
  • Develop graphics to accompany the text and make it available as a poster or leaflet.
  • Develop a child-friendly version.
  • Provide staff with guidance on how to use the plain-English version as part of accountability to affected populations.
  • Agree a common way to track understanding of the plain-language versions, possibly as part of regular perception and satisfaction monitoring activities.

We’re excited to see how the new plain-language CHS will help make accountability a reality for all those we serve.

What do you think?

To find out more about how plain language could benefit your organization please get in touch with Kate Murphy, Plain-language editor at [email protected].

The Wikipedia Project Update

Some time ago, Translators without Borders launched the Wikipedia project together with Wikiproject Medicine and Wikimedia Canada. The aim of this project is to translate 100 selected and reviewed health care Wikipedia articles into 100 languages, and thus create an universal repository of medical knowledge, especially in languages where good health information is scarce and hard to get.

We are proud to announce that we have released the first article into Quechua (ócica_kaqqa ) and K’iche’ (ócica ). A second article, on Croup, is being translated in these two languages and into Guarani.

The deployed article deals with Streptococcal pharyngitis and it was first translated by Susana Rosselli into simplified Spanish and then by the teams coordinated by the Spanish company IDISC into these Native American languages.

Thanks to this deployment, the Wikimedia Foundation created an incubator Wiki for K’ichi. A Wiki incubator is a wiki where content can be added and read, but it does not become a full Wiki until there is a certain amount of content and a certain size of community to manage it. 

If you know of people interested in the development of Quechua and K’iche’ please let them know about this development. They could become active in the corresponding versions of Wikipedia, and in particular help turn the K’iche’ incubator into a full-fledged Wikipedia page.

Translators without Borders would be also delighted to receive volunteer translators into any Native American language.

NGO Spotlight: Norlha

Norlha was founded in 2005, in Switzerland, and today has delegations in several European countries. This secular NGO, whose membership consists mainly of private individuals from all walks of life, provides development assistance through various projects in Tibetan areas of China, in Bhutan and in Nepal, in cooperation with local partners, with an aim to help communities achieve self-sufficiency. Norlha works with Translators without Borders for the translation of documents mainly to and from French and English, as well as French into German and Spanish.

NorlhaNorlha’s Partnerships Manager and Gender Equality Coordinator, Cosima Thommen, spoke with us about her work and the NGO’s partnership with Translators without Borders. “I seek out project financing and establish partnerships with organizations that share our vision and goals, in order to create a bridge of solidarity between the Swiss Alps and the Himalayas. My team and I also develop a regional program for Himalayan women which promotes gender equality, strengthening the role of women in the region’s development. Before my current position, I spent a year and a half in the Tibetan regions of China as Norlha’s Program Director for China. My degrees are in project management and Chinese, so being able to contribute to the improvement of living conditions in the Himalayas with Norlha is a great pleasure!

Thanks to Translators without Borders’ work for Norlha, the NGO has been able to reduce their operating expenses, freeing up funds that may then go directly to Norlha projects. As Thommen explains, “Translators without Borders has helped us improve the quality of our communications and our financing efforts, thanks to well-written texts with correct terminology. Recently, Translators without Borders helped us translate a presentation of one of our projects in Nepal, and with that, we were able to gain initial financing for it! TWB also helped us translate our 2012 annual report from French into English, an excellent communication tool that we will be able to use to introduce Norlha to even more people.”

Norlha benefits from local personnel in the Himalayas for translation into regional dialects. “We mainly [request Translators without Borders to] translate from French into English, German, and Spanish, and from English into French. In the regions where we work, there are dozens of local dialects. With our personnel on the ground, we are able to translate documents for improving knowledge on hygiene, environmental protection, and so forth.” These communication tools are essential towards meeting Norlha’s goals of improved healthcare, nutrition, education, and the environmental conditions for indigenous populations.

By Anna Stevenson, Owner/Editor at Editions Amnis

Five Success Strategies for Non-Profits Needing Translations

Volunteer translators dedicate only a part of their time to unpaid humanitarian activities, and this scarce resource is also demanded by other projects and organizations. This means that there may be translation requests that will not be fulfilled.

To improve the odds that your requests for help will be accepted, you should do your best to make the projects attractive to the volunteer translators. Some success strategies are presented in this article.

You need an appealing project

You are asking for a donation of someone’s skill and time, and you need to explain why it is needed. To do so, you should create a project name, summary and description that all explain why the translation will make a difference by helping mitigate damages or risks, by improving education, and so on. Whenever possible, include details such as the nature of the “event” behind the need (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, civil war outbreaks), the location, the people that will benefit by the project’s deliverables, and so forth.

Provide a reasonable deadline

The choice of the right deadline is a critical factor for project acceptance by the volunteers. In general, more available time means a more likely acceptance. A week is reasonable for documents of up to 2,000 words, but longer times should be considered for larger files. If shorter deadlines are really needed it may be helpful to explain the reasons behind the urgency.

Format should be user-friendly

Format is paramount for a translator. Protected documents are not translatable. PDF files are not compatible with translation tools. PDF files can sometimes be extracted into other formats but this extraction is extra work, and most probably the page layout will be affected, sometimes severely. If you locate the editable document used to create the PDF, you will greatly improve the chances that your translation request will be accepted by volunteers. You will also improve the quality and delivery time of the translation.

Instructions should be complete

Clearly state your needs when you create the translation request. Remember to include all relevant information, such as local variant of the target language to be used, register, and educational level of the people who will use the translation. Most translators working into Iberian Portuguese will decline a text that is supposed to be translated into Brazilian Portuguese, so this information should be available from the start. Also consider adding reference material that could be useful to the translators. Glossaries, similar translated documents, common acronyms and the like will make the translators happier and will result in a better translation.

Build a relationship

Volunteer translators are generous individuals willing to donate their time and professional expertise for a humanitarian cause, and they should not be taken for granted. Remember to thank them. Be quick to answer their queries and to share any good feedback received about their translations. Whenever possible, acknowledge their work within your

Volunteer translators are generous individuals willing to donate their time and professional expertise for a humanitarian cause, and they should not be taken for granted. Remember to thank them. Be quick to answer their queries and to share any good feedback received about their translations. Whenever possible, acknowledge their work within your organization, on our Facebook page and in social media. In short, build a two-way relationship — the best success strategy in Translators without Borders as well as in life.

Bblog authory Enrique Cavalitto from