Ritva Hartama-Heinonen & Leealaura Leskelä: Training future Easy Language adapters

In contrast to certain other countries, Finland does not yet have an officially designed education path for those interested in achieving expertise in Easy Language, even though there is an increasing demand for both education in and research on Easy Language (con)texts. Here, we do not attempt to draft a possible path, but to show how observations from our teaching experiment in translator training at the University of Helsinki can inform the development of instruction and research.

Description of our project

Our teaching experiment was conducted in the Master’s Programme of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Helsinki as part of translation courses from English, French, German, Russian, Spanish or Swedish to Finnish, and as part of the translator students’ Finnish language studies. The students familiarized themselves with Easy Language principles and target readers independently, using supplementary readings and introductory videos on the topic. They also attended an Easy Language expert’s lecture. After this, they adapted Standard Language texts of various genres (informative, journalistic and fictional texts) into Easy Finnish; these were texts they had usually translated into Standard Finnish earlier in the respective translation course. We also asked them to provide process-related reflective commentaries. These adaptations and commentaries formed our research data.

More than 60 students and six to seven university teachers of translation participated in the experiment, which ran over two academic years (2019–2020, 2020–2021). The experiment aimed to develop the translation students’ abilities to adapt different texts into Easy Language, but also to increase the Easy Language expertise of the participating translation teachers and to help them evaluate Easy Language adaptations. An Easy Language expert and researcher was also involved in the project.

After the experiment, we have continued to develop the Easy Language part of translation courses, and students are now regularly given the opportunity to broaden their translation expertise through adaptation tasks. We have also continued to gather research material and to contribute to Easy Language studies.

Some preliminary observations

A general observation we made during the experiment was that the translation students mainly had, or acquired, a sufficient command of the strategic skills required for Easy Language text production (adaptation and translation). In their reflective reports, the students meticulously evaluated their knowledge of Easy Language text production and the challenges they experienced. They also reported how, when adapting a given text for a new readership, they consciously applied relevant techniques, such as omissions, additions and generalizations. As expected, the most obvious challenge they encountered was assessing, and particularly not underestimating, the assumed readers’ level of language and reading skills – a challenge that every Easy Language expert recognizes. This explains why the level of language of the Easy Language adaptations that the students produced was often rather complex.

Our project was characterized by the role of interlingual Easy Language translating. Not much experience on how to translate Easy Language texts from one language to another has yet been gained on the international level, but in Finland, we have a rather long tradition of translating from Easy Finnish into Easy Swedish and vice versa. In the project, our students translated texts from six languages into Easy Finnish, either directly, or first from the other language into Standard Finnish and then into Easy Finnish. In addition, on some other courses the students adapted published Finnish translations of fiction, or texts originally written in Standard Finnish, into Easy Finnish. As a continuation, we have offered a course in which the participants have acquainted themselves with different types of rewriting: they have written texts in Easy Finnish and Easy Swedish and translated them, and have adapted other texts into Easy Swedish or Easy Finnish.

Our general observation was that there are several advantages to perceiving Easy Language text production as a type of translation: certain translation-related terms (such as source/target text, translation strategies, parallel texts, target readers, user-centredness) can be applied, the conception of a reader is similarly nuanced, and the workflows and professionalization processes are comparable. As research on these factors gradually proceeds, we are ready to outline the common ground between translation and Easy Language text production in more detail.

Strengths and weaknesses

While the translation students demonstrated their strengths and weaknesses as future Easy Language adapters, the teachers also noticed the opportunities and potential that the experiment revealed. The experiment also highlighted the translation teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, as they too had to learn what Easy Language and Easy Language adaptation involve. In our case, teaching Easy Language adaptation means fostering students’ interest in the principles of a very complicated skill over a very short time: one adaptation per course.

For the teachers, the experiment raised a logical follow-up question: How can we increase students’ opportunities to get to know the diverse readerships that need Easy Language? In this experiment, we had no experts by experience to consult. Some countries have developed models for Easy Language training courses, in which experts by experience are present as assistant teachers and validators of the texts produced. For example, in Hungary, special pedagogy students practice writing Easy Hungarian under the guidance of experts with intellectual disabilities. Such a model has not been tested in Finland, and was not included in our experiment. Consulting experts by experience on the courses is certainly one way of gaining a deeper understanding of readerships, but this is not easy to organize. One difficulty is that the experts by experience should be recruited from all groups of readers who need Easy Finnish.

The fact that no experts by experience were available in our project reflects the overall situation in Finland. Finland has a quality label system for Easy Language materials (the SELKO symbol granted by the Finnish Centre for Easy Language), with Easy Language experts acting as validators. Those involved in Easy Language work are highly aware of the urgent need to include experts by experience participating in the process of producing Easy Finnish materials, but so far, we have no national model for realizing this on a larger scale.  This constitutes a relevant topic for future research in Finland, and will, we hope, over time enhance teaching.

Fruitful interdisciplinary co-operation – deeper self-understanding

Our teaching project is based on co-operation between students and teachers, as well as between university teachers and Easy Language experts. Our research project in turn stems from co-operation between teachers who represent, in addition to translation studies, linguistics, Easy Language studies, literary studies, terminology, and semiotics, for instance, and who share an interest in promoting accessible communication and inclusive activities. We have all been satisfied with the co-teaching, co-investigating, and co-finding, as they have also deepened our self-understanding.

Ritva Hartama-Heinonen, University of Helsinki
Leealaura Leskelä, University of Helsinki and Selkokeskus (The Finnish Centre for Easy Language)

Publications (with an English abstract) dealing with the project

Hartama-Heinonen, Ritva, Päivi Kuusi, Leealaura Leskelä & Kaarina Pitkänen-Heikkilä 2022. Kääntäjäopiskelijat selkomukauttajina. Opetuskokeilun antia [Translation students as Easy Language adapters: Observations from a teaching experiment]. MikaEL. Kääntämisen ja tulkkauksen tutkimuksen symposiumin verkkojulkaisu 15, 106–120. Available at MikaEL15 – Suomen kääntäjien ja tulkkien liitto (sktl.fi).

Hartama-Heinonen, Ritva, Juha Eskelinen & Mari Pakkala-Weckström 2023. Syysseminaarin satoa. Näkökulmia saavutettavuuteen ja sen opettamiseen [Autumn seminar: Approaches to accessibility and teaching]. MikaEL. Kääntämisen ja tulkkauksen tutkimuksen symposiumin verkkojulkaisu 16, 107–120. Available at MikaEL16 – Suomen kääntäjien ja tulkkien liitto (sktl.fi).

Kuusi, Päivi, Kaarina Pitkänen-Heikkilä, Ritva Hartama-Heinonen, Leealaura Leskelä, Päivi Pasanen & Juha Eskelinen 2023. Selkomukauttaminen käännösstrategioiden valossa. Havaintoja kääntäjänkoulutuksesta [Easy Language adaptation in the light of translation strategies: Findings from translator training]. Virittäjä 127: 1, 90–113. Available at Selkomukauttaminen käännösstrategioiden valossa | Virittäjä (journal.fi).