Presented by: Lisa Hew
Lisa Hew is a Japanese>English translator specializing in law and marketing. She has been translating for more than 15 years, including eight years at a Japanese law firm and three years at a Japanese fashion house. She started freelancing in 2011 and established Belle Translation Japan, Ltd. in 2014. She has given presentations at the meetings of the Japan Association of Translators and the Japan Translation Federation.
Summary Written by: Hajime Sato
As many of you know, Lisa is a prominent member of the JLD. If you were at the JLD’s annual meeting and heard her “pep talk,” you’d know that she is an excellent speaker with a great sense of humor, and that she is passionate about what she does.
Lisa was born and raised in Canada and studied East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. She first came to Japan in 1993 and studied Japanese at Nichibei Kaiwa Gakuin and Sophia University. After graduating from the University of Toronto, she returned to Japan. In 2003, Lisa joined TMI Associates, one of the largest law firms in Japan, and developed her skills and specialization as a legal translator. Lisa is now the Principal of Belle Translation Japan, Ltd., a translation company she established in 2014.
Based solely on the session’s title and Lisa’s personality, I was certain that this session would be interesting and useful, but I was not prepared to be blown away. In this fast-paced presentation, Lisa outlined the important principles of Plain Legal English (PLE) and turned my world upside down. I have been translating legal documents for many years, but I was completely unaware of the PLE movement and its principles. I had thought that it was a good thing if I could write in English like an American attorney would, using phrases like “hereinafter” and “any and all.” (Oh, no!)
According to Lisa, and now I agree, that kind of thinking is old and misguided. I feel some instinctive resistance to PLE and expect many English-speaking attorneys will, too, because it goes against pretty much everything we’ve been doing. But, after Lisa’s presentation, I am convinced that PLE is pointing to the right direction. We legal translators should follow the PLE principles and encourage our clients to do so as well. Here are the main points of PLE, as presented by Lisa.
- The goal of PLE is to increase readability without decreasing accuracy. Your writing should be concise and clear. The reader should understand your writing easily by reading it once.
- The five things to avoid are:
- Use concise variance (e.g. “regarding” instead of “with regard to”)
- Avoid “of” (e.g. “service commission” instead of “commission of services”)
- Delete words/phrases that do not add any meaning (e.g. “the period” from January to March) even if they are in the source text
- Avoid traditional wording and write plainly (e.g. aforementioned, hereinafter)
- Avoid bureaucratese (e.g. such, said, foregoing)
- Avoid long words (e.g. “notice” instead of “notification”)
- Avoid “shall” and use “must”, unless you use it consistently to mean “has a duty to”
- Redundancy (e.g. “aid and abet,” “indemnify and hold harmless”)
- Just pick one.
- Nominalization (nouns formed from verbs)
- Think “what is the action?” and “who is doing it?” and write simply.
- Example: “decide” instead of “make a decision”
- Active over passive (e.g. “excludes” instead of “not included”)
- Keep related elements close (dates, adverbs, relative clauses, “only”)
- Present tense over future tense
- No run-on sentences
- Ideal average sentence length is 20 words
- Takes more than one breath to read aloud? > Separate
- More than one subjects? > Separate
- More than one concepts? > Separate
- Singular over plural (if singular has a broader scope)
- Don’t use “the” unless it is necessary.
- Don’t use “and/or.” Pick one.
- “a/an” over “any”
- Principal clause up front
Although her session was packed with information, Lisa made it easy to follow because she spoke clearly and used the PowerPoint slides effectively. It also helped that she made us laugh a lot with her inimitable sense of humor. Well done, Lisa, and thank you.
Suggested reading: Bryan A. Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English