Easy to Read criteria – for all?

In different languages there are different criteria for defining what kind of text is Easy to Read. In Finnish and Tatar, for example, longer words than in English are allowed, because of the structure of the languages. But even if we follow only the English recommendations for Easy to Read, can they be used for all target groups?

Easy to Read books are nowadays read by a broad and varied audience, from people with intellectual disabilities to unused readers, and those who are learning a new language. Should we provide different criteria and various Easy Languages for the diverse reader groups?

A person who is learning English needs another kind of language than a person whose home language is English. The norm and principles for Easy to Read are however general, and they are supposed to be valid for all target groups, who are considered to need Easy to Read literature and texts.

In Sweden every Easy to Read book publisher has their own definitions for language levels. In Finland only Bokpil uses language levels to indicate the level of Easy Language for a book, but the language level definitions are very general. Comparisons between books on the same level shows sometimes fairly big variations both in word choice and structure of sentences.

One serious argument for creating different criteria for various groups of readers is that they need different kinds of language. But can we really define exactly what the real needs are? In Bokpil’s experience, they are first and foremost individual. Within a group of ten people who are supposed to need Easy to Read books there are at least ten different kinds of individual characteristics.

Different readers read differently

For a person who is conscious about language, an Easy to Read text could seem stiff and too simple, as no “fine language” is used. But for a reader with challenges this is not so: they do not appreciate the finery. A reader who is learning the language or has difficulties with reading does not react on the “loss” of fancy words. On the contrary – a complex vocabulary would only disturb the reading.

For persons with reading challenges it is more important to focus on the text and understand it. The choice of words and word order are less important. The readers want primarily to succeed in reading and understanding the contents. An Easy to Read book must be sufficiently simple and contain few pictures, so that the reader manages to read it to the end. Easy to Read literature enables a reader with reading difficulties to reach the goal – that is, to have read a whole book.

Looking at the individual reader, we find great variations in interests, reading and language skills and the motivation to read. Today the amount of Easy to Read literature is vast, and the number of Easy to Read books grows each year. Therefore we can trust that the readers who need Easy to Read will find suitable books in a language they can understand. We do not need different criteria for various groups, but much more literature written by different authors about a lot of various and different topics.

The project LäsLätt (ReadEasy) 2.1 for informing about Easy to Read is realised by Bokpil and Colorit ry.rf. and supported by The Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland.

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