The Communication Project – Proposal to ease written communication in international contexts

Di Carlo Eugeni e Allen Rotz


Il Communication Project dell’Intersteno è volto ad agevolare la comunicazione interna alla Federazione Internazione per il Trattamento dell’Informazione e della Comunicazione. È stato pensato per superare le barriere linguistiche presenti tra i membri della Federazione, provenienti da 30 paesi diversi, nei momenti più alti della vita associativa. Il progetto, portato avanti dal Comitato Scientifico dell’Intersteno, consiste nel mettere insieme il Plain Language nella propria lingua materna e la traduzione automatica. Grazie ai progressi tecnologici e alla condivisione di molte conoscenze tra i membri della Federazione è possibile colmare eventuali errori commessi nell’uso del Plain Language da parte dei singoli membri. Il sistema, qui illustrato, è applicabile sia alla comunicazione scritta, sia alla comunicazione orale plurilingue, specialmente nei momenti in cui si usa l’inglese come lingua veicolare.

  1. Introduction

The International Federation for Information and Communication Processing INTERSTENO is the only global association that brings together professionals, scholars, software houses, teachers and experts in diametric translation, i.e. the process that leads to the production of a written text starting from an oral text or vice versa[1]. While covering many transcription practices in its broadest sense – from dictation to note-taking, including subtitling, linguistic transcription, reporting and audiovisual translation – most Intersteno members are delegations from over 40 nations of the world and individual members, fundamentally experts in court and parliamentary reporting, that is practices that are strictly intralinguistic (translation from spoken to written form in the same language). Therefore, communication between the various members of the Federation is not always simple, especially in the highest moments of the life of the federation, such as the world competitions, the council and the assembly.

To try to solve the communication problems between the various members of the Intersteno, whose vehicular language is de facto English, the scientific committee has been in charge of carrying out the Communication Project, aimed at facilitating communication between the various members, thanks also to technological progress that allows to have particularly accurate machine translation software. Thanks to recent studies on the subject [2], it has been found that the most recurrent errors that they make are essentially due to syntactic order. So, in order to solve most of the problems due to a bad automatic translation, it was decided to capitalize on the North American experience of plain English. Plain English is a simplification of the English language so that the Public Administration can communicate more easily with citizens, especially foreigners. From this, we understand that it is not a matter of trivializing the language or of a limited code, but of a more linear way of expression that guarantees the possibility of expressing any concept. The task of the scientific committee was to develop guidelines for Intersteno members so that they can write in Plain Language, valid for as many languages as languages. After that, it will be enough to automatically translate the text by means of an automatic transcription software[3] and send the text to the receiver(s) in the form of an e-mail, a text message or a subtitle. The comprehension of an English text will be possible by automatically translating it with the same automatic transcription software into their language. Any errors will be compensated by the contextual, sectoral, or encyclopaedic knowledge of the user.

In this article we will first illustrate the guidelines produced by the scientific committee to write or speak in Plain Italian (§2) and then we will apply them to a text produced in different languages ​​(§3).


  1. Plain Language

“A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information”[4]. By Plain Language we mean here the adaptation of the guidelines developed internationally to the purpose of the Communication Project valid for as many languages as possible. In this chapter ten rules are proposed which allow to write in Plain Language.

  • Express one concept per paragraph

People tend to write as they speak and sometimes to speak as they write. However, spoken and written language are two different communication systems although they belong to the same language. So, instead of expressing two or three concepts within the same sentence, try to communicate one thing at a time. Instead of:

John, whom I have been knowing since ages, is a good friend who will come and visit me at my parents’ house which is located in Umbria, where Ed Sheeran decided to live because he thinks London is too chaotic.


John is a good friend of mine. I know him since we were boys. He will come and visit me at my parents’ house. They live in Umbria, where Ed Sheeran decided to live, because he thinks that London is too chaotic.

  • Prefer short sentences (max one verb, if possible)

Similarly, prefer just one verb per sentence. This may seem odd at the beginning because you may be used to a given rhetorical style. However, precisely because different languages have different rhetoric, the more you simplify your syntax, the easier Itwill be for you to communicate with people who do not share your culture. Remember: you will not look less intelligent if you simplify your language. You will look smarter. And you will be better and more quickly understood! So, instead of:

Given that today it’s 40°C, the Mayor, after consulting the Council, decided to close schools.


Today it’s 40°C. That is why the Mayor consulted the Council. They decided to close schools.

  • Use punctuation only to discriminate sentences

People tend to associate the use of punctuation to the natural pauses in spoken language. However, this may result in ambiguous formulations. That is why we recommend to use punctuation only when grammatically needed. . Avoid semicolon which can be used differently according to languages. Instead of:

Today, in Italy, unemployment is increasing, youngsters are emigrating, and economy regresses.


Today in Italy unemployment is decreasing. Youngsters are leaving. Economy regresses.

There are three cases where commas are necessary from a grammar standpoint:

LISTS OF ELEMENTS: I have eaten potatoes, onions, melon, and an ice-cream.

including VERB GROUPS: I am a boy, do the cleaning and go shopping.

SPLIT CLAUSES: I have eaten a lot, because I was hungry.

including PARENTHETICAL CLAUSES: James, who is funny, helped me a lot.


In a series of three or more, always use a comma before “and”:

The proceeds of the estate will be shared equally between Tom, Jane, and John.

VOCATIVES (names addressing people) AND HOLOPHRASES (words expressing clauses):

(vocatives): Franca, do you mind closing the door?

(holophrases) Hello, how are you? Fine, are you fine too? Yes, thanks, I like you.

In Plain Language LISTS OF VERB GROUPS, PARENTHETICAL CLAUSES and SYNTACTICAL ODDITIES should be avoided and more syntactical linearity should be preferred (cf. §2.1 and §2.5).

  • Use coherence whenever possible

Coherence is what makes a text in general and the relations between sentences comprehensible. This means that the more you use coherence, the more people will understand your text while reading and do not get lost. Instead of:

Real-time transcriptions are mainly done through respeaking. Stenotyping is costy.


Real-time transcriptions are mainly done through respeaking because stenotyping is costy.

  • Prefer linear syntax

Another element which is specific to every single language is syntax. However, almost all languages accept a more linear word order. The most common one is SVO (Subject, Verb, Object). If possible, use this syntactical order to construct your sentences. Instead of:

Pizza, with John I ate it, in London


In London I ate pizza with John.

  • Prefer active form

Another characteristic which varies according to languages is the use of the passive form instead of the active form. If you want to be clear, it is better to signal who is doing what through the use of the active form. That is why it is preferred to avoid the passive form in plain language. Instead of:

In Plain Language the active form is preferred.


In Plain Language we prefer the active form.

  • Avoid anaphora and cataphora (use of grammatical elements to recall a word)

When you change the word order of a sentence, you need to use a grammatical element (usually a pronoun) to bridge the gap. Since this may cause misunderstandings, and is easily avoidable, instead of:

John, I saw him in Budapest.


I saw John in Budapest.

  • Avoid ambiguous words and technicalities

Some words are ambiguous in many languages such as “make”, “do”, “thing”. Some words are ambiguous in only one language. However, even technicalities can be ambiguous. That is why it is preferred to use words in their more specific sense and not in the most used one. So prefer “shorthand” or “stenotyping” to “stenography”; “live” and “semi-live” to “real-time” subtitles; and “speech recognition” when “voice recognition” means “automatic transcription of a spoken text”.

  • Avoid acronyms

Acronyms can be specific to a culture. Even within a restricted community (ex: Intersteno) people use different acronyms for the same concept (ex: ASR, CART, AT, CAT, STT). To avoid ambiguities, even in communication among colleagues, write all the words of an acronym when it is first used. Maybe again if the acronym appears pages later.

  • Avoid colloquial or typically culture-oriented terms

Colloquial phrases are those that have a clear meaning to the native speakers of a language but are incomprehensible to others. This is true for syntactical, semantic, and lexical expressions. For example, in Italian the expression “Più sono e meglio è” means “the more they are, the better it is”. However, the verb “sono” may mean both “they are” and “I am”. Unfortunately, Google Translate does not know this scheme and proposes the following as a translation: “The more I am, the better it is”. An example of mistranslated semantic expression is the English trope: “I got lost”, which is translated in Russian as “я потерял” which means “I lost”. The same problems are caused by so-called multiple-meaning words, such as “demonstrate”, which can mean both “to show how something works” and “to protest”.

Avoid all expressions that are semantically, syntactically, and lexically ambiguous and try to make sentences as “international” as possible. By doing so, even Google Translate will produce good results when translating a text into English or any other language.

  1. Applicazione a un caso concreto

In this paragraph the above-mentioned rules will be applied to a concrete case. Follows the introduction to the Communication Project as presented at the Intersteno Scientific Committee meeting at the 51st Congress[5]. On the left the text in Plain German, Plain Italian, Plain French, and Plain Spanish. On the right their automatic translation.

Meine Damen und Herren, in den nächsten 5 Minuten möchte ich über Kommunikation sprechen. Wenn wir mit Freunden chatten, missverstehen sie manchmal unseren Text. Warum? Denn die gesprochene Sprache ist nicht die gleiche wie die schriftliche Sprache. Gesprochene Sprache ist viel reicher als geschriebene Sprache. Ladies and gentlemen, in the next 5 minutes I would like to talk about communication. When we chat with friends, sometimes they misunderstand our lyrics. Why? Because the spoken language is not the same as the written language. Spoken language is much richer than written language.
Facciamo un esempio. I politici italiani spesso usano strane parole e una sintassi complessa. Se le persone ascoltano uno di loro, lo capiranno comunque. Questo perché la lingua parlata è ricca di elementi non verbali. Questi strumenti non verbali aiutano la comunicazione. Tuttavia, la lingua scritta non ha tutti questi strumenti. Questo è il motivo per cui, se le stesse persone leggono la trascrizione di quello stesso discorso, avranno problemi a capirlo. Let’s take an example. Italian politicians often use strange words and a complex syntax. If people listen to one of them, they will understand anyway. This is because the spoken language is rich in non-verbal elements. These non-verbal tools help communication. However, the written language does not have all these tools. This is why, if the same people read the transcription of that same speech, they will have problems understanding it.
Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? Ça veut dire que la communication parlée n’est pas la même chose que la communication écrite. De plus si nous parlons à des personnes qui ne comprennent pas notre langue, nous pouvons résoudre le problème avec les interprètes ou les traducteurs. Mais ceci est souvent impossible. La solution que nous cherchons dans le comité scientifique de l’Intersteno réside dans l’emploi du Plain Language . What does it mean? It means that spoken communication is not the same thing as written communication. In addition if we talk to people who do not understand our language, we can solve the problem with the interpreters or translators. But this is often impossible. The solution we are looking for in the Intersteno Scientific Committee is the use of Plain Language.
Nuestra idea es la siguiente: todos nos otros hemos tratado de traducir automaticamente un email del alemán al inglés. El resultado fue muy malo. Y pensamos que el traductor de Google no funciona. Sin embargo, pensamos que el problema es que el texto del email no fue escrito del modo que le gusta a Google. Por ello, si se escribe un texto en su lengua en una forma simplificada que llameremos “Plain Language”, el traductor de Google lo traducirá en inglés de forma comprensible. Our idea is this: all of us have tried to automatically translate an email from German to English. The result was very bad. And we think that the Google translator does not work. However, we think that the problem is that the email text was not written in the way that Google likes. Therefore, if you write a text in your language in a simplified form that we will call “Plain Language”, the Google translator will translate it in English in an understandable way.


  1. Conclusions

Le linee guida del Communication Project dell’Intersteno sono un utile strumento per la comunicazione internazionale mediata dalla traduzione automatica. Come è possibile vedere dagli esempi riportati nel paragrafo 3, basta applicare queste regole per ottenere delle traduzioni automatiche del tutto comprensibili. In alcuni casi, sono stati prodotti degli errori, ma si tratta di casi sporadici e del tutto trascurabili. In generale gli esempi appena riportati dimostrano che l’uso delle linee guida dell’Intersteno per produrre testi in Plain Language porta a traduzioni del tutto comprensibili indipendentemente dal fatto che la Plain Language sia una lingua affine (in questo caso spagnolo e francese) o una lingua proveniente da ceppi linguistici diversi (in questo caso inglese e tedesco). L’applicazione del Communication Project nella comunicazione scritta è possibile semplicemente scrivendo il testo in Plain Language nella finestra di destra di Google Traduttore e copia-incollando la traduzione sul supporto elettronico che si desidera utilizzare per comunicare con il ricevente. Alla stessa maniera, è possibile comunicare oralmente con il ricevente anche attraverso la lingua orale, dettando il testo a Google Traduttore. Il software di riconoscimento automatico del parlato ad esso collegato trascriverà la voce in testo scritto che sarà poi tradotto automaticamente sottoforma scritta che il ricevente può o leggere direttamente o ascoltare grazie a una sintesi vocale. Tuttavia il software di riconoscimento automatico del parlato comporta ancora alcune criticità che non permettono una traduzione automatica pienamente soddisfacente, specialmente se i suoi risultati sono da associare a un altro software automatico (quello di traduzione). Pertanto è ancora consigliabile utilizzare le linee guida sopra esposte limitandone l’uso alla comunicazione scritta o alla comunicazione orale mediata da un sottotitolatore in tempo reale professionista. The Intersteno Communication Project guidelines are a useful tool for international communication mediated by automatic translation. As you can see from the examples given in paragraph 3, it is sufficient to apply these rules to obtain fully understandable automatic translations. In some cases, errors have been produced, but these are sporadic and negligible cases. Moreover, it is easy to guess the real intention of the author of the text. In general, the examples above show that the use of the Intersteno guidelines to produce texts in Plain Language leads to completely understandable translations regardless of whether the text written in Plain Language is translated into a sister language (in this case German) or a language descending from a different linguistic group (in this case Italian, French, and Spanish). The application of the Communication Project in written communication is possible by simply writing the text in Plain Language in the left window of Google Translate and copying-pasting the translation on the electronic support that you want to use to communicate with the recipient. Similarly, it is possible to communicate orally with the recipient, by dictating the text to Google Translate. The Automatic Speech Recognition software linked to it will transcribe the voice into written text which will then be automatically translated into the written form that the recipient can either read directly or listen through a speech synthesis. However, the automatic speech recognition software still involves some critical issues that do not allow fully satisfactory automatic translation[6], especially if its results are to be associated with another automatic software (the translation one). Therefore it is still advisable to use the above-mentioned guidelines, by limiting their use to written communication or oral communication mediated by a professional real-time captioner. In this last case, the professional transcribes what is said and the transcription is sent in real time to Google Translate, that provides live subtitles.

[1] Gottlieb, Henrik (2005) “Multidimensional Translation: Semantics turned Semiotics”, in MuTra: challenges of multidimensional translation. Available at (last visit 21/12/2017)

[2] Cf. Manetti, Ilenia (2016) L’univers de la traduction à l’ère numérique. L’interaction homme-machine et les évolutions des logiciels automatiques : une analyse expérimentale. Unpublished BA Thesis. Pisa: SSML.

[3] For the purpose of this study the freeware “Google Translate” was used, available on all languages of Intersteno.

[4] Cf. PLAIN (last visit 21/12/2018).

[5] Cf. (last visit 28/12/2017).

[6] Cf. Manetti, Ilenia (2016) L’univers de la traduction à l’ère numérique. L’interaction homme-machine et les évolutions des logiciels automatiques : une analyse expérimentale. Unpublished BA thesis. Pisa : SSML.

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