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Illiteracy: more common than you might think

I have studied in French literature at a university level, and one of the things I have realized is that, behind every copy or text, lie an author, a message and a reader. I would argue that the reader is the most important of the three. As a professional translator, I never forgive that someone is going to read my work and my craft.

A novel might be addressed to a specific audience, a movie script will work in a different way than a novel and your everyday email you sent to your employees might be boring to read. It is not a movie script or a novel, after all, but still, you are putting efforts into it because it’s informational; it needs to be read.

The readers, who are they?

Your reader might be many things: they can be a potential customer, a potential business partner, your next big opportunity. Your reader may have 5 seconds to give you, they may have a minute or five minutes. They may have more if they are really interested in what you are offering them.

They can also have a form of illiteracy in one way or the other and they are having problems reading and yes, you are writing to them.

“Wait, what? An illiterate reader is my next business opportunity? Why am I writing copies for such a person?”

Let me explain: about 1 in 2 Quebecers (people living in Quebec, ie your target audience if you are reading this blog) is a person who cannot use reading, writing, and calculation skills for his/her own and the community's development. It doesn’t mean that 1 in 2 Quebecers can’t read at all, but they do have some difficulties reading and writing (which varies depending on skills level). That’s a lot of people. Also, according to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 130 million American adults read below a sixth-grade level.

Illiteracy is not a ‘third-world problem’, far from it.

Such a problem creates a very important dilemma in translation land: how do you reach a maximum amount of people without alienating your potential customers and business partners?

You want to reach your maximum audience and not just 1 in 2 people, right?

Well, there is no easy solution: hire a translator that will see through the copy, through the individual words that needs to be translated, and create a copy in a readable fashion that translates ideas and not simply words. Such a copy will be understood by the most people possible and you will be able to reach out to people that have problems reading. You will have copies and texts that will yield you results.

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