European texts and readability

Undoubtedly, the European Union (EU) has become a reason for many people to quarrel many times. One of the problems is the lack of readability of texts produced within the EU and the low quality of their translations into the 23 official languages. More specifically, the EU, and European organizations and institutions must issue the law, decisions, fact sheets and anything related that concerns all citizens of the Member States in every official language. But how feasible is this? How is possible to ensure the quality of the EU documents in all the official languages?

In order to answer these questions, we should study the EU policy concerning the text composition – and by extension translation. In particular, we analyzed the readability of 20 European directives in English by the electronic tool Advanced Text Analyzer. This is a text analysis tool that captures the degree of readability by indicators Gunning Fog Index, Coleman-Liau Grade, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Flesch Reading Ease, ARI, SMOG and LIX. The aforementioned indicators calculate the reading difficulty of a text, primarily on the extent of the proposals and the number of long words, or words containing more than six characters. The results give clear evidence of the difficulty of a text both in relation to the age of the reader and in comparison with the years of training required for understanding and full comprehend the text content.

The 20 European directives analyzed have low readability. More specifically, the indicators Gunning Fog Index, Flesch Reading Ease and LIX characterize the 20 instructions hard to read. According to Coleman-Liau Grade index, these instructions are addressed to the 14th grade readers, meaning readers that are over 22 years old. Similarly, the index SMOG notes that the average reader of these instructions must be about 29 years to fully understand the content of European legislation. Additionally, the index Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level calculated not only the age but also the educational level of readers and concludes that the readers of these texts must have attended postgraduate studies in order to be able to understand these texts. Finally, according to the ARI index the readership must be an 78th grade in average and have wider knowledge.

Concluding these results and comparing it to the quality level of the European texts, we can say that these texts have been fairly accused of lack of clarity, precision and purity of meanings. Their hybrid character, which comes from the multilingual environment in where these texts are prepared, as well as neologisms, linguistic loans and jargon are some of the characteristics of European texts. Taking into consideration that  the authors of the European texts are not necessarily native speakers of the written language, as well as the fact that these documents are not reviewed or controlled by native speakers, it is easy to understand that the quality of the European texts is not guaranteed.

In conclusion, it is clear that the quality of EU texts should be elevated in order for them to be addressed to everyone, or at least to the residents of the Euro Zone area and the wider population. Clarity, simplicity, accuracy, consistency, use of active voice, and attention to the use of acronymic words are just some of the elements that need to be given special emphasis by the authors of the European texts. Thus, the EU instruments will become more effective and understood by the general public, which should be their purpose all along.

Karantzi Ismini

Graduate student of the Foreign Languages Department of Translation and Interpretation


Indicative bibliography:

  • European Union. 2011. How to Write Clearly [online]. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available from:

  • Gibová, K. 2009. EU Translation as the Language of a Reunited Europe Reconsidered. In Language, Literature and Culture in a Changing Transatlantic World. Proceedings of the International Conference. Prešov: Prešov University.
  • Lönnroth, K.J. 2009. Translation and quality control: how to get the message across. Stockholm: Öppenhet och klarspråk i EU.
  • Sosoni, B. 2012. A Hybrid Translation Theory for EU Texts. Vertimo Studijos 5
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