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Re: plain/simple/easy language variant subtag

From: Chaals McCathie Nevile <chaals@yandex-team.ru>
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 2015 03:19:29 +0200
Cc: "WAI Interest Group" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
To: "Phill Jenkins" <pjenkins@us.ibm.com>, "Paul Bohman" <paul.bohman@deque.com>
Message-ID: <op.x421yrlus7agh9@widsith.local>
TL;DR: 3 year olds are not very relevant. We want to help people with  
difficulty interpreting the language we use. If we do it well, we can  
explain much more. I.e. increase the accessibility of our communication.

On Wed, 16 Sep 2015 17:20:52 +0200, Paul Bohman <paul.bohman@deque.com>

> Phill and Chaals, with regard to this sentiment: "I agree that  'complex  
> ideas' are
> not the problem.  Nor that its a big problem to explain them in simple
> language."
> I admit that I find that a rather bizarre thing to say.
> Maybe it depends on what you mean by "explain." If you simply want to  
> state something complex in an >easy way, there is almost always a way to  
> convey some parts of a complex idea in a way that it >easier to  
> understand, but that's not the end of the story.

I mean something like that.

> Let's start with the target audience of a three-year-old child, and  
> let's look a list of complex >ideas:
> * Change management theory in large organizations
> * Quantum mechanics
> * Trigonometry
> * The scientific, political, sociological, and ethical considerations of  
> planning a multinational team of astronauts/cosmonauts/etc to Mars to  
> build a permanent human colony
> Can you say something about all of these things in easy terms?


Almost nobody ever tries to explain these things to a three year old.  
There is almost never a good reason to try.

Three-year-olds do not need to know about quantum mechanics, and almost  
never want to. Most three year olds move in small organisations - family,  
village, school. The most important change in organisations they know is  
probably divorce or separation. That changes families a lot. Something  
like that is when someone dies.

It happens a lot, and lots of people explain it to three year olds. Some  
better than others, of course.

I don't think "explaining very complicated things to three year olds" is  
the most important problem.

What about explaining trigonometry to a high school student with dyslexia

and discalculia

Someone who wants to make clothes, and needs to work out how much cloth to  
ask for.

You can use maths to find out the smallest amount of cloth you need to  
making a skirt. If you were good at maths in high school, you might know  
how to do this the way a maths teacher would do it.

Maybe you know that, even if you were not good at maths. Maybe your maths  
teacher wasn't very clever, and didn't understand that what you were  
explaining was maths, because you had a way of doing it the she or he  
didn't know. (This happens a lot, too).

Let's start with a skirt that is sometimes called a "full skirt". It is  
called that, because it is made of a whole circle, with a hole in the  
middle. If you put the skirt on, by putting your waist in the hole in the  
middle, then the edges of the circle all fall down toward the ground when  
you are standing up.

Because you are in the middle, all the edges fall down about the same  
amount. So maybe to your knees, or to your feet. Maybe it is too long, and  
goes past your feet! Or too short, and doesn't cover your underpants even  
if you want it to!

So let's make a skirt that covers your knees, but not so long that you  
fall over because you step on it when you are wearing it.

If we get a circle of cloth that is the right size, we can make the skirt.  
But it is very hard to buy cloth in circles. It costs a lot more money.  
The easy way to buy cloth is in rectangles. We can make circles from  
rectangles of cloth, in lots of ways. So that is alright.

But we don't want the skirt to cost a lot of money if we can make it  
cheaper. The bigger the rectangle of cloth we buy, the more it costs. So  
we want to find out how to make the same skirt, but from a smaller  


Now you have life experience that requires trig, will obviously benefit  
 from algebra, and various ways to explain from here - whether simply, or  
using "real" maths to derive the formula for finding the minimum we are  
looking for (don't forget the seams, and buy enough thread!).

Not many three-year-olds care how a skirt gets made. Not many adults  
really, either. But some of the people who do care will understand the  
ideas as presented so far, until the word "trig". Being able to explain  
the rest might involve teaching formal mathematics, which takes longer  
than giving people a rough trick for having a new skirt tomorrow night.

Somewhere in the middle is being able to decide whether to make a  
full-circle skirt, or just go with a semi-circle, which costs half as  
much. It will be a bit shorter - but it would take about 3 paragraphs of  
text like those above to explain how to work out *how* much shorter, and  
it is late.

> Yes. Can you truly convey the detailed nuances of these topics to a  
> three-year-old? No. Meaning will be lost. You will simply fail to convey  
> much of the meaning.
> Part of the reason that you will fail is because the ideas are complex.


> Another reason you will fail is because there is a body of knowledge  
> that a person must have as background knowledge in order to understand  
> the concepts. The concepts may in fact be simple to someone who has the  
> necessary background knowledge, but may be completely incomprehensible  
> to someone without the necessary background knowledge.

This is not the same problem. I was a three-year-old, and people explained  
trigonometry to me. It took about 18 years. They also explained counting  
things, and shapes, and how to find out things about shapes by counting.

If you try to explain ideas to people, you need to start from where they  

> It reminds me of what Carl Sagan once said: "If you want to make an  
> apple pie from scratch... you must first invent the universe." And he's  
> right, of course, in the most literal sense.
> When explaining any of the things in my list above, for some people, you  
> could start with the concept.

You can always start with the concept. Sometimes you don't have to explain  
the whole concept - people who need some trigonometry for dressmaking  
might not need the same thorough grounding in Euclidean Geometry as people  
who need it for teaching maths, while people who need it for programming  
air traffic control systems fall somewhere in the middle of those two.

We can think of communication as a way to get someone with a given concept  
to "build on it". If I want to show how clever I am at speaking english, I  
can adduce arcane vocabulary to plausible neologisms and peripatetic  
heterogenous syntactic construction. If I want to tell someone how to  
proffer rhetorical obfuscation like an expensive lawyer, I can tell them  
to use old words, make up words people understand, by building them from  
words or bits of words people already know and putting them together so  
they have one clear meaning, and then say things in very roundabout ways,  
using all the different ways in english to put sentences together.

> For other people, you have to start by giving them life experience. Good  
> luck with that.

Parents and teachers do it all the time. What's the problem?


Charles McCathie Nevile - web standards - CTO Office, Yandex
    chaals@yandex-team.ru - - - Find more at http://yandex.com
Received on Thursday, 17 September 2015 01:20:08 UTC

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