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Choosing the right lexis for the audience - texts for children

Initial thoughts
What sort of language do we use when speaking to children?
How do we change our vocabulary (lexis)?
What sorts of words do we not say?
How do we change our sentences?
In children's books, what sorts of graphological features are used?
How are ideas linked together in writing for children?

When we are writing a text for a new audience we need to consider how to use
language in different ways in order to suit the audience. We must ask:

• How do we need to change the structure and organisation of the text?


• How do we need to change the way the text engages with its audience?
• How do we need to change the vocabulary and combinations of words?

TASK ONE
Make notes on how you would write an extract for an educational reference book
entitled Unusual Trees of the World. The reference book is aimed at young children
aged around 8.

Below is the source text – it is taken from a Tasmanian Forestry Commission leaflet
and is aimed at an adult audience.

Huon pine (Lagarastrobos franklinii, formally Dacrydium franklinii) is the only


member of the genus of Lagarostrobos in Tasmania, and is related to species in
Chile, Malaysia and New Zealand. It is endemic to Tasmania, ie it grows
naturally in Tasmania and nowhere else.

Huon pine is easily recognised by its feathery foliage and hanging branches; it is
similar in appearance to the common cypress.

Huon pine produces pollen and seeds in small, inconspicuous cones with male
and female cones on separate trees
Here's an example of an answer to this task

UNUSUAL TREES OF THE WORLD: THE HUON PINE

What?
The Huon Pine.
Where from? Tasmania.

Any relatives? Yes! You can find them in the following countries:
• Chile, in South America
• Malaysia, in Southern Asia
• New Zealand, near Australia

How to recognise me:


Easy! Look out for:
• Leaves that look like feathers
• Hanging branches
• I look like the common cypress (see page 27)

Seeds
Most trees produce seeds. A seed is what you plant on the ground so that the tree can grow. The
seeds live with pollen (the fluffy things that can make some people allergic) in small cones, on the
tree’s branches. Some Huon Pines have male cones (boy cones) and others have female cones (girl
cones).

TASK TWO
Jot down the features which you think are really effective here:
TASK THREE
The writer produced this detailed commentary on what was done. Highlight the
comments which are about vocabulary.

Firstly, the layout of the text is highly unappealing for a young child. In the transformed text the
information has been structured into sections with bold titles so it is visually easier to follow,
allowing the child to read the text without losing concentration. Some of the subheadings have
been turned into questions, since we assume the child is following an enquiring process by reading
this information. Secondly, the sentence structure has been reduced, the longest in the edited
text being 15 words and the shortest one word. By contrast, the shortest sentence of the original
text is a 14-word sentence, and the longest, 29. This syntactical change in the structure of the
text is basic to enable the intended audience to read the information. Bullet points have also been
introduced to show similar elements in an orderly structure. Pictures and visual aids (maps, etc)
are a very effective way of conveying and illustrating the information in an educational way. These
have been added to the right hand side of the text, which means there is no need to provide
captions for the reader, hence minimising the amount of text to provide only what is necessary
for its intended audience.

To build and maintain a relationship with the intended audience of the edited text I chose to add
some punctuation that would bring the text alive, making it sound as if the writing is, in a way,
‘talking’ to the child. Some sections are introduced by questions (what?) and even answered
emphatically with an exclamation mark (Yes!). Furthermore, the second person pronoun ‘you’ makes
it clear that the intended reader is being addressed, building a relationship with the
writer/editor of the text.

I have tried to provide the child with any knowledge that s/he might not yet have, such as where
is Tasmania (using the map of the world), pointing out where the different places are in relation
to the map of the world (Chile, in South America), without any assumption on the child’s
knowledge. Assuming the other tree type is in the book, I have provided a fictional page number
that allows the child to further his/her inquisitive nature and find out more about the cypress. In
order to make the information more approachable, I have personalised the tree and made it speak
to the child (How to recognise me), in an attempt to make the text more child-friendly. In
addition to this technique, I thought a simile would be an appropriate use of imagery to explain
what a Huon Pine looks like (a cypress), again providing a picture to illustrate it in a more visual
way.
For an eight-year old, it would be impossible to understand the source text, due to the
complexity of its semantic and lexical choices. Words taken directly from Latin (Lagarastrobos
franklinii), science-related jargon (genus, endemic) or abstractions (inconspicuous, separate)
make this text incomprehensible to an eight-year old. I have decided to omit all Latin words and
to offer synonyms (substitutions) for the jargon or the abstractions to make the text accessible,
i.e. leaves instead of foliage, and the simile looks like feathers instead of feathery. I also felt
that some explanation (additions) ought to be provided when describing the reproduction process,
such as what the seeds are used for, and exactly where the cones are in the tree. To make it
more related to their experience, I decided to write about relatives, instead of genus or species;
also the explanation given on pollen reflects their social interaction with pollen-allergic people (if
they are not allergic themselves). There was also the need to provide a synonym (addition) for
male and female (boy/girl) in brackets, in the case the child is unsure what those words mean.