Language focus | 08.10.2012

EU lacking in up-and-coming translators

The EU Commission is awash with languages. If the current trend is set to continue, however, it will become increasingly difficult to cope with the 23 official languages of the European Union. 2,500 translators and interpreters are already working flat out in order to process the ever increasing amount of draft legislation, case studies etc.

Neither is it always that simple to find a suitable translator or interpreter for each language combination. Native speakers of Czech who can translate from Maltese are not exactly in huge supply. In such cases the translation or interpreting will have to be carried out using so-called relay languages. This means that the Maltese original, for example, will be translated into English, and then from English into Czech.

Even though the major languages, such as English, German or French, are relatively well covered at present there is concern for the future. Most students in the Nordic countries are taught only one foreign language (usually English). Working for the EU Commission, however, requires knowledge of at least two foreign languages.

In the German speaking countries the problem is not so much lack of numbers as lack of knowledge with regard to spelling and usage of the native language. These areas should, of course, also be strongly emphasised.

In the UK foreign languages are no longer taught as compulsory subjects, but only on a voluntary basis. And even when British people do speak a foreign language they would rather apply their knowledge in the private sector where the pay is much better. All the EU Commission can do to tempt them is to promise a certain amount of job security.

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