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The European Commission is facing a serious language interpreting shortage over the next 5-10 years
Thread poster: Alistair Gainey

Alistair Gainey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
Member (2009)
Russian to English
Feb 20, 2009

English, a rare language?

The European Commission is facing a serious language interpreting shortage over the next 5-10 years

The European Commission's interpreting service faces a potential succession crisis for linguists for a number of languages - and a shortage in several others. Without an increase in the number of qualified graduates from interpreter schools and universities, the EU Institutions will lose at least one third of their English language interpreters by 2015 due to retirement – and about half in a ten-year perspective....

Read more here: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/09/74&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:48
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Perfectly OK with me! Feb 20, 2009

Honestly, it would be perfectly OK with me if Spanish politicians could communicate in English in the EU Parliament and in EU institutions. We, all citizens of the EU, are paying the luxury of a host of interpreters just because our politicians are too arrogant or too lazy to speak a common language or a smaller set of languages.

Translating the EU law, decisions, directive and regulations is a must, but spoken conversations should happen in a common language. And if politicians need an interpreter, let's ask them to pay them from their salary and not from our taxes.

[Edited at 2009-02-20 17:13 GMT]


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
Flemish to English
+ ...
Core languages. Feb 20, 2009

Indeed, it would cheaper to do like NATO where English and French are the core languages.
Why don't they apply the same principle to E.P.?
Most MEPs know one of these languages and if they live in Brussels, they are bound to pick up English or French, the one being an official language of the country they sojourn in (during the week), the other being the lingua franca. Otherwise, they won't go far in their daily private life.







[Edited at 2009-02-20 10:50 GMT]


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 00:48
English to Hungarian
+ ...
dead wrong Feb 20, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Honestly, it would be perfectly OK with me if Spanish politicians expressed in English in the EU Parliament and in EU institutions. We, all citizens of the EU, are paying the luxury of a host of interpreters just because our politicians are too arrogant or too lazy to speak a common language or a smaller set of languages.

Translating the EU law, decisions, directive and regulations is a must, but spoken conversations should happen in a common language. And if politicians need an interpreter, let's ask them to pay them from their salary and not from our taxes.


Well, MEPs are directly elected, so you can't expect them all to speak foreign language well enough. If they were forced to use English (and maybe French, but then everyone would have to learn two languages instead of one) there would be massive communication breakdowns. Do you really want to render the EP dysfunctional or remove the direct democratic procedure and send only appointed representatives to the EU?
The idea is more feasible wrt to the Commission but again, do you want experts on tax, fishery or railway infrastructure to make the decisions or people who speak good English and French?
And then the whole EU was founded on the principle of maintaining nation states instead of replacing them with a superstate. The right to use your own language is a key part of that. Otherwise, it simply wouldn't exist.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
Flemish to English
+ ...
Only Hungarian Feb 20, 2009

Just as all others in the "European Circus", MEP's should do a test to see if they are qualified. After all, they get €7000 p.m. net + expenses and travel-costs (to Strassbourg to and fro).
With only Hungarian, Bulgarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Finnish, Swedish, you will go far in Brussels. You will get further with Arabic and Turkish than with those languages
So don't tell me that MEPs don't know any other language. If they want to survive in Brussels and surroundings, they have to know at least 1 foreign language, preferably English or French or German.
Interpreter schools are generalist schools.
During their training, aspiring interpreters may get a text about fisheries to interpret, but they don't learn anything about quota's, railways and fisheries either.


[Edited at 2009-02-20 11:48 GMT]


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 00:48
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
The qualification is the mandate and the votes behind it Feb 20, 2009

Williamson wrote:
MEP's should do a test to see if they are qualified.


Bull.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
Flemish to English
+ ...
Really ? Feb 20, 2009

No bull. A candidate has to be a member of a party.
That party (not, we the people) puts the incumbent on a place on a safe seat on the list.
This happens at party congresses, where a lot of "arm wrestling" takes place.
A MEP can also be a "safe haven" until retirement of former national politicians, who did not do too well.

If Europe is such a "democracy", why are the top functions, namely the posts of European Commissioner not directly chosen by the people, rather than designated by the government of their country?

Securing a "safe place" on a list does not make you competent in the complex matters dealt with by the E.P.



[Edited at 2009-02-20 15:56 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:48
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
First it has to be functional and then... Feb 20, 2009

FarkasAndras wrote:
Well, MEPs are directly elected, so you can't expect them all to speak foreign language well enough.

Yes, I do expect them to make an effort and try to help us citizens by improving their knowledge of one of a reduced number of languages, so that there could be a lower expenditure in interpreters. Is that an unacceptable desire referred to people who are selected by their parties to go the EP and are supposed to be able to move, work and conference in an international environment?

FarkasAndras wrote:
Do you really want to render the EP dysfunctional...

Well, first it would have to be functional... Then we can discuss whether using a reduced number of languages would render it dysfunctional.

FarkasAndras wrote:
... or remove the direct democratic procedure and send only appointed representatives to the EU?

I never said such thing. I just said that they should make an effort and learn one of the main European languages to reduce their expenditure!


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
Flemish to English
+ ...
FYI Feb 21, 2009

About functioning of the democratic E.P.:
Due to a political decision MEPs and their staff (interpreters included) have to move twice a month from Brussels to Strassbourg and back.
This is a charade, which costs a fortune.
Last autumn, they were obliged to hold their session in Brussels, because the roof of the building in Strassbourg had collapsed. Suddenly the impossible, hold sessions in Brussels all the time, became possible.

For their 7000 euros a month salary+ perks our "democratically elected" (?) representatives should have to pass some tests (like all the others working in the E.U., be it freelance or staff) and prove that they are capable of handling difficult issues which effect the daily lives of half a billion people. Part of that test should be a language test. Studying a foreign language intensively should be one of the requirements to be a candidate on a favorable place on the list for the EP.
In a normal company, this sum is the salary of upper-management with a few year's experience. Only management in a multinational has to work harder than those MEP enjoying the Brussels' sun on the terraces of the pubs from 12.00-14.00. Being an MEP is hard work indeed.

If there wasn't more money to be earned in the European Circus than the average Joe European citizen and if everybody in that Circus had to pay taxes to the national state, a lot of European citizens would be far less interested to secure a position there.


[Edited at 2009-02-22 09:45 GMT]


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 23:48
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
It would seem to me... Feb 21, 2009

... that the people and governments of EU member states should have the right to select any morally fit representatives they wish, monolingual or otherwise. As costly as the whole translation regime is, and as much as I am inclined to grumble from time to time that all business should be conducted in English and German (forget French - it's a dying language anyway), requiring specific linguistic skills of the representatives or members of their respective governments strikes me as very wrong-headed. If we want a common market with the Romanians and Poles and want them to play nice and follow a common set of rules to our benefit as well as theirs, then I have no problem whatsoever if we chip in for part of the translation and interpreting bill. Williamson, your expectation that a Latvian MP master English or some other language at the level necessary to make informed decisions on very complex issues is simply unreasonable and deeply anti-democratic (elitist). I'm all for getting out a meat cleaver and trimming the fat from the EU bureaucracy, starting with those damned agricultural subsidies, but I do not see the language expenses as "fat". Necessary structural changes should reduce the overall volume of documents and save money in all languages. If these changes are not made, don't avoid responsibility for the real problems by going after the translation budget!

[Edited at 2009-02-21 13:57 GMT]


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Kati Bumbera  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:48
Hungarian to English
+ ...
unreasonable? Feb 21, 2009

your expectation that a Latvian MP master English or some other language at the level necessary to make informed decisions on very complex issues is simply unreasonable and deeply anti-democratic (elitist).


I don't know about Latvia but in Hungary pretty much nobody can leave secondary education and definitely cannot graduate from university without speaking one, but more likely two foreign languages. At least this was the case 7 years ago when I graduated.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 23:48
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Yes, but how well? Feb 21, 2009

Kati Bumbera wrote:
I don't know about Latvia but in Hungary pretty much nobody can leave secondary education and definitely cannot graduate from university without speaking one, but more likely two foreign languages. At least this was the case 7 years ago when I graduated.


I've been using my second language (German) actively for nearly 35 years now, and for many years it was the dominant language in my home. I read the major newspapers in German and interact daily with my host culture. Yet I encounter subtleties every week that I do not fully grasp. I'm sure that all these Hungarians have good basic skills, and I am on the whole very, very impressed with what I have seen of the language competence of many, perhaps even most of my colleagues from various eastern European states, but these are linguists, and even they miss the point rather often in exchanges. What can I expect of an MP who might have primary interests that do not include languages? His or her best effort, certainly, but out of respect and basic caution I will also make good translation and interpreting resources available. If for no reason other than to be very sure that a message is received with all the nuances intended. Many major politicians have excellent language skills, but they often rely on their interpreters for this very reason.


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Kati Bumbera  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:48
Hungarian to English
+ ...
agree on the whole but... Feb 21, 2009

You're right that "good translation and interpreting resources" will never become entirely superfluous for the reasons you mention. However, as a general tendency I think it's not unreasonable to say that at the very least a decent command of English is already a requirement in most professions, and in the future it will probably only become more widespread. English is already something of an unofficial second language for a number of countries (the Netherlands springs to mind - I have yet to meet a Dutch person of any age who isn't fluent in English), I think the same would happen in Eastern Europe through the next couple of generations.

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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 23:48
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
English is not as universal as you may assume Feb 21, 2009

Kati Bumbera wrote:
... I have yet to meet a Dutch person of any age who isn't fluent in English)


You haven't been around much in the Netherlands then, or you've stayed out of the neighborhoods and countrysides. I used to escape to Haarlem about once a month to fish the canals, ride a bike in Kennemerland and breathe free air, and I met quite a few people who spoke no English at all and often no German or only rudiments from the war years. Sure, an awful lot of Dutch have some command of English, and some of them are even good at it (though often not as good as they think). But many do not. If you spend all your time hanging out with university graduates, you may see things a bit differently, of course, but try asking the nice local garbage man for directions and you may be in for a surprise.

One would hope that an MP would have a good command of English, Dutch, German or even French, but I would not demand it. I think basic political courtesy requires language support wherever it is needed or desired.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:48
Flemish to English
+ ...
FYI II Feb 21, 2009

For 7000 euros per month, I can not reasonable require that my MEP does not know at least one foreign language well enough?
Mine does. She speaks fluent Dutch, French and English and has an understanding of German. Why, because it was a requirement for her previous job
Ever heard of the "Peter principle". Isn't that what happens with Euromeps.

By the way, in the former Eastern-bloc, none of the Baltic languages was an official language, Russian was. Russian was also the second language in that bloc. Elderly people in Eastern Europe still speak Russian. Nowadays Russian has been replaced by English.

French is the second major language in Eurocracy, followed by German.
Set 1 step outside the E.P. and you can not do without French (or Dutch), especially if you live in Brussels or its surroundings. German is not that important in the capital of Europe.


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