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Who writes/translates European Commission Documents?
Thread poster: Kim Metzger

Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:29
German to English
Dec 4, 2006

I was just browsing Google to find some good parallel documents on the subject of European regulations governing personal protective equipment and came across this European Commission text. Bingo! I said, straight from the horse's mouth! Now I've got some phrasing and terminology I can rely on. But then I started reading it and quickly discovered I'd have to go elsewhere.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are unique products as far as the user buying it buys protection encountered at home, work and leisure. Yearly statistics of mortal and major work accidents do impressively explain the importance of protection and prevention: personal health and safety are fundamental rights and people expect and require a high level protection at work, home and at leisure.

PPE Directive 89/686/EEC covers these products. It defines legal obligations ensuring that PPE on the European market gives the highest level of protection against hazards: the CE marking affixed to PPE signals that!

Would you say this is a bad translation or did they select a non-native to write original text?


Local time: 07:29
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

I had the exact same experience half an hour ago! Dec 4, 2006

Hi Kim,
Here I was, doing research for my big project, and when I googled three little words I got this as the first reference:

In the case when the weapon, explosives, and ammunition stockpiled in storage. facility or in unit is getting lost, store man and person in charge shall ... - Pages similaires

Needless to say I didn't bother (or is that I was not bothering???) to click on the link.




Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:29
German to English
+ ...
DIY Dec 4, 2006

Hi Kim

Good question - I see what you mean.

Writes? God only knows - committees, I would imagine.

Translates? Ask:


P.S. Maybe even 'translators' bearing the legend "Intel inside"?

[Edited at 2006-12-04 17:41]


Piotr Wargan  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:29
English to Polish
+ ...
Legal texts? Could it be... Dec 4, 2006

... the case of a legal text?

In the case of legal texts (eg. acts of Parliament) written in Poland I have problems in understanding them in my own native tongue...


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:29
Flemish to English
+ ...
Eurocratic legalese Dec 4, 2006

Aren't the written by lawyer-linguists in Eurocratic legalese?
In whatever EU-language they are written, you have to read them a couple of times before you understand what is meant.


Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:29
German to English
Publishable English Dec 4, 2006

Hi Nancy - it doesn't surprise me to see this kind of English at a website sponsored by the Kingdom of Cambodia. But it's a good reminder to check the source of a website before recommending a translation.

Williamson wrote:

Aren't the written by lawyer-linguists in Eurocratic legalese?
In whatever EU-language they are written, you have to read them a couple of times before you understand what is meant.

Hi Williamson - Yes, perhaps by lawyer-linguists, and English legalese, like any other legalese, is often difficult to comprehend.

But this text suffers not from legalese obfuscation but from a case of bad, unidiomatic English. I had assumed the European Commission would select linguists who write publishable English, Dutch, French, German, etc.


Eva Blanar  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:29
English to Hungarian
+ ...
"Translatable" English? Dec 4, 2006

English probably is the worst language to translate from, but this is the language generally spoken at the EU.
A nightmare, I agree, but I can clearly see an attempt there to make the text "translatable" (i.e. without idioms, without any "taste" of the language, just down to the bare facts).

In a way, we have seen that with the Russian language, in the CMEA: a poor, primitive language it became, and even Russian-origin people working in the "apparatus" started to speak that way.
The same is true for English now - an acquaintance of mine, born English, living in London, who has been covering East European stocks for years, started to make intonation errors in her speech, from spending too much time in the wrong language environment.

A high price shall be paid for globalisation/ internationalisation.


Carole Paquis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:29
Member (2007)
English to French
There's a lot of it around Dec 4, 2006

Hello everyone,

From where I stand (English into French), I can tell you that I get a lot of (far too many) texts like this. I tend to do more commercial/management stuff and I have to say that very often the English makes hardly sense at all. Either it's is written in complete management speak or not by a native speaker or both...the fun (when the deadline allows) is too discover the nationality of the writer from the mistakes...Actually, I thought your examples were quite reasonnable...


df49f (X)
Local time: 13:29
who writes and translates EU texts? Dec 4, 2006

answer: Eurocrat civil servants, working 9 to 5, but not on Fridays, paying no or little income tax and/or social contributions, hired on the basis of diplomas and nothing else, who stay in place until retirement regardless of their performance or competence, aka "EU disfonctionnaires".

EU in-house translators are either hired right out of school (who mean well but know not much about anything) or are blasé old-timers who couldn't care less any more and can't wait to retire on their cushy pension.
Or else, the translations are outsourced after public tenders to the lowest bidding agencies, who (after listing top professionals in their bids to look good) in turn outsource to the lowest bidding "translators" (found on this site or others), either to young graduates (see above) or incompetent and hungry old-timers who'll work at any price or in low-cost non-EU countries (where nobody knows anything about EU stuff) - in this case, what quality can you expect at 3, 4 or even 5 or 6 eurocent?? not any better than you'd expect from the in-house disfonctionnaires

Does that answer your question Kim?icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2006-12-04 20:44]


Robin Salmon (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:29
German to English
+ ...
Ethical implications Dec 4, 2006

We can find this topic and the examples amusing but, as a translator into English, I often feel it to be unfair that I am competing with translators who do not have English as their native language. I feel sure that DE>EN jobs have, on occasion, been given to a nineteen-year-old student in preference to choosing myself (uni degree in French and German and a teacher and constant learner of French and German for over 45 years), because the agency prefers to employ its own nationals for reasons of loyalty, because it is much cheaper and because the agency does not respect the readers of the translation or their right to be able to understand what they read (who are of another nationality and presumably not as important to them as their own people). At this point I should say that this has been the opinion I have formed with 95% of my work being for German agencies. I refuse to proofread anything written by a non-native speaker, hoping that this willl have a knock-on effect and militate in just the slightest way against what can possibly be described as theft of income.

I once put myself down as a "EN-FR" translator and was promptly told by the UK agency in question that they employed only people who translated into their native language. Thankfully, many agencies worldwide are now doing the same, presumably as a result of complaints from end-customers' readers (stumped and frustrated, for example, by an inadequately-translated technical document they have to understand to operate machinery properly).

To sum up, we have to see a continuation of the raising of standards by agencies and by firms employing translators directly and we must be also be scrupulous about translating only into our own language.


Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:29
German to English
+ ...
my 2 bits Dec 4, 2006

My impression (not that I do any EU work; more on that later) is that the EU is one of the world's more active corrupters of the English language. The UK is still a bit of an odd man out in continental Europe (and a lot of Brits like it that way), so many original EU texts are drafted in German or French, and/or by non-native speakers if they are drafted in English -- and even if NESs do have a finger in the pie, they can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of verbiage and precedent (existing usage of questionable to bad English).
When it comes to translation, the EU throws a lot of weight around, and I have the impression that a much of the work is contracted out to agencies who essentially compete on price (I regularly receive offers from a Greek agency for legal and quasi-legal texts at relatively low rates, which I consistently refuse because it's not my field, but doubtless other translators are not so picky). Add to that the fact that English is the lingua franca of contemporary Europe, so there are a lot of non-NES people (including translators) who overestimate their command of the language and/or are simply unable to tell the difference between good natural English and English that makes your skin creep.


Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:29
German to English
+ ...
Good business? (if you want it ;-) Dec 4, 2006

Eva Blanar wrote:

English probably is the worst language to translate from, but this is the language generally spoken at the EU.

Note - "spoken".

Ken cox wrote:
The UK is still a bit of an odd man out in continental Europe (and a lot of Brits like it that way)

Concur (reluctantly).

Ken Cox many original EU texts are drafted in German or French

AFAIK yes. So an untapped (or semi-tapped) opportunity for some of us?

[Edited at 2006-12-05 00:04]


IwonaASzymaniak  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:29
English to Polish
+ ...
At least understandble... Dec 5, 2006

I have no idea who wrties EU documents or legislation in (let's call it) English. I have no idea who tranlates them into Polish. The English ones at least pass as understandable for most non-native users of English.
Whener I have to find something in the EU legislation I always prefer to read it in English. I can never understand in it Polish which is my mother tongue.
Legal language is difficult per se for people without legal background but those Polish texts... They are not translations. They can hardly be called approximations. To avoid frustration, I prefer to read the English versions. They might not be the best representation of English but they are certainly usable.
The Ancient Romans would probably stronlgly disapprove of Latin in the form it was used in the majority of European royal courts and beyond in the Middle Ages but the then lingua franca helped people communicate. So does English nowadays!

As to the eternal controversy about native vs. non-native translators. To be an ideal translator, you would have to be native in both languages. I saw many translations from Polish (poetry, literary and technical) where it was obvious that the native English translators had no clue at all and lost the original message in their translation.
Perhaps the ideal solution would be to have 2 native translators for both source and target languages working together on every piece of translation...:D But who could afford it?
I don't believe a native translator is the only cure for bad translation. Haven't you read any poor translations by native speakers? I have, and too many...




Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
EU Translators Dec 5, 2006


I've lived in Strasbourg and once I tried (;-)) to apply for translation work at the European Parliament and I was told that EU employs only native speakers who are nationals of one of the EU countries. And this came from the person in charge of the translation division at European Parliament.

So I don't think that it's the work of a non-native speaker cheap translator (???) from outside EU.

Anyways, that was the only time I tried. Maybe some non-native translators, who are more persistent than I am, manage to cross that barrier. But I don't think that's possible given the strict rules.


Ritu Bhanot


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:29
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Not restricted to English Dec 5, 2006

Practically all text output from the EU (and of course also national burocracies) is criticised for the same phenomenon. Even if the original drafter of a text has delivered a fairly fluent and sound text, thereafter come still lots of commitees and secretaries who all want to have the last saying. So the final output is usually some sort of office dialect, in any language.
The EU is currently updating its translation policy, because now it cannot control who really is translating the texts. Only clearly faulty translations are currently detected and eliminated by quality control.


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