Monday

16th Sep 2019

Brussels faces shortage of English-language interpreters

  • Despite its increased usage, the commission is finding it hard to recruit native English language speakers (Photo: EUobserver)

The English language may be increasingly heard on the streets of Europe but the European commission's interpretation and translation services are facing a serious shortage of English mother-tongue speakers.

This was the message from two senior commission officials on Thursday (19 February) when they addressed reporters as part of a campaign to increase awareness of the situation.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"I can tell you it is a worldwide problem," said Brian Fox of the commission's interpretation directorate, adding that they were also having difficulties hiring interpreters who can translate from German into other languages.

It appears that the increasing use of English as a global lingua franca is directly related to the shortage of native speaking interpreters.

"Everyone speaks English and the corollary of that is that the English don't feel the need to speak anything else," said Mr Fox, adding that there was also a view among native English speakers that they were not good at learning other languages.

"There is no genetic aberration that means they can not learn languages," said Mr Fox, who was critical of the English education system, which allows pupils to drop foreign languages at an early age.

Added to the difficulty of hiring new staff, many native English speakers are soon to retire.

"We are facing this retirement wave because English mother-tongue translators were recruited very early when the UK and Ireland joined the European Communities in the 1970s, meaning that many of our colleagues are now approaching retirement age," said Mr Klaus Meyer-Koeken of the commission's translation directorate.

Compounding the shortage problem is the huge reliance of native English speakers visiting Brussels on English translation.

"Eighty seven per cent of English delegates who attended meetings in the EU institutions listened to English interpretation and listened to nothing else," said Mr Fox, reporting on a commission survey with over 3,000 respondents.

Despite the shortage of native English-language translators and interpreters, Mr Meyer-Koeken said English was increasingly becoming the "common linguistic denominator" in commission daily life, with 75 percent of internal documents printed only in English.

Endangered languages

In related news, UNESCO will celebrate International Mother Language Day on Saturday (21 February). As part of the event, it is bringing out a third edition of its "Atlas of World Languages in Danger," which is already available online.

The atlas lists 2,500 world languages that are in danger of becoming extinct. Of the 572 described as critically endangered, around a dozen fall within the borders of the EU.

One such language is Gottscheerish, originally from the Gottschee region in southern Slovenia. Most speakers were resettled during the Second World War, and now live scattered around the world, according to the new atlas.

And the world's heaviest drinkers are ... Europeans

Europeans still drink more alcohol than the rest of the word, according to a recently-released report of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Germany, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania are the heaviest-drinking EU countries.

EU parliament backs whistleblower law

MEPs backed an EU law to protect whistleblowers from retaliation in both the public and private sectors. EU states will have two years to transpose the directive.

EU commission to map gender recognition

The European Commission will start looking at how EU states determine genders - as part of an effort to make it easier for people to determine their own identities.

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Stakeholder

FIFA's schools programme aims to reach 700m children

Football clubs today invest huge sums of money in youth development and court talented young players from an early age. Children are the future – not only where football is concerned, but also for society in general.

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. France urges EU virtual currency rules amid Libra risk
  2. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  3. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  4. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  5. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  6. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  7. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  8. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us