Wednesday

8th Dec 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

MEPs call for workers to have 'right to disconnect'

MEPs called for a new law guaranteeing workers can 'disconnect' outside work hours, without repercussion. But they also passed a last-minute amendment, calling on the commission to delay any legislation for three years.

EU rolls out vaccine, as UK-variant spreads

Most EU member states began rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 on Sunday, as a more contagious variant from the UK begins to spread on the continent.

News in Brief

  1. EU agrees to sanction Russian mercenaries
  2. Germany asks Iran for realistic nuclear proposals
  3. US to send troops to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine
  4. Will EU follow US on China Olympics boycott?
  5. EU flight passengers dropped 73% in 2020
  6. EU 'biggest vaccine-donor in world', von der Leyen announces
  7. Majority of EU citizens worried about internet's impact
  8. Redesigned euro banknotes coming from 2024

Opinion

Sweden's non-lockdown didn't work - why not?

The Swedish king would have been better advised to use his annual Christmas interview to call for unity of purpose and shed light on the political roots of the country's response.

Column

BioNTech: Stop talking about their 'migration background'

I understand that the German-Turkish community - often subjected to condescension in Germany - celebrated the story. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türecki represent scientific excellence and business success at the highest level.

Latest News

  1. Denmark and Hungary oppose EU rules on minimum wages
  2. Slovenian corruption estimated at 13.5% of GDP
  3. Lithuania seeks EU protection from Chinese bullying
  4. Using Istanbul Convention to stop online abuse of women
  5. EU spends record €198bn on defence in 2020
  6. EU Parliament demands justice after 'anti-vax' attack on MEP
  7. Kaczyński and Le Pen make friends at anti-EU 'summit'
  8. Croat police kept handwritten logbook of likely pushbacks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us