Tuesday

26th Mar 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.

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.

EU to propose scrapping summer time change

Based on the preliminary results of an online survey in which mostly Germans took part, the EU executive is proposing that the whole EU stops changing times in March and October.

Investigation

How to get around the EU posted workers directive

Some EU careworkers in Belgium receive around €400 a month - despite their carers paying €2,500 a month and paying for flights and accommodation. The answer lies in how firms can skirt the safeguards in the EU's posted workers directive.

Feature

Resetting the gender balance through football

Many sports, like football, have been so heavily male-dominated at every level that women and girls have battled against poor odds to be treated as equals in the game. FIFA aims to change that.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Feature

Romania enlists priests to promote euro switchover plan

Romania is due to join the single currency in 2024 - despite currently only meeting one of the four criteria. Now the government in Bucharest is enlisting an unlikely ally to promote the euro to the public: the clergy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us