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Languages and Translation Policies in the EU

The European Union (EU) has been in the news a lot over the last several weeks since the United Kingdom’s landmark vote to exit the EU, colloquially known as the “Brexit.” But for us Americans — and for those of us in the world of language and translation — we might not know exactly what the EU is and how it operates.

The EU grew out of a desire for long-term, sustainable peace in the aftermath of World War II. Five years after the conclusion of the war, France and Germany came up with a plan to ensure that their countries would never go to war against one another again.More countries joined from there, and now include a total of 28 countries (including the UK — it hasn’t left yet).

There are four key organizations which work in tandem to keep the EU running: the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council, and the Court of Justice. But all of these countries speak a collection of different languages. So how does that all work?

According to the European Commission, “the EU policy of communicating in 24 official languages (multilingualism policy) is unique in the world. All official languages enjoy equal status. EU citizens in the 28 member countries can use any of them to communicate with the European institutions, which helps to make the Union more open and more effective.”

This means that the EU is truly multilingual, and it relies on a myriad of high-quality translation and interpretation services to keep it running smoothly. The European Commission, for example, has its own translation services company that works in house, called the Directorate-General for Translation.

So does that mean that every piece of official documentation in the EU must be translated into two dozen different languages? No, not at all.

The Commission goes on to clarify:

"Of course, not everything is translated into every official language — far from it. At the Commission, the only documents produced in all 24 official languages are pieces of legislation and policy documents of major public importance — accounting for about a third of our work.

"Other documents (e.g. correspondence with national authorities and individual citizens, reports, internal papers) are translated only into the languages needed in each case. Internal documents are all written in (and sometimes translated into) English, French and German. Similarly, incoming documents — which may be drafted in any language — are translated into one of these three languages so they can be generally understood within the Commission."

So, whether the UK ends up leaving the European Union or not, it's clear that the EU will continue to function as the well-oiled, multilingual machine it is.

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Photo credit: Bobby Hidy

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About Jennifer Bustance

Jennifer Bustance is a California-based freelance writer, playwright, and novelist. Her plays have been performed all over the country, and her prose has appeared in various online and print publications. Jennifer is a teaching artist with the Playwrights Project, San Diego Writers, Ink, and UCSD Extension. She is the Playwright in Residence at the Scripps Ranch Theatre and a founding member of their New Works Studio. She has an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College.

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Meet the Authors

Brian Gruters

In addition to writing blogs for us, Brian Gruters manages translation projects for corporate clients. He started with Language Translation in 2015.

Brian brings several years of experience as a Spanish to English translator to his work. He has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Arizona and a master’s in Environment and Resource Studies from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

As a writer, Brian is mostly interested in language, science, and environmental conservation issues. He writes for various publications, as well as his blog, briangruters.com.

Jennifer Bustance

Jennifer Bustance is a California-based freelance writer, playwright, and novelist originally from Troy, Michigan. Her plays have been performed all over the country, and her prose has appeared in various online and print publications.

Jennifer is a teaching artist with the Playwrights Project, San Diego Writers, Ink, and UCSD Extension. She is the Playwright in Residence at the Scripps Ranch Theatre and a founding member of their New Works Studio. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College.

Chris Maroulakos

Chris Maroulakos has worked at Language Translation since 2007, and he is currently the director of operations. He has been a blogger and managing editor for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear since 2008, and he also worked as a blogger and associate editor for NBC San Diego's SoundDiego music blog.

Chris holds certifications in SDL Trados Studio for Translators (Advanced Level), SDL Trados Studio for Project Managers, and SDL MultiTerm for Translators and Project Managers. He is Inbound Certified by HubSpot and also has certifications in Localization and Localization Project Management from California State University Chico, the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), and the Localization Institute.

He graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with a BA in Communications and with minors in Italian and International Studies.