Brussels urges universities to offer translation courses

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The European Commission yesterday (12 October) launched a new drive to encourage more universities to offer courses for aspiring translators amid fears of a succession crisis in the EU institutions' languages department..

The 'European Masters in Translation' (EMT) network of universities will be expanded to help the European Union to respond "to a growing shortage of properly qualified translators in the job market," the Commission announced.

At present, the EMT network comprises 34 members, but the Commission says nearly 250 universities and other higher education institutions offer translation courses at present.

"In many countries, anyone can claim to be a translator without any guarantee of professional competence. The long-term aim of the EMT project to raise the standard of translator training," said Androulla Vassiliou, EU commissioner for education, multilingualism, training and youth.

To carry the EMT label, a university must have its course assessed by translation experts drawn from the existing network.  

EMT courses offer students training on how to run a business as well as translation, and over other aspects of the language industry including interpretation, subtitling, dubbing and how to adapt translations to local needs.

"A course carrying the EMT label is recognised as being one of the best in the field," Commissioner Vassiliou said.

The Commission, while stressing its supporting role behind EU member states, says it regards respect for linguistic diversity as a core value of the European Union.

It adopted a new strategy on multilingualism in September 2008 and provides €50m a year to support language activities and projects via its Lifelong Learning Programme.

Lack of language skills

A 2007 study had found that of nearly 2,000 businesses, 11% had lost contracts – often worth millions of euros – as a result of lack of language skills.

Indeed, the Commission announced yesterday that "demand for translation services across the world is soaring".

The EU executive predicts that the Union's languages industry is set to increase its turnover by 10% annually and will be worth up to €20 billion by 2015. 

Many staff in the EU institutions' languages departments are approaching retirement but they are not being replaced at the same rate. Moreover, the EU's requirements are so stringent that only 30% of those applying are successful, helping to fuel the present crisis. 

Concerns over an upcoming lack of Italian interpreters led the EU institutions to launch a campaign last month in Rome to encourage young Italian speakers to consider working for the European Union (EURACTIV 24/09/10).

Similar campaigns have been launched over the last 18 months to recruit qualified French, English, German, Italian and Dutch speakers to work for their services (EURACTIV 25/09/09; EURACTIV 18/02/09).

The annual conference of the EMT network is currently taking place in Brussels (11-13 October). 

The 'European Masters in Translation', launched by the European Commission last year, was conceived in response to rapidly growing global demand for quality language services and a doubling in the number of official EU languages from 11 to 23 between 2004 and 2007.

EMT courses are designed to offer students skills for the modern job market beyond pure linguistic abilitiesto include entrepreneurship, project management and negotiation.

The Commission has allocated €300,000 to cover the EMT's administrative costs and annual conference in 2010, but does not provide direct financial support for the training courses or their students.

The EU institutions spend around €1bn on translation and interpreting every year, representing about 1% of the EU budget or €2.50 per citizen. 

72% of EU documents are originally drafted in English, 12% in French and just 3% in German, while 88% of the users of the Commission's Europa website speak English, according to figures from the EU executive. 

  • 11-13 Oct.: Annual conference of EMT network. 

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