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Languages, multilingualism, translation and interpretation

Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass,

Cartoon characters saying hello in different languages

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Europeans celebrate the diversity of their languages each year on 26 September, with the international community focusing on translation and interpretation a few days later on 30 September. The European Union manages the complexity of its 24 official languages, and the variety of regional and minority languages spoken across its territory, through multilingualism, translation and interpretation.

The European Day of Languages, established by the Council of Europe in 2001, resulted from the successful experience of the European Year of Languages. This EU joint initiative organises events devoted to the EU’s linguistic richness. The Council of Europe, (which uses only English, French, German, Italian and Russian as official languages for communication among its 47 member states), celebrates the 36 languages spoken across the European continent.

International Translation Day (30 September) was declared by the International Federation of Translators in 1953, but only obtained recognition from the United Nations General Assembly at its 24 May 2017 session. The EU institutions, where communication depends on translation and interpretation, celebrate the day by opening their premises to showcase the work and role of translators and interpreters in this multilingual environment.

As Members represent citizens at home, the work of the European Parliament in particular relies on translation and interpretation to accommodate the linguistic diversity of its Members and guarantee Parliament’s democratic role. Interpreting the current 24 EU official languages leads to 552 language combinations. Parliament’s plenary debates also provide for sign language interpretation, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the EU in December 2010. On 23 November 2016, the EP adopted a resolution on sign languages and professional sign language interpreters, stressing the need for official recognition for a variety of regional sign languages. In its earlier resolution of 14 April 2016, the EP highlighted that international sign language interpretation of all plenary debates facilitates its communication with all EU citizens. Consequently, an EU funded project on machine translation for administration has been operating for some years in the EU institutions. The EU also supports literary translation through its Creative Europe programme and the European Parliament LUX Film Prize provides the winning films with funding for subtitling in all EU languages.

The EU has a rich linguistic variety – 24 official and between 60 and 80 regional and endogenous minority languages.  10 % of citizens speak a regional and minority language as a mother-tongue. Some regional or minority languages outnumber speakers of some state languages, such as the 6 million Roma who speak a language which does not belong to one single territory or region.

The EU therefore provides support for lifelong language learning at various levels of education, during formal schooling or in informal extra-curricular settings. It also promotes student exchanges through the Erasmus+ programme, which favour informal language learning.

The European Parliament opens its doors on 30 September 2017 to the public to celebrate Multilingualism Day with a series of activities and talks on translation and interpretation.

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The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy. Copyright © European Union, 2014. All rights reserved

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