Page last updated at 18:22 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

EU seeks more English translators

EU language options (grab from European Parliament website)
EU enlargement has increased the bloc's language challenges

The European Commission has launched a recruitment drive for native English speakers, predicting a serious shortage of interpreters.

The demand for mother-tongue English translators is fuelled by the fact that it has replaced French as the "lingua franca" of the EU's civil service.

EU bodies risk losing about half of their English-language interpreters in the next 10 years, the commission says.

It says English-speaking countries are not producing enough linguists.

Many native-English linguists were recruited from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s after the UK and the Irish Republic joined the EU.

But the commission says that as they reach retirement age they are not being replaced at the same rate.

There is a tangible deficit in the number of English booth interpreters available... at peak times
European Commission

The commission says it is looking to recruit about 300 English "native speaker conference interpreters" within the next 10 years.

It acknowledges that it faces competition from UN bodies for top linguists.

"There is a tangible deficit in the number of English booth interpreters available... at peak times," it says.

EU institutions employ an army of interpreters to cope with the needs of the 27-nation bloc.

The European Parliament alone employs up to 1,000 interpreters for its full sessions. With 506 possible language combinations the interpreters often work via a third, or "relay", language, such as English.

The EU has put a video clip describing the role on the YouTube video-sharing website, to interest young English speakers in interpreting.

The commission says there is also a shortage of Romanian, Latvian and Maltese interpreters.

Commenting on the commission statement on Thursday, Conservative MEP Richard Ashworth deplored the decline in language skills in the UK.

"The lack of fresh graduates with adequate language skills is a great concern and reflects years of declining importance of foreign languages in our schools...

"Hundreds of future linguists are not being given the start in our schools that they need. Great talent is being allowed to slip through the educational net and the results will be felt in our economy," he said.

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