The Challenges of Being an Official EU Interpreter

March 16, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Straßburg, Tagung des Europarates interpretersThe European Union, or EU, is currently made up of 28 different countries and states, all located in Europe except for Cyprus. The main purpose of the union is to promote political, social, and economic harmony among all of the member states. With this union comes the need to be in constant communication with each other, and that can be rather complicated as there are 24 official EU languages and a slew of others that are considered regional and minority languages. When it comes to meeting to discuss an issue that affects the entire European Union, imagine the issues they must face in terms of making sure everyone present understands what is being said.

This is where official EU interpreters come in, with a mammoth task ahead of them that involves interpreting on the spot, in real time, everything that each member of the parliament elected is saying. At the moment there are about 330 interpreters employed by the European Union, and they can end up working from 6 hours to 16 hours at a time, inside the interpreter’s booths. The way that this type of interpretation works is there are interpreters in booths listening in on people speaking in their source language, and then they render it into their target language all through headsets with microphones. Members of parliament who use these interpreter services listen in on their headphones as someone else speaks in a language they aren’t familiar with.

Since there are only 330 designated interpreters, the pace that they work at has to be much faster than that of a normal interpreter. This is a huge problem, as any inaccuracies on the interpreter’s part can mean a huge misunderstanding between parliament members. This has led some official EU interpreters to request that parliament members speak slower to allow them to catch up and make sure they have accurately interpreted what has been said. This can make the sometimes 10 hour average booth time a lot more bearable, as they won’t be stressed out by making mistakes and then frantically trying to correct them before the next bit of speech needs to be rendered.

Another problem these interpreters have to deal with is the fact that not all EU parliament members use just their native language when they have the floor. Some of them think that they can get their point across better if they throw in a few phrases in English or French, for example. This, however, will throw off the interpreter listening in on what is being said, as their ears are tuned to listen for a specific language and not a mix of different languages in the same sentence. This is another regulation, along with speaking slower, that official EU interpreters are pushing for; to discourage the use of any language other than the speaker’s native language while speaking at a EU parliament meeting.

Hopefully, these things will be resolved soon and the budget for interpretation services in EU parliament meetings will increase so that more interpreters can be hired to take on the huge task of interpreting for so many different people in so many different languages.

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