Who will lobby the EU for the translator?

The EU languages department is acutely aware of the dearth of qualified linguist and is so worried about it’s future supply of professional translators and interpreters that it is actually taking action to increase the pool of qualified translators. Yet, the same institution findings about the serious economic damages caused by the lack of language skills has not, to date, given rise to any initiative to raise awareness of the importance of proper language use in business.

Currently, the EU institutions spend around €1bn yearly on translation and interpreting, about 1% of the EU budget or €2.50 per citizen of the EU. According to the EU executive , 72% of EU documents are originally drafted in English, 12% in French and just 3% in German. The same source indicates that 88% of the users of the Commission's Europa website speak English.

On the 12th of October 2010, amid fears of a succession crisis in the EU languages department and despite the overwhelming majority of English speaking users, the European Commission launched a new drive to encourage more universities to offer courses for aspiring professional translators. Though this initiative is a response to the lack of qualified translators and interpreters in the EU intitutions themselves, it is to be seen in parallel with the conlusions drawn from a 2007 study . That study found that, of nearly 2,000 businesses, 11% of exporting European SMEs (representative sample of the 945 000 SEMs) had lost contracts – often worth millions of euros – as a result of lack of language skills.The EMT (European Master in Translation) launched by the EU last year is designed to produce qualified linguists, whether professional translators or interpreters, most of whom will find a job within the EU languages department.

This is a very laudable initiative.However, little has been done to raise businesses awareness of the importance of securing quality language services in  preference to cheap ones. As a result, professional translators working for non-institutional clients are forced to lower their rates to remain competitive, and lower rates imply poorer quality, as the turnover required to maintain earnings is higher, leaving less time for the linguist to invest in improving the quality of his work.

Now that the EU has devoted considerable resources in finding out how damaging poor translations can be to a business, its institutions should run an awareness campain throughout the EU member States. Google spends a lot of energy promoting its translation’ free applications, such as Google Translate. The mere fact that Google Translate translations quality hovers between poor and amusing is not enough to raise the awareness of the difficulty of finding a qualified professional translator. On the contrary, it gives the impression that a translator is simply polishing the result of an automated translation and that therefore his value is marginal.Such a depreciation of the professional translator value is one of the underlying cause of the falling translation rates in the private sector translation industry.

If the EU was to launch an awareness campaign as to the utmost importance of securing qualified linguists to promote your business, it would in time increase the appeal of the profession of translator/interpreter and attract a larger number of valuable applicants.The combination of increased awareness to the damaging effect of poor language skills on business and the increased linguistic needs of the EU, and the worlwide growing international exchanges have led the Commission to announce in October 2010 that "demand for translation services across the world is soaring" and the EU executive forecasts a10% annual increase in the Union's languages industry’s turnover would raise its worth  to an estimated €20 billion by 2015. 

This estimate implies that awareness of the importance of quality translation for business rises in parallel to the need for translations. Otherwise, the translation rate per word will dive even further down, thus considerably reducing the forecasted turnover. Accessorily, and according to the 11% loss in contracts due to lack of language skills mentionned earlier, it will also slow down the business growth in the EU, thus affecting the entire economy.

Who will lobby the EU institutions on behalf of the translation industry for them to raise an EU wide awareness campain to restore the true value of professional translators and thus save business and EU economic growth?