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Don’t tell Nigel Farage, but translation costs in the European Commission last year were 330 million Euros, and for European institutions as a whole the bill was 1.1 billion Euros.  Gulp. That is a lot of translation – why so much?

EU policy is that each of the EU’s 24 official languages has equal status, so that all EU citizens can have equal access to its institutions.  The result is that there’s an awful lot of translation to be done. Even with fewer member states in the early days of the European Economic Community, Dutch, French, German, and Italian were the official languages, and needed translation. Keeping up with the translation requirements was a big task, but with the accession of Eastern European members , the demand for translation has increased even further – in 2013 just over 2 million pages were translated by the Commission.

For good practise translation into the target language should be carried out by a translator with native level language skills. However, the advent of the Eastern European countries has thrown up some odd combinations, such as Bulgarian to Swedish or Finnish to Croatian, and the aim of direct translation from one language to another cannot always be achieved.

In such cases “relay translation” may be used – translating the first language into French or English and then into the target language.  Unwieldy but effective.

In addition some documents are translated to or from other languages such as Chinese or Japanese.  It’s hardly surprising then, that in the Commission alone the translation team number 2,500 staff (and interpreting is a separate department!). There may be a lot of them, and the annual costs may be eye-watering, but the bottom line is that they translate over 2 million pages a year.

What do you think of this?