Speakie Ingleesh?

Monday, September 21, 2009 | 6 comments »

Moliere is turning in his grave and Goethe can be heard chuntering in his vault. Dante, meanwhile, is shaking his fist from the terraces of Mount Purgatory.

The European Commission has triggered their ire with a fabulous display of linguistic ineptitude.

This week, Friday 26 September is 'European Day of Languages'. Did you know that? Was it in your diary already? If not, why not, and shame on you etc.

In a programme published today for the week's activities (yes, the European 'Day' of Languages is to last a week), the commission trumpets a 'business platform', an awareness campaign entitled 'French, a rare language?', a 'fun' computer game on languages, and a conference on early language learning in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

The programme, however,

is only available in English...

See it in all its monolingual glory here.


  1. Eurosocialiste // 2:32 PM  

    Yep, it's a shame that the Commission behaves like this. For smaller organisations, it is understandable that communications are only made in English for budget constraint reasons. But that's not a problem the Commission has. Another good example of the gap between words and actions in EU affairs.

  2. mathew // 3:01 PM  

    While not in any way defending the risible fact that the 'day of languages programme' was only available in English, I have to take issue with eurosocialiste.

    Get real! Not a problem the Commission has? Forgive my hollow laugh.

    The Commission's translation service has to translate all Community legislation into all official languages for it to be legally binding. They have their hands more than full just with that.

    When helping develop a multilingualism strategy for EUROPA, we'd occasionally ask an audience 'how much of EUROPA should be in some or all EU languages'. There was always someone who would, with beautiful innocence, say 'all of it'.

    Well, maybe if they tripled everyone's income tax.

    Even then, a lot of the content has to be translated quickly for it to be any use at all, so even *if* the Commission had the budget, there simply aren't enough translators in the world. They practically depopulated Malta when it joined in their quest for enough Maltese translators.

    Rather a good example of ideals crashing up against facts.

  3. T' old 'un // 4:14 PM  

    Has any one asked the all important question "Why?"?

  4. Brussels Blogger // 5:44 PM  


    I just wanted to show that many DG top level pages are in EN only. But the only site that I found so far was DG Energy (http://ec.europa.eu/energy/index_en.htm) :)

    But this example is indeed a shame as it is labelled "citizen corner"!

    When looking at many other DGs websites today I have to say that the situation has dramatically improved over the last years, with many top-level pages available often in all official languages.

  5. Eurosocialiste // 1:09 PM  


    Never said that all communications should be translated in all languages, and I am very aware of the logistical issues that it entails, thank you.

    But the Commission cannot on one hand defend an EU close to the citizens, and on the other hand communicate with them in one language only. Important communications should at least be translated in the other languages that are commonly taught and spoken in the EU (FR, DE, ES). That's being realistic, Mathew.

    Logically speaking, to be consistent with its objectives, this programme for the European day of languages should have been translated into the major languages I mention above.

  6. Mathew Lowry // 1:39 PM  

    @Eurosocialiste, clearly you misunderstood me. I started my comment with "While not in any way defending the risible fact that the 'day of languages programme' was only available in English".

    means stupid, indefensible, ridiculous, pathetic. The programme should have been translated into all official EU languages, at least!

    I just wanted to point out that the EU's translation budget is not as big as you seemed to think it is when you write "budget constraint reasons [is] not a problem the Commission has". They could probably triple the translation budget and still not meet internal demand.

    Anyway, I heartily agree that the EU cannot just use one language to communicate to a wide public. Anyone who knows me knows that I spent *years* working on reconciling ambitions with resources in online multilingualism.

    @brusselsblogger: Yep, the situation is a lot better, since DG Translation set up a dedicated web translation unit.

    The whole concept of 'citizens' corner' (aka 'Newcomer's guide', 'thematic layer', etc.) was to clearly focus the limited translation resources on one specific area aimed at the wider public. So it's indeed a shame that Energy's CCorner is only in English! Maybe the translations are on the way?